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Does couples therapy stack the deck against the man?

“Couples counseling is for women. If you’re a man, watch out. They always gang up against the man.”

Well! A lot of guys have asked me about this. But is it true? Is there any truth in it? Let’s find out.

First of all, it shouldn’t be true. If a guy’s had this experience, then for sure he’s dealing with an inexperienced or poorly trained or simply inept counselor. Practically the first rule of family therapy is to make an alliance with every member of the family. The “thing” you’re working with is the relationship. The people sitting there are your access route to the relationship. The last thing you want is to piss any of those people off.

What makes this complicated is that you, as the therapist, aren’t there to kiss ass. You’re there to make change. And sometimes one person needs something pointed out to him or her as something they’re doing wrong. “Hey, Joe! How do you think it’s ever going to make things better in your relationship for you to tell your wife to ‘shut up’?” But it can’t always be Joe who’s the bad guy screwup. Both people will be playing a part in their problems, and both will need understanding and tools to work this stuff out.

But if you’re a guy reading this and you’re feeling I’m making you crazy because you still feel the deck is stacked against you, guess what? You’re a little bit right.

It’s not that male or female therapists are biased against men. But I can’t deny that there are certain common understandings of what goes into a healthy relationship, and I can’t deny that some of these tend to skew to the women’s side of things. Here are a few random examples:

 A neat clean house is probably just a little better for people’s mental health than a dirty, messy one.

 A very fair and balanced arrangement of who does what with respect to the house and childcare really is better for the health of the relationship.

 Having a healthy relationship really does require talking things out, sometimes at length and in detail.

 Making sure both people feel listened to and heard, without interruption, really is vital for a happy marriage.

 Women are generally wanting the guy to take more time and be more patient in sex than the guy would instinctively prefer. But without that, sex may just not work for the woman.

 Women can more easily feel disempowered than men do, which can make them upset, which can make them seem crazy. Which they’re not. Nothing is helped by treating women as crazy people who run around making a big deal about nothing.

I could go on and on. I could also go on and on about ways women make their guys crazy, such as by festooning the house with teeny tiny pillows that have to be arranged just so.

I could also point out how tired a lot of guys are after a long day’s work and how discouraging it is for them to feel their relationship turns out to be just another chore.

So, yeah, a lot of the attributes of a healthy relationship are things that line up with stuff that may come more naturally to some women than to some men. But guess what? A lot of women talk a good game, they’re not so great in action. They say they want to talk about things, but when the talking gets difficult they shut down. They say they want to feel heard, but they don’t seem to want to hear their husbands.

The thing is that the last thing I want to do as a couples therapist is make what’s going on be about gender or anything else that most of the time can’t be changed. What I do want is to foster a healthy attitude to the process of keeping the relationship healthy. And this means helping people see that:

· both of them are responsible for seeing their contribution to the problem

· both of them are responsible for working to make change

· both of them are responsible for following through on agreements

And as long as they—or YOU—have that, things should turn out okay.

I think you’ll find that Why Couples Fight has an approach that is as welcoming to one gender as to the other, which makes it even more helpful to people trying to get their needs met.

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