Three Reasons Some Counselors Are Bad at Marriage Counseling, Part 2: The Counselor’s Bias Against Males

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Did you miss part 1 of this post? Check it out HERE I once met with one hundred professionals in Pennsylvania and asked the question: “If I could show you how to get men to line up outside your counseling doors, would you be interested?”

I could feel the electricity in the room. These professionals sat forward in their chairs awaiting my answer that could assist them. They recognized the challenge of counseling men.

Most Women Value a Counselor’s Support, While Men Stay More Independent Most professionals recognize that the majority of their clients are women. Most women seek emotional and social support, want to talk about their burdens, and welcome input on what they should do. This is a wonderful quality that women have, whether in their personal circles or when seeking professional help.

Most men, on the other hand, prefer to be independent, not talk about their emotions, and try to figure out solutions on their own. This does not make men wrong, just different. However, because they tend to feel uncomfortable and even resist the counseling environment, counselors do not favor men as they do the warm and responsive women. As objective as counselors seek to be, at the end of the day they are human beings who do not appreciate what they perceive to be opposition from many men to the counseling process.

The Counselor’s Default Mechanism We must recognize that many counselors default to helping the crying wife who tenderly looks to the counselor for wisdom and then default to a disapproval of the husband who sits coldly in the chair with arms folded tightly. These men do themselves no favors!

Most counselors feel, and rightly so, that women are wonderful and want an emotional connection with their husbands. They see most women as teachable whereas the men are leery. Consequently, in most sessions, the husband looks more guilty because he appears guarded and on the defensive.

Men Are the Initiators and Women Are the Responders, True? Besides, many counselors believe that men are the initiators and women are the responders, which means if a woman is unhappy the husband has failed to initiate lovingly. Wives respond to love, so if the wife feels unloved, the husband—so the thinking goes—has not succeeded in loving her as he ought. If the wives in counseling feel alone and sad, many argue that their husbands neglected to connect in love.

Therefore, for many counselors the subconscious assumption going into marriage therapy is that the husband is primarily to blame for the marital problems until proven otherwise.

After all, happy wife equals happy life, so if both are unhappy in the marriage it is the husband’s shortcomings causing the wife’s unhappiness. The ball is in his court, so they begin with challenging the husband. After all, the wife will probably respond.

The Setting: Is It Male Friendly? The counseling industry consists of sitting in a room with soft lights, beautiful decorations, delicious coffee, and a comfortable chair while a professional listens intently to the feelings behind the words. Dare I say that from the get-go this setting fits the female perfectly, whereas men feel it is similar to a long parent-teacher meeting with he as the child sitting between mom and dad, that will end with him accused of failing to be who he is supposed to be? Is it any surprise that in this setting a man sees the counselor not as one listening to affirm him but as one listening to evaluate his mistakes?

All in all, is the man wrong for feeling uncomfortable? Should it be concluded that he is unteachable, or can we recognize that the setting is less than energizing to the male? A preschool-aged boy who does not sit quietly indoors should not be medicated for simply needing a learning environment more conducive to his needs, and a man’s discomfort with the counseling room does not substantiate the belief that he is the guiltier party.

Respect Talk Upfront Because I am realistic, I recognize a change in the counseling setting will not take place. Special efforts, therefore, need to be made to make the husband feel more comfortable.

In the counseling setting most women have an inner assurance that a wife's need for love and connectedness with her husband will be upheld and promoted. On the other hand, most men think that at some point in the counseling they will hear, “You are inadequate and unworthy of respect for failing to connect with your wife in loving ways.” And guess what? Both are right for their respective conclusions.

A professional therefore needs to say to the husband (and clients need to look for this type of counselor), “I believe you are here because you are an honorable man who wants to improve the marriage. I salute you. My goal, therefore, in these sessions is to see you as a man of honor and treat you with respect."

Given this counselor is authentic, men will line up outside this counselor’s door to make an appointment. Why is Respect Talk so important? To counter the typical counseling culture.

Why Do So Many Feel the Man Is Unworthy of Respect? Again, the counselor’s office is painted pink. By that I mean, it is favorable to the womanly ways of communicating. Wives convey their intense desire to love and be loved, articulate well their feelings about love, tenderly cry when feeling unloved, listen attentively to the counselor explain ways to increase love, allow themselves to be interrupted, say they are sorry when faults are highlighted, and express their desire to forgive and be forgiven. With such noble traits, how can she be culpable? She evidences the traits counselors cherish.

I applaud these characteristics, but when the man reacts differently, it suggests to the counselor that he is inadequate and unworthy of respect. In these counseling settings the pink language of love that women speak dominates the conversation whereas the blue language of respect that men speak is unspoken! Often the guy sits there as though he is in a foreign country. He never hears his mother tongue of respect. Instead, he feels described by his wife and maybe the counselor as a wrecking ball in a glass factory.

But when Respect Talk is sustained throughout the sessions, the counselor’s office is flooded with blue lights and we see a different scene unfold with men. We find the men responding in extraordinary ways to Respect Talk.

Sustain the Sessions with Respect Talk What do I mean sustain the sessions with Respect Talk? A counselor should speak with respect and also be an expert in why men respond as they do to their wives, giving the men the benefit of the doubt as honorable men. Counselors need to decode the virtue behind male reactions.

Every client needs to look for this type of counselor.

For example, watch what happens in the soul of the husband when he hears the counselor state, “I know that when you stonewall and withdraw during escalating conflict with your wife that you are trying to calm down. You don’t want to fight but to drop the matter and move on since the conflict is no big deal. You are not trying to be unloving. You are trying to do the honorable thing. Research has shown that during marital conflict your heart beats per minute rise to 99 which is warrior mode, so you must calm yourself down as a good willed and honorable man. This shutting down, which 85% of all husbands do during marital fights, is an act of honor to protect her and prevent yourself from getting really mad and saying or doing something that you would regret. True?"

The husband sits up and engages the conversation, “Yes, that’s how I often feel."

The Shame Instead too many men hear, “Do you understand how your silent withdrawal hurts your wife? She just wants to talk things through, be reassured that you love her, and for you to tell her you are sorry. Why can’t you do this? All she wants is to connect with you emotionally. She’s dying in this relationship. Have you recognized how inadequate your initiation and response is? Don’t you realize how hard it is for her to respect you during these moments?"

Every wife should applaud the sensitivity the counselor has toward her as a woman but as a wife she must not stop there even though hurting and frustrated by her husband. She must recognize the importance of what her husband feels and seek out a counselor to “gets” her husband. In the long run, this creates win-win.

The Honor When a man feels understood, accepted, respected, and justly treated in the sessions, he engages the counselor and his wife. When a counselor honors his inner man, good things evolve. He will try to be transparently emotional about his feelings, humbly confess his failure to show love as he ought to show it, and face the part he played in hurting her during arguments especially when she seeks forgiveness for her disrespect. He will readily forgive when his deep hurts are understood and a sincere apology is forthcoming from his wife. He will be less angry. In fact, he will commit to doing what it takes to make the marriage work when the counselor appeals to him as a man of honor to do what needs to be done when the counselor adds, “Your wife needs your strength. Unfortunately, she has failed to convey that need in a way that honors you."

The Bible From a biblical perspective there is no major assignment of blame placed on the husband. For example, though the husband breaks the marital covenant in Malachi, the wife breaks the covenant in Proverbs 3. As I looked at Scripture, I did not see a 90–10 split with 90 percent of the problems being due to the husband’s ineptness. It is more of a 51–49 split. I hold the husband more responsible but not to the same degree that many in the counseling industry assign blame to the husband. When good willed men are given the benefit of the doubt and when his need for respect is understood, good things happen.

Remember that Jesus said God made us male and female. Unless there is an intrinsic evil inside the husband, he is not unsuitable; he just differs from his wife. As husbands are to live with their wives and understand her according to 1 Peter 3:7, a wife is to put on respectful behavior toward her husband according to 1 Peter 3:2. In other words, as Proverbs 12:4 says, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.” In seeking a counselor, find one who sees the husband’s need for respect and avoids shaming the husband. It could very well be that the counselor’s bias against the male is what renders the counselor ineffective, not what the counselor concludes to be the unteachable spirit of the husband.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is it about the counselor’s support that you believe is so appealing to the wife? Why do you think that not even male counselors typically understand and favor the men during their sessions? Shouldn’t they understand why the husbands are acting so uncomfortable and coming across as defensive in this setting?

  2. What do you think is the most uncomfortable aspect of marriage counseling to the men?

  3. Do you believe that Respect Talk, as Emerson describes it, comes naturally? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions (for Those Considering Marriage Counseling)

  1. Though you cannot control whether your counselor will have a bias against men, what can you do to better ensure he/she does not favor the wife over the husband?

  2. For the wife: What can you do to find a counselor who will speak Respect Talk to your husband?

  3. For the husband: Knowing that both the physical setting and the situation as a whole of speaking with a marriage counselor is going to be on the “pink side,” how can you best put that aside and continue on with it for the good of your marriage?

-Dr. E