'As a man I want to love and be loved': Men's health experts reveal what guys really want
How well do women understand men? Our reporter brought together a group of men's health experts to find out
Published 02/11/2016 | 02:30
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, famously opined that "the great question that has never been answered is 'What does a woman want?'"
The idea of women being difficult to understand is, of course, an age-old construct. The fairer sex, we are told, have a complicated, mercurial and sometimes impenetrable psyche. Men, meanwhile, are thought to have much simpler needs, which are often crudely confused with their more basic urges.
Research tells a different story, however. A recent University of Melbourne study interviewed 13,884 men (making it the world's largest all-male cohort study) and found that 34pc of men who identify as 'self-reliant' are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
The face of modern masculinity may be changing but this study suggests that many men are still trapped by gender stereotypes and the received idea that they have to overcome obstacles alone.
Do women know what men really want? We brought together a group of men's health experts and asked them.
Ivor Browne, former chief psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board
"Men are no longer sure about their role in society. Being a hunter is no longer enough now that women have joined the workplace and there has been a major change of role. Some men, like Donald Trump, are still trying to hold on to that bombastic, macho role but, for the large majority of men now in Western society, there has been a major change.
Women have been so involved in the struggle for equality and trying to gain equal status in the workplace that I think they haven't been aware of the enormous change that men have been facing.
A sizable minority of men are now living the role of house father, or at least sharing the task of child-rearing equally, wheeling prams or carrying children on their chests, but for many men this role, while laudable, has left them with a major question mark as to who or what they are and a feeling of considerable vulnerability and uncertainty.
'A sizable minority of men are now living the role of house father,' says Ivor Browne
I think women can often be quite insensitive to this change of status that men are facing because they have been so involved in their own struggle for equality and independence.
For this reason, within the family, they can often be making major demands on their male partners to share the responsibilities of child-rearing and domestic chores, often without appreciating the vulnerability and uncertainty that men are feeling and hence they may tend to deprive men of the sensitivity, love and care that this weaker sex are crying out for."
Tony Moore, psychotherapist and relationships counsellor with Relationships Ireland
"One popular recurring theme presented by men to me in the counselling room is how devalued they feel by their female partner. A lot of men 'joke' in public about their partner "giving out". They are told repeatedly that they can't do anything right. This view that men are 'useless' is reinforced across all media. The drip-drip-drip effect of all this is a massive loss in confidence among men.
'What do men want? Funnily enough, sex doesn't come top', says Tom Moore
Of course, a lot of men, when asked about this subject, will conform to the stereotype and 'joke' their way out of the subject. When asked, in public, women will support their men. In private, with men, it is very different.
It is still politically correct to ridicule men no matter the emotional cost. Over the years I have lost count of the number of men, of all ages, I have seen in the counselling room in a very distressed state, literally feeling worthless and not wanted. A few months ago one man used 19 tissues in one hour he cried so much. All appreciate they can drop the 'mask' and be themselves for one hour in a counselling room.
'It is still politically correct to ridicule men no matter the emotional cost', says Tony Moore
Men will often say that they feel unloved and sidelined by their partners. If they dare bring this subject up they are ridiculed and told to grow up. If the men protest, they are told they have an 'anger problem'. So in the end they retreat physically and emotionally and they feel so unloved and isolated. Their feelings are not taken seriously.
So what do men want? Funnily enough, sex doesn't come top. What comes top is for their partner to hug them and tell them they are wanted and to her and the children he really is their hero. I beg of you please don't laugh at that. Men really do want to be a hero for their family. The majority have lots of love to give and really want to do their best.
There has been, quite rightly, a focus on supporting females right across the board, both personally and professionally, to redress a massive and unjust inequality. It is right and proper to acknowledge women's enormous contribution to society, and to focus on emotional support. Men need the same support. They have learned how to mask that need behind 'jokes' and a minimising of their need for support. It is a very lonely and frightening place for a lot of men." relationshipsireland.com
Tom Evans, psychotherapist and counsellor
"There are many aspects of the male psyche that I feel women don't always understand fully. An important one is what I describe as the 'Pack v Pair' dilemma. Does he want to hang out more with the lads ('the pack') than with his partner and/or family ('the pair')? If he ranks 'the pack' as more important than 'the pair', then that's problematic and suggests underlying issues in the relationship that need to be addressed.
Like all things, moderation is a pretty good measure. For emotional and psychological well-being, men need 'the pack' in their lives also. It ticks many of our mental health boxes. It's the social, the craic, the friendship, the unencumbered, unfettered space for the inner boy. It provides space for the wild, the joy and the uncensored. It's social, team, community, belonging, and provides an external sounding board.
I'm not suggesting that these aspects of our psyche don't have the space for freedom and expression in our intimate relationships. Great when they do, but no relationship can tick all of these boxes. And if you think that your relationship ought to satisfy all of his needs, then you are putting an enormous and unrealistic expectation on that relationship.
Men are often quiet or emotionally inarticulate. It is wrong to conclude on this basis that men don't have feelings or views. This can require more effort and a different kind of listening, but it does not mean there's nothing going on emotionally or intellectually.
His pint night with the lads, or game on a Saturday or whatever, is important to his mental health and well-being and should not be viewed as a threat to the relationship. This can sometimes pose a challenge to partners, and often, the issue is the partner's own insecurity.
We need to remember that no matter how rewarding, relationships and family still require work. And he needs a break - just as you do." tomevans.ie
'His pint night with the lads is important to his mental health', says Tom Evans
Derek McDonnell, founder of Mojo, a programme designed to support vulnerable men
"By conditioning boys to be 'brave little soldiers', and men to be the 'strong, silent type', we have created an ideal man that not even Superman could live up to. Men, like women, need strong social and emotional connections to navigate their way successfully through life.
Given permission and the right tools, men like to talk about their feelings. Collectively, we need to encourage men to seek out emotional support from others without fear of being seen as less of a man. Supporting and encouraging men to be emotional beings will result in transformational change." mojo.ngo
'Given permission and the right tools, men like to talk about their feelings', says Derek McDonnell
Shane O'Donnell, Postgraduate research student at the National Centre for Men's Health, IT Carlow
"It's not that men are incapable of expressing their feelings, but that we have been conditioned to deny and repress them as a consequence of ideologies that are rooted in our institutional value systems. 'Big boys don't cry' and 'man up' would be prime examples of phrases that circulate the media, school and sporting areas upon which boys develop and explore how to be a man.
Often, these feelings are masked or expressed through 'acceptable' male outlets such as alcohol abuse or violent behaviour towards others or oneself."
John Evoy, Men's Sheds
"Sure you couldn't get it right for getting it wrong. There is a lot said about how men don't express what's going on for them, their feelings and the like. There are lots of ways at looking at this. Here's a conversation you have heard, or even been part of. Even though this is written with tongue-in-cheek, the point it makes is that the societal messages that are directed at men in terms of expressing themselves are often complete opposites. menssheds.ie
Her: How are you?
Her: Grand is not a feeling. How are you really doing?
Him: I'm fine, not a bother
Her: No really, how are you feeling now?
Him: Well, honestly, not the best. I am a bit low on energy, maybe it's a cold
Her: (Giggles) Ahh. The Man Flu. Sure don't be complaining all the time. It's hardly that bad
Him: Fair enough"
Michael Lynch, Fathering Families Project Manager, Men's Action Network
"My deepest feelings as a man are to love and be loved. I care deeply, protect and provide for my partner, family and friends and try to for all I interact with. Sometimes I need acknowledgement and affirmation that I am also loved, to feel my purpose in life is validated.
'My deepest feelings as a man are to love and be loved,' says Michael Lynch
My work with men has taught me that between men and women, particularly within personal relationships, men's ability to express emotional needs in a way that is healthy for a relationship is often difficult, confusing and painful as we try to be open, honest and seek consensus in the journey of relationships.
Often we need to be reassured that we are getting it right, particularly when we can see it so differently from the other's point of view. A communication process is key to this, not just the ability to talk. Much is overlooked or ignored because of an inability to understand what each are really experiencing." man-ni.org
David Kavanagh, psychotherapist and author of 'Love Rewired'
"Most men need novelty in their lives. I know I do. Recently I wrote a book about the brain which explored this very subject. Novelty increases the levels of dopamine in our brains and makes us feel really good. Therefore doing the same thing over and over again, whether it be in terms of romance, sex, fun or chores, can often turn men off and make them particularly dull.
Of course I have worked with men whose idea of bliss is to come home from work, place a bet, watch a match, eat their dinner and fall asleep beside their partner before being shunted off to bed, but such men are the exception rather than the norm.
I'f you want to keep your guy happy, organise to do new things with him often,' says David Kavanagh
So if you want to keep your guy happy, organise to do new things with him often, push him out of his comfort zone and try to increase his testosterone and adrenaline levels with some fun form of physical activity you both enjoy, the sillier, the better." davidkavanagh.tv