Running OnlyDads for five years or so has led me to conclude that some men find it almost impossible to ask for help and advice. The situation we faced earlier this week gave us a shocking example of how a man can leave looking for support until things are at absolute crisis point. We only need to look at suicide statistics to prove that too many men in their 40s especially take matters into their own hands rather than seek the support they so desperately need.
We asked our relationship expert Toby Ingham to offer us his thoughts….
Two thoughts come to mind. One concerns how this situation arises now in the present? ie – a man finds himself in need of help having realised his situation is catastrophic, his children are being taken away etc.
The other involves how males are nurtured and whether that led to a deficit in the capacity to work with and understand their emotional experience in the first place.
So, we are talking about something akin to suddenly realising you are in a financial crisis.
Instead of reading the data at your disposal you stick your head in the sand and carry on hoping you won’t be found out. The impulse to deny and ignore looming problems over takes the possibility of doing something about them while they are still manageable. This strategy of avoidance is high risk and when it fails you are in a worse position.
Chances are men never learned how to ask for help in the first place? That growing up male involved a deficit in understanding what help meant.
Can men become better at reading their own weaknesses and need for help? Can they learn to act on data as it arises?
EG if your dashboard fuel gauge is reading ‘empty’ – who would ignore the warning light, drive on regardless and risk breaking down in the middle of nowhere? If we switch this analogy to the problems men find themselves in once their relationships have broken down it seems we would find plenty of broken down cars littering the highways.
Men need to become better at acknowledging the condition of their emotional lives and this needs to include being able to act upon what we can acknowledge.
First, we should try to open our eyes to the condition of our lives, second we should find someone else that we can discuss our situation with. Women are better at this than men but that doesn’t mean it has to stay like that.
As men we should make two commitments: firstly, to develop a greater capacity to think about what our lives are like, and secondly to discuss our findings with somebody else. We need to be able to recognise our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and then to be able to develop a better working relationship with them. To grasp the nettle as it were, to say to ourselves something like “the petrol gauge is reading empty – I need to find a garage”.
So, what would be the equivalent of a garage? One answer would be: a supportive relationship.
It is important that we think about who we can discuss our findings (our problems) with. Men may be used either to not talking or to talking to the wrong people. Better not to lean only on your spouse or children for emotional support. Those relationships may be helpful but we might want to have a more confidential space outside them.
So here are two things we men might commit to doing today. One, take 10 minutes to reflect on the condition of our lives. Make a list, spell out the things you are worried about and the things you are more hopeful about. Having done this, commit to sharing your findings with somebody else.
We find this advice brilliant in its simplicity!
You can read more about Toby and his work here