How Do Men Achieve Healthy Romantic Relationships?

Men appear to have little difficulty getting into intimate relationships, but they often appear ill-equipped to maintain a long term romantic relationship. The skills that are required to maintain a healthy relationship are rarely taught or modelled to boys by their fathers, brothers, teachers, or other adult males. Boys are often encouraged to devalue many of the skills that are important and central in developing and maintaining romantic relationships. In fact they are the same skills that are required to maintain any relationship. This often results in men acting as though any emotional connection and intimacy is unimportant in their life. 

Stephen Bergman, MD, suggests that men are raised to value independence and individuation, but it comes at a significant price. A man’s greatest misery may come from being disconnected, acts of violation and dominance, and not being in relationships that are mutually empowering. Men are raised to separate and be separate, regardless of the suffering that it may cause themselves or others. 

How Do Men Achieve Healthy Romantic Relationships?

Research suggests that there are three relational postures that exist along a continuum: independence, interdependence, and codependence. To have a happy and healthy relationship, couples may need to constantly move along this continuum. When an individual gets stuck in a particular posture, for instance independence, it may cause problems for a normally healthy relationship.

For many couples the most optimal posture is interdependence where there is mutuality and compromise. But it may also be important for couples to move into periods of independence and codependence. Codependence has become a negative term in interpreting relationship behaviour. Dan Griffin and Rick Dauer suggest that in fact codependence may be perceived as sacrificing one’s own needs and wants for the welfare of another. To sacrifice one’s own needs within an intimate relationship may be critical when one’s partner’s needs are extreme. Although it would be unhealthy for a couple to remain in a codependent posture permanently. 

Some theorists suggest that men experience ‘male relational dread.’ This is because men value independence and are not taught the skills to develop interdependence, then relationships become inherently threatening. Men may experience dread as they move towards interdependence as they do not have the skills that are required to communicate their needs and vulnerabilities. Men are often unwilling to ask for and offer support, and may be unable to show compassion and empathy, as these are considered ‘unmanly.’ When boys exhibit many of the qualities that are identified as being necessary to maintain intimate relationships they are often ridiculed, shamed and alienated. Although many boys and men feel pride in their independence and self-sufficiency they also feel alone and isolated, as well as feeling emotionally empty. 

Christopher Swane -  Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand.