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I'm a couples counselor. Here's what I wish men knew about therapy.

Updated: Apr 8

The mistake men make in couples counseling and how to fix it. From someone who made the mistake.


When I was first married, my wife, mom, and I went shopping at a local thrift store. At one point my wife brought me a bunch of collard shirts for me to try on.

I don't remember exactly what I said, but I basically told her the shirts were dorky and went back to looking through clothes racks.

GIF of Steve Urkle, the iconic african american dork.

A few minutes later my mom pulled me aside and said something I'll never forget.

"Jordan," she said, "well, you're um, you're kind of harsh. You should consider being kinder to your wife."


"What?" I scoffed. "I'm just telling her I don't like the shirts."


"I know. Okay." She said and walked away.


And that was the end of it.


But it wasn't.


I thought about that moment for months. I thought about how I responded to my wife. I thought about how I would have felt if my wife had responded to me that way.


My mom hadn't pulled me aside to talk about my relationship before then and she hasn't pulled me aside to talk about my relationship sense. It was totally out of character. And I respect my mom, so I thought about her words for a long time, and I came to the conclusion that I was harsh with my wife.


So I changed.


What strikes me so very deeply, even today, is not that I was harsh with my wife, but rather that I was so unaware of how harsh I was being.


I think this is a problem for a lot of guys.


I regularly work with men who, it seems to me, are very blind to their inner world and therefore are blind to how harsh they are.


For example, a husband will be talking, very heatedly, about how his wife turned him down for sex, and I'll ask:


Me: That sounds super upsetting. When that happened, how did you feel?

And he'll say: I felt like she didn't want to have sex because she's too busy. Maybe it's her hormone levels.


Notice he hasn't said a word about his feelings, his emotions. So I'll try again.


Me: Okay, she's super busy. And when she's super busy, too busy for sex, how does that leave you feeling?


Husband: Oh, I mean I just feel like she's more worried about the kids than me. Like she needs to sometimes let things go. Why do things have to be perfect for us to have sex? Things aren't ever going to be perfect.


Me: Oh, so you feel like you have to be perfect for her to want you? Is that it? There's this pressure to be perfect?

Husband: I just feel like she doesn't want me like I want her. And then she's upset when I'm not happy. Would you be happy if you're wife didn't want to have sex with you?


Me: I can totally see how that's really frustrating. You know there's something else happening right now. You're giving us very clear words for how you see your wife, but what about you? When you approach her for sex, what happens inside for you? What do you feel? At which point the guy snaps: Man, I'm telling you what I'm feeling. I don't know what else you want from me!


Husband complaining about his wife.

Of course, the irony is he hasn't told me a thing about how he's feeling or his inner world. All he's done is criticize his partner to a therapist. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, this is a subtle form of resistance. But sometimes the guy, just like I was, is blind to just how harsh he's being.


So,from one guy to another, here's what I wish men knew about couple's counseling.


First, couple's counseling is a place for you to talk about your experience, your emotions and your inner world. Starting a sentence with "I feel" and then talking about your wife is not talking about your feelings.


Second, you may not know what you feel. That's totally fine. Just say I don't know. A good therapist will help you figure it out.


Third, if you come in and talk mostly about your wife and all the things she's not doing, well then, you're not going to make any progress. In fact you're actively poisoning your relationship because all she's hearing is all the things she's doing wrong. Which is the definition of criticism.


And the big fix is to talk about your inner world.


Last, remember, I'm saying this as a guy who's struggled with this problem. I'm not telling you anything I haven't said to myself. I had to learn it the hard way. Learn from my mistakes.


Best,


Jordan (the counselor)




-Fin-

Note:

This is a cross post from my client facing website https://www.drjordanharris.com.

 

If you liked this post, consider reading this next. I think you'll like it ;) It's more of my thoughts on couple therapy.

 

Jordan Harris, Ph.D., LMFT-S, LPC-S, received his Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana Monroe. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Arkansas, USA. In his clinical work, he enjoys working with couples. He also runs a blog on deliberate practice for therapists and counselors at Jordanthecounselor.com.


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