They may be less likely to talk about "deep stuff," but they do care about it.
If the media and entertainment industry are your insight on relationships, you might assume that women tend to spill their hearts over a glass of fine wine or share a box of tissues, a half-gallon of ice cream, and Godiva chocolate as they watch chick flicks together, while men drink beer and make crude jokes with buddies as they watch sports or play cards. Some of our stereotypes about friendship and relationship bonding actually play out in real life, but this does not mean that men aren’t developing strong ties with their friends or deep emotional connections with their partners. Just because men have a difficult time labeling or expressing such emotions does not mean that they are not feeling them just as strongly as women might.
Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, LPC, LMHC, NCC,, is professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University. She is a licensed counselor whose focus includes working with individuals and families facing transitions. Her academic research explores development over the lifespan with a strong focus on women’s relationships and women’s developmental transitions. She is currently president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of the American Counseling Association.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
In a recent study exploring adult friendships and relationships, both women and men were invited to share the most important lessons they had learned about relationships. In this setting, men had no trouble articulating the lessons they had gained from their relationships—or showing that they actually know a lot about the subject.
Here are the seven lessons that men across the lifespan—from their early twenties into older adulthood—felt were most important to healthy relationships:
- Be kind. This includes wanting the best for your friends and partners, and seeing the world from their unique perspectives with empathy and acceptance.
- Be honest and trustworthy. Efforts at deception seldom bring positive results, so be upfront. Diplomatically confronting issues before resentment grows too deep is essential to maintaining healthy relationships.
- Be willing to trust. Mutual trust is necessary for relationships to deepen. Learning to trust others can be difficult for some men if they perceive it as a form of vulnerability. On the other hand, if you do not earn the trust of another, the relationship is likely to lose value. Therefore, it is important that you take the risk of trusting others, as well.
- Give and take equally. There is no need for scorekeeping in a healthy relationship. And it is important to remember that your partners and friends can only love you in the way they know how to love others. Learning to accept the diverse ways in which caring and devotion are embodied allows you to fully appreciate those who care about you.
- Maintain healthy boundaries in all of your relationships. If you tolerate or encourage dependency from a friend or partner, you may unknowingly be transforming the relationship into a “relationship of emergency,” which can be emotionally exhausting for the “rescuer.” Sometimes the best way to provide assistance to someone you care about is to provide resources and support as they learn how to meet their own needs.
- Don’t meet When disagreements arise and friends or partners respond in anger, bear in mind that sometimes “crossed swords” are actually “crossed shields.” When we feel threatened, we may strike out. Instead, learn to anticipate another’s sensitive areas and be careful not to put them on the defense.
- Be patient. Seek to offer understanding even when it is not always easy. Remember that everyone faces their own private battles that we may know nothing about.