My best friend, Jake Kriger, and I have been running therapeutic men’s groups—we call them “friendship labs”—for the past 18 years. While everyone believes that emotional intimacy is important in relationships, men often struggle with certain skills—like emotional expressiveness, self-disclosure, vulnerability, giving and getting support, letting go of control, cooperation, and reciprocity—that are at odds with our cultural definitions of successful masculinity. Psychotherapy has developed clever methods to persuade men to adopt the more open and expressive habits, but many guys entering therapy still feel as though they’re walking into a lion’s den of shame, humiliation, and failure if they acquire them—specifically, failure as men.
We’ve found that groups are particularly appealing for men who experience traditional individual or couples approaches as being too alien or off-putting. There’s something comforting about being part of a group of guys dealing with similar issues, who are there to ask for and give support to each other.
Because our groups are therapeutically oriented, rather than simply supportive or educational, men can develop the emotional skills with each other similar to those learned in therapy. We emphasize that emotional intimacy skills aren’t just for women—they’re a central part of healthy masculinity, and as the men in our groups discover, they take work to develop.
Men in our groups often lament the…