Men’s Maven Reveals The 5 Hidden Secrets Your Marriage Counselor Prays You’ll Never Find Out About

I’ll admit it. I’m a feminist. I became one after reading Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I still have my paperback copy with its $.75 price in the upper right corner and a cover quote by the anthropologist, Ashley Montagu. “This is the book we have been waiting for…the wisest, sanest, soundest, most understanding and compassionate treatment of contemporary American woman’s greatest problem, a triumph.”

In the book Friedan talks about “the problem that has no name” and the dissatisfactions that millions of women felt being restricted to the role of homemaker. I realized there was a mirror image problem that men had as we were restricted to the role of breadwinner.  I recognized that just as women wanted to break free of their role and be all that they could be, men wanted to more than just the guy that brings home the dough.

The demand that my father be the sole breadwinner in our family nearly killed him. When I was five years old, he became increasingly anxious and depressed, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. He was committed to Camarillo State Mental hospital, just north of our home in Los Angeles. In one of his journals he wrote just before he was hospitalized he described the despair he was feeling when he was not able to find work in his chosen profession.

I need a full day’s work and accomplishment. But jobs are few and far between. I know that to live you must work. To stop working means to die. Not all at once, but from that minute that you stop using hand and brain to bring in bread for the family you begin to die. Hope, initiative, spirit, understanding, beauty—all begin to experience the first tremors of death rattles.

My own struggles fulfilling my role of breadwinner, but a strain on my first marriage. When we went to a marriage and family counselor to seek help, she was much more focused on helping my wife sort out her dissatisfactions than in helping me with mine. My wife and I soon divorced. I realized that many marriage counselors didn’t really understand the stresses that men were facing, and many still don’t.

I wrote my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man in 1980. After reading it, a friend and colleague, Sam Julty, said, “You’ve become the men’s maven.” I liked the sound of it, but really didn’t know what it meant until I looked it up. “A maven is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” I don’t think I lived up to the term in 1980, but now in 2018, after writing 13 more books on men’s issues, I do feel like the men’s maven.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says that any kind of successful social movement is dependent on “people with a rare set of social gifts.” He calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors know a lot of people and have a passion for connecting people to each other. Mavens are experts in their field who want to share what they know. And salesmen are the people who have the skills to persuade us if we are unconvinced about a new idea.

After nearly fifty years helping men and women have healthy, joyful, relationships, I realized that movement to help men and women have real lasting love needed the expertise of a men’s maven. I shared what I had learned over the years in my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come.

  1. Men must realize that they can become relationship mavens.

Like most men I grew up believing that being a successful man meant I needed to get good at the breadwinning role and make good money to support my family. I figured it was the woman’s role to take care of the relationship stuff. That attitude led to two divorces. Marriage experts John and Julie Gottman say that “what men do in a relationship is, by a large margin, the crucial factor that separates a great relationship from a failed one.

I decided I wanted to become a relationship maven and found I was pretty good at it. My wife, Carlin, and I have now been joyfully married for 37 years. Millions of relationships would improve if more men got really good at the relationship stuff.

  1. In order to get good at relationship we have to heal our absent father wound.

Like millions of other men and women I grew up with an absent father. According to the National Center for Fathering, “More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.”

I’m writing a book, Return of the Puppet Man: Healing the Wound from an Absent Father, which will be out next year. If you’d like to read a sample chapter, drop me a note at and put “father wound” in the subject line.

  1. Men need to be in a men’s group.

For millions of years men formed men’s groups and went out hunting together. That role is even more important today, even though we don’t go out to kill large game for the tribe. I’m in a men’s group that has been meeting regularly for 38 years. My wife and I both attribute our successful 37-year marriage to my 38 years in a men’s group. We can’t have a successful love life until we truly know what it means to be a man. In order to do that we have to spend time in the company of men. As the poet, Robert Bly, reminds us. We need to “hear the sound that male cells sing.” Most of us never had enough quality time with our dads. We can make up the loss by being in a men’s group.

  1. Men must learn to be trustworthy.

Until I addressed my father wound, I didn’t feel completely real, though I never could put words to the feeling. I felt like an imposter in life. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. Behind the eyes was a kind of terror that whispered, “You never learned what it really means to be a man, so you have to fake it.” I tried to be the kind of man I thought others wanted. Sometimes I acted tough. Other times I came across as gentle and caring. But I knew I was playing a role. I felt like a puppet man, dancing to someone else’s music.

Once I began healing the old wounds, I felt like I was reborn. I was raw and tender and vulnerable, but I felt alive for the first time in my life and I felt real. In their book, The Man’s Guide to Women, marriage experts John Gottman and his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, say, “The number one thing women look for is simply this: trustworthiness. You are who you say you are and you do what you say you are going to do.” These are simple words, but putting them into practice takes a life-time of work and dedication. We have to trust ourselves, to be ourselves. That means loving ourselves, even when we mess up.

  1. Men can become more empathic.

Emotional empathy, really tuning into the feeling of another person, does not come easy to men. We’re trained to solve problems, not listen deeply and open our hearts to what someone we love is feeling. Many women feel our lack of empathy means we don’t care. The truth is we care deeply, sometimes too deeply. We’re overly sensitive to feelings. We can become flooded as the Gottman’s recognize. Many men believe that it is our job to make our partner happy. If they are unhappy we think we have failed and often feel ashamed. But since we are often overwhelmed by our own feelings, rather than talk about what’s going on inside, we withdraw.

Learning to become more empathic to others, starts with being more caring towards ourselves. We can learn to express our feelings and listen to the feelings of others, but we can only do that if we love and accept ourselves, just the way we are. We need to stop beating ourselves up when we feel emotionally overwhelmed and can’t find the words for what we feel.

I appreciate your thoughts and heart-felt comments.

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Comments

  1. I would like it if men were happy at the jobs that they want to do like being a nurse, teacher, etc., instead of being forced into “traditional men” jobs plus have a happy work environment where they don’t have to work about being treated peons by their bosses.

    How do you expect men to be trustworthy when you can’t trust women or other men particularly when they are in higher management positions?

    You can’t be in a men group when men are taught to compete with each other and nowadays, you have travel so far to go to work from your home and the bosses make you work long hours even on the weekends, you have no social life.

    • Gunther,
      As you recognize, we all have obstacles that we must confront and overcome as we heal the old wounds that keep us trapped in judgement and blame. It takes a lot of courage to share our story, even at times we feel struck and discouraged.
      Thanks for offering us a piece of your heart and soul, my friend.

  2. Please share advice you have on ways women can be of true help to men who struggle with breaking out of the breadwinner mold and all that goes with it? Particularly with the development of empathy and emotional intelligence? The way women help other women may very well be different than the behavior needed to be of assistance to men.

    • Dianne,
      Thanks for asking. The breadwinner role is deep in the psyche for many men. Usually men need to hear a broader perspective from other men they respect, but a woman can be supportive once he begins to expand his understanding of manhood. When my wife joined a woman’s group, it provided an impetus for me to join a men’s group. My group has been meeting regularly now for 38 years.