How to be a better man

Do you want to be a better man?

Do you remember that line from the movie, As Good As It Gets—Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt—”You make me want to be a better man.” And she says, “That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.”

In the past few weeks I’ve been counseling several couples. And I’m struck by the refrain I keep hearing from some of the men, “What’s in it for me?” or “What about my needs?” They’re saying this in response to my suggestion that they try being more generous toward their partners. They listen to my suggestions, they seem to understand what I’m saying—at least on the surface—but after the message settles in they want to know “when do I get my needs met?”

What’s in it for me?

The “what’s in it for me?” seems to come up most often when I’m working with men who have female partners with a history of being abused. These women desperately need to feel safe and to feel loved. It’s obvious. And when they do feel safe they make wonderful, loyal partners.

But the men—who seem reasonably bright in other areas of their lives—seem to think in tit-for-tat terms. I’ll do this for you, now what are you going to do for me? How romantic. How generous.

The problem is that they don’t seem to recognize—really understand—how their partner is affected because of her history of abuse. What I suggest to these men is that they learn to love their partner really well. Just love her, help her feel safe, create a space in which she can heal herself. They nod their heads, yes, yes. But, inevitably they ask, “What about me, when do I get mine?”

You can get more than you ever imagined

Hey guys, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t get your needs met. You should. What I’m suggesting is that by loving your partner really well you will get your needs met, just not the needs that you were thinking about. The need that you get to satisfy is your need to feel like a good man. Stop asking your partner to do things for you that she can’t yet do. Give her time to feel safe, to feel loved, and then your dynamic will change and some of the needs you have expressed will be met.

What I’m suggesting is generosity—not enabling. I’m not suggesting that you infantilize your partner, only that you be generous with your love.

And I want to be really clear, I’m not encouraging you to see your partner as broken or flawed. She’s not. She’s got some tender places, and as you help her heal—by helping her feel safe enough to ask for what she wants—she will heal herself and you will reap the reward. The reward of having been generous.

As for the women who read this and feel validated, I want to remind you that from the Live Conscious perspective, we encourage you to give voice to your wounded parts, and as much as possible, from a mature voice. Live Conscious provides an actual model for doing this. As you learn how to maturely express your wounded parts, you grow those parts up and you heal yourself.

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