IT COMES TO no surprise to us here at Relationships Ireland that a report published by the University of Ulster this week found that 78 per cent of men who took their own lives had relationship problems.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Generally when men are experiencing severe relationship problems they withdraw and ‘shut down’. Their behaviour changes and, in some cases, they change their appearance. What they do not do is talk the issue out. For many men talking the issue through seems only to exacerbate the problem. However, when women talk the problem through it paradoxically appears to reduce the problem.
It’s unfathomable that relationship breakdown and stress is frequently not taken as seriously as other emotional and mental health issues. Too many people believe that arguments and rows are a normal part of a relationship and things will ‘work themselves out’.
Intimate relationships are under more pressure than at any other time in our history. Coupled with the often unrealistic expectations of marriage are social and financial pressures. Not only is the problem of where to turn but how to ask for help without feeling a failure is the challenge to organisations like ours.
Many counselling approaches are alien to men
Men don’t know how to ask for help. Over 90 per cent of those contacting us for help, on behalf of the couple, are women. Men still experience a feeling of intense shame and failure by asking for help. Fear grips men who feel that talking about their feelings is some kind of torture. They also feel the person they are talking to can’t and won’t understand, and sometimes they are right! Too often men are talked at by some therapists and not talked to. There is a different way to engage with men. Many therapy books describe counselling from a female perspective. That perspective is alien to most men.
It’s time that attitudes change. It’s also time to stop ridiculing men in adverts for example; sexism works both ways. Despite appearances, words and actions there is a sensitive person below that gruff and ‘happy go lucky’ exterior. The literature and language used to ‘help’ men is wrong. It doesn’t ‘speak’ to them.
Earlier I spoke about men changing their appearance. So before we ask we need to see more sensitively. Often men are giving us signals. Because it’s not verbal we don’t take notice. When men go to counselling they are told to talk and express their feelings. Bad start! You are asking a man to do something he has been trained not to do all his life. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but generally that is how it is.
Men have learned to shut up – especially in their marriages. They are told they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Many men, and they tell me all the time, have been brought to counselling to get them ‘fixed’. It often feels like the schoolboy being brought to the headmaster’s office. They don’t conform to the perceived wisdom that talking is good for you. It is good but men do it in a different way and need a different approach that in many cases is not catered for by those in the helping business.
Thankfully charities like Pieta House do fantastic work in supporting men when they are at their most vulnerable. We are approaching men and their feelings in a similar way so we can work to save their relationships and help to reduce the awfully high suicide rate in this country.
Tony Moore is a relationship counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland offers confidential counselling and currently has a special introductory offer for an initial consultation. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.relationshipsireland.com.