Case Studies

Case Studies

Male-Friendly Couples Counseling: Finding love beyond words

By Steven Stosny

March/April 2009

You've heard the jokes. Every couples therapist has skid marks at the front door from husbands being dragged into the office. Or this one: A man is convicted of tax evasion, claiming that he had to do it because his wife spent too much. The sentencing judge gives him a choice: "Do you want to go to federal prison or marriage counseling?" The guy asks, "Could I have a private cell?"

You've also heard the usual explanations for male resistance to couples therapy: socialization discourages men from seeking help of any kind, but particularly in the mental health system; men are uncomfortable talking about emotions, especially with a wife present: it's her turf! Men tend to be more instrumental in the way they express emotion: they prefer to do something to show their feelings, rather than talk about them. Men expect to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in a relationship, so why even try explaining themselves or talking about how they feel? "Let's skip the prosecution and get right to the sentencing."

Even highly skilled therapists can have trouble handling male resistance. Some bend over backward to engage the guy, which can make him drop out early, convinced that his wife is the problem. Sometimes frustrated therapists are tempted to do just what men say their wives do: blame them, but in the language of psychopathology—he won't talk about how he feels because he's narcissistic, depressed, passive-aggressive, sociopathic,…

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