This episode is for men who want to do better but don’t begin or to know how & their partners who love them.  Women often feel misunderstood & men feel like “What more can I do?” and giving up becomes the path with the least pain attached. This episode is to give men guidance on how to grow into even better versions of themselves…which I believe is the great purpose of relationships.

Empowering Men To Understand Problems In Relationships

This episode is for men who want to do better but don’t begin or to know how & their partners who love them.  Women often feel misunderstood & men feel like “What more can I do?” and giving up becomes the path with the least pain attached.

Relationships are messy to begin with. Even dating has gotten more confusing. Then think about how many people struggle to communicate their unhappiness to themselves much less to anybody else. So how does anybody go about making things better? What does trying harder or doing better so your partner is more content even mean?

Kristal DeSantis the author of S.T.R.O.N.G  A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man reached out to me about doing an episode & I immediately thought about all the confused, baffled men I have worked with over more than 40 years who want to do better but don’t begin to know how. This topic really resonated with me about how important it is to help men understand the empowered women or partners that they love. 

In her intro she mentions the 2015 study by the American Sociological Association that I’ve referred to so many times, that 70% of the time it is women who drive the divorce. Women often feel misunderstood & men feel like “What more can I do?” and giving up becomes the path with the least pain attached.

I’m all about teaching & education which is why I’m addicted to life long learning. My last episode in February was for exhausted women, this episode is to give men guidance on how to grow into even better versions of themselves…which in my mind is the great purpose of relationships. Apparently Supreme court justice Roberts did not understand he had an opportunity to explain to his wife what conflict of interest means when it comes to making money but I digress.

Culturally, parents tend to raise boys and girls differently: Boys are more often rewarded for being tough and adventurous, while girls are more often rewarded for being good caretakers. Research shows parents use more words about emotions with their daughters which supports emotional smarts and more words about spatial objects with their sons which supports STEM skills. This is not about blame, it’s about what might be missing that contributes to confusion.

Masculinity can also be associated with not being vulnerable. Relationships & intimacy require vulnerability. Men are not encouraged to share their feelings, or if they do, they may be easily dismissed. It could be very helpful if a partner encourages more sharing of feelings by expressing gratitude. Communication means both people sharing their truths. A lack of communication can lead to a pile of unspoken resentments that just gets too high to deal with which slowly kills off the relationship.

On TV sexual intercourse always leads to mutual orgasm. In one of my favorite past episodes #70 on this podcast, in an interview with Emily Nagasaki , she is quite clear that up to 70% of women do not orgasm through intercourse. Think about how many men may not know that & the confusing message sent from the cultural window offered in movies & television. 

More information is clearly needed & my guest today Kristol DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder of the STRONG Relationship Model and author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide For the Modern Man published just last month! Kristal believes (& I quote)  “We’re at a tipping point in men’s mental health. The traditional model of marriage and relationships is based on roles that no longer speak to the average modern man or woman. While there are hundreds of resources available for women, there’s a deep need for some way to bring men into the conversation around mental health and healthy relationships in a way that is empowering and inspiring rather than blaming and shaming. STRONG is the new guide for a healthy egalitarian modern relationship, paving the way for the modern man to understand how to be a green flag in his relationships.” Thanks so much for joining me today Kristal is there anything you would like to add to my introduction?. 

Relationships are messy to begin with. Even dating has gotten more confusing. Then think about how many people struggle to communicate their unhappiness to themselves much less to anybody else. So how does anybody go about making things better? What does trying harder or doing better so your partner is more content even mean?

Kristal DeSantis the author of S.T.R.O.N.G  A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man reached out to me about doing an episode & I immediately thought about all the confused, baffled men I have worked with over more than 40 years who want to do better but don’t begin to know how. This topic really resonated with me about how important it is to help men understand the empowered women or partners that they love. 

In her intro she mentions the 2015 study by the American Sociological Association that I’ve referred to so many times, that 70% of the time it is women who drive the divorce. Women often feel misunderstood & men feel like “What more can I do?” and giving up becomes the path with the least pain attached.

I’m all about teaching & education which is why I’m addicted to life long learning. My last episode in February was for exhausted women, this episode is to give men guidance on how to grow into even better versions of themselves…which in my mind is the great purpose of relationships. Apparently Supreme court justice Roberts did not understand he had an opportunity to explain to his wife what conflict of interest means when it comes to making money but I digress.

Culturally, parents tend to raise boys and girls differently: Boys are more often rewarded for being tough and adventurous, while girls are more often rewarded for being good caretakers. Research shows parents use more words about emotions with their daughters which supports emotional smarts and more words about spatial objects with their sons which supports STEM skills. This is not about blame, it’s about what might be missing that contributes to confusion.

Masculinity can also be associated with not being vulnerable. Relationships & intimacy require vulnerability. Men are not encouraged to share their feelings, or if they do, they may be easily dismissed. It could be very helpful if a partner encourages more sharing of feelings by expressing gratitude. Communication means both people sharing their truths. A lack of communication can lead to a pile of unspoken resentments that just gets too high to deal with which slowly kills off the relationship.

On TV sexual intercourse always leads to mutual orgasm. In one of my favorite past episodes #70 on this podcast, in an interview with Emily Nagasaki , she is quite clear that up to 70% of women do not orgasm through intercourse. Think about how many men may not know that & the confusing message sent from the cultural window offered in movies & television. 

More information is clearly needed & my guest today Kristol DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder of the STRONG Relationship Model and author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide For the Modern Man published just last month! Kristal believes (& I quote)  “We’re at a tipping point in men’s mental health. The traditional model of marriage and relationships is based on roles that no longer speak to the average modern man or woman. While there are hundreds of resources available for women, there’s a deep need for some way to bring men into the conversation around mental health and healthy relationships in a way that is empowering and inspiring rather than blaming and shaming. STRONG is the new guide for a healthy egalitarian modern relationship, paving the way for the modern man to understand how to be a green flag in his relationships.” Thanks so much for joining me today Kristal is there anything you would like to add to my introduction?. 

Relationships are messy to begin with. Even dating has gotten more confusing. Then think about how many people struggle to communicate their unhappiness to themselves much less to anybody else. So how does anybody go about making things better? What does trying harder or doing better so your partner is more content even mean?

Kristal DeSantis the author of S.T.R.O.N.G  A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man reached out to me about doing an episode & I immediately thought about all the confused, baffled men I have worked with over more than 40 years who want to do better but don’t begin to know how. This topic really resonated with me about how important it is to help men understand the empowered women or partners that they love. 

In her intro she mentions the 2015 study by the American Sociological Association that I’ve referred to so many times, that 70% of the time it is women who drive the divorce. Women often feel misunderstood & men feel like “What more can I do?” and giving up becomes the path with the least pain attached.

I’m all about teaching & education which is why I’m addicted to life long learning. My last episode in February was for exhausted women, this episode is to give men guidance on how to grow into even better versions of themselves…which in my mind is the great purpose of relationships. Apparently Supreme court justice Roberts did not understand he had an opportunity to explain to his wife what conflict of interest means when it comes to making money but I digress.

Culturally, parents tend to raise boys and girls differently: Boys are more often rewarded for being tough and adventurous, while girls are more often rewarded for being good caretakers. Research shows parents use more words about emotions with their daughters which supports emotional smarts and more words about spatial objects with their sons which supports STEM skills. This is not about blame, it’s about what might be missing that contributes to confusion.

Masculinity can also be associated with not being vulnerable. Relationships & intimacy require vulnerability. Men are not encouraged to share their feelings, or if they do, they may be easily dismissed. It could be very helpful if a partner encourages more sharing of feelings by expressing gratitude. Communication means both people sharing their truths. A lack of communication can lead to a pile of unspoken resentments that just gets too high to deal with which slowly kills off the relationship.

On TV sexual intercourse always leads to mutual orgasm. In one of my favorite past episodes #70 on this podcast, in an interview with Emily Nagasaki , she is quite clear that up to 70% of women do not orgasm through intercourse. Think about how many men may not know that & the confusing message sent from the cultural window offered in movies & television. 

More information is clearly needed & my guest today Kristol DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder of the STRONG Relationship Model and author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide For the Modern Man published just last month! Kristal believes (& I quote)  “We’re at a tipping point in men’s mental health. The traditional model of marriage and relationships is based on roles that no longer speak to the average modern man or woman. While there are hundreds of resources available for women, there’s a deep need for some way to bring men into the conversation around mental health and healthy relationships in a way that is empowering and inspiring rather than blaming and shaming. STRONG is the new guide for a healthy egalitarian modern relationship, paving the way for the modern man to understand how to be a green flag in his relationships.” Thanks so much for joining me today Kristal is there anything you would like to add to my introduction?. 

Rhoda: So, my first question to ask is, would you define S.T.R.O.N.G & how this can be helpful to men? & then we’ll dive into each letter more specifically. 

Kristal DeSantis: Yeah, absolutely. So, when I decided to become a therapist, I really knew that I wanted to specialize in working with couples. & I specifically had a passion for working with kind of hyper masculine men, veterans, first responders. & so, as I was kind of formulating my practice, I wanted something that would speak to that type of man. 

So, coming up with S.T.R.O.N.G as an acronym was my way of trying to make therapy accessible to men. Going to therapy is a strong thing. It’s a brave thing. Again, like you mentioned, sometimes the idea that talking about emotions is a sign of weakness & real men, real masculine men don’t have emotions or things like that. & so just choosing S.T.R.O.N.G as the foundation for this work, I thought was a way to build a bridge. 

Rhoda: So, you begin with S for Safety as your foundation. Could you share why this is so important to begin with? 

Kristal DeSantis: Absolutely. So, first of all, I’m a trauma-informed therapist & so that really sets the foundation for all of this work that I do. Again, in working with veterans & first responders, coming from a trauma-informed perspective meant that I brought safety into the room in every session.

& so as I was thinking about how to set men up for success in their relationships, this was one of the things that I started to see as a big gap, is women think about safety in relationships a lot. Being a woman in the world, we’re kind of always attuned to our physical safety. 

& this was something that when I would talk to men who maybe had been in situations where their physical safety was endangered, they suddenly had a very different perspective of what that meant & so bringing that, again, into the relational work of being a safe man in an unsafe world is a huge green flag for relationships. If you’re a man who can present as a safe person, you’re already kind of way ahead of the game when it comes to providing a solid foundation for your relationship to be healthy. 

So I break safety down, because, again, safety is a big concept, right? What does that mean? & also talking to men, one of the things I found in the idea of masculinity & this is based on a lot of anthropological research, is men tend to find a masculine identity in what this anthropologist calls the 3Ps. It’s being the Protector, being the Provider & being the Procreator.

& so the idea of man as the protector already kind of set the stage for men to, yes, I’m a safe person. Yes, of course I care about my family’s safety. Like, here I am working out, getting my body strong. Maybe I’ve invested in a really high-tech security system in my home. I’m invested in the safety of my family, so what are you talking about? 

& so for me, being able to break it down into what I call the 4S’s of safety & it starts with, number one, Self-awareness. Being a self-aware person is the foundational aspect of what it means to be safe. Because if you don’t know how you’re showing up in relationships, you’re probably going to be doing things that is bumping up against your partners, either trauma triggers or past pain points. So self-awareness is the first S of safety is really important. 

The second S is Stability & these are kind of basic life skills & any kind of flagrant safety violations like substance use issues. Anything that you’re using to cope that is violating the stability of the relationship could be a safety issue & maybe we’ll get more into that in detail. 

But then the third S is Self-regulation, right? So when you’re upset, if you’re having a bad day, how do you calm yourself so that you can be a safe person in the relationship? & this is one of the things I saw often where women would say, “No, I do love my husband. I do generally feel safe with him. I just really don’t feel safe when he’s angry because he doesn’t know how to self regulate, he doesn’t know how to manage his anger, & so then me & the kids, we just kind of, I don’t know, we just kind of wait it out.” & so for men, being able to self regulate in a relationship was huge & being able to bring an environment of safety into the home.

& then the last S is Self-expression & that’s the ability to handle & participate in emotional conversations in the safe way. So these, the four essences of safety, are really kind of the foundation of the S.T.R.O.N.G Model: self-awareness, stability, self-regulation & self-expression. 

Rhoda: On my dating page, one of the things I have to be careful about is when somebody lacks self-awareness & I think that’s the key to me, the beginning of…If you don’t recognize that your anger is too much at times with people you love, you’re going to be a problem, you know, & that’s a big deal. So I like everything you said so far.

I love that you included self-awareness. Can you offer one way everyone can improve their self-awareness? 

Kristal DeSantis: So maybe, you know, I’m a therapist, going to therapy. & often, especially now, right? It’s like, oh, it’s the thing. Sure, sure, everybody goes to therapy, but why? & it is a really good way to improve your self-awareness, because you’re sitting in a room telling your story to somebody who is an objective observer, right? 

& so I really want to emphasize that going to therapy & being able to tell your story to somebody who’s hearing it for the first time can give you some really valuable feedback on maybe how you’re seeing yourself. The story you tell about who you are in the world, the story you tell about previous relationships & why they did or didn’t work out. That can be a really important way to bring some awareness into how do you show up in a relationship. 

One of the things I also name in self-awareness, especially with men, is, are you trying to bring your performance to a relationship or are you genuinely showing up as a person? & this is that self-awareness thing of, again, going back to the 3P’s, sometimes I see that on dating sites where men are like, “I can provide for you. This is a salary I make.” 

& it’s like, but that doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person. Who are you? & self-awareness is about discovering who you are, who you have been in relationships & also maybe going into some past injuries or attachment traumas that you’ve had in your life so that you understand maybe how you’re compensating for that in your relationships today. Or maybe what are your kind of core wounds that you’re looking to then heal as you go into your new relationships. 

Obviously, Attachment Theory comes up a lot when it comes to exploring self-awareness. So, yeah, you know, all of that is it can be, again, either self-exploration through reading a lot of books about attachment, about family of origin, about relationships, or obviously, going to therapy & having somebody to bounce back & forth with is really helpful.

Rhoda: & listening to yourself with that therapist, that you can really be vulnerable & be true to who you are & you’re not putting on a performance as you mentioned, because then it’ll be a much more effective therapy. & I think it’s okay to find that person. It may not be me. It may be somebody else. I might be too direct for people. That’s totally okay. I like that a lot. 

T is for Trust. & I adored that you added, “When trust is broken, repair is crucial.” I just don’t hear people talking about repair often enough as much as I would like. Tell us more. 

Kristal DeSantis: Yeah. So I think this is something that I was looking at as I was coming up with this model, is there’s this idea that trust is something that you just inherently have or don’t have, & that’s just not true. & again, even happy couples, even really healthy, well-adjusted couples, will fight & will hurt each other. & so really emphasizing that trust is about the commitment to repair, right? It’s not about I’m a trusting person or I’m not a trusting person & this person is the one or not. It’s about, are we committed to being attuned to when we do hurt each other, & then do we care enough to make the repair? 

So, when I talk about trust, I have this R.E.P.A.I.R, I turn that into an acronym as well. So I talk about the steps to a good apology. & then also, I often like to talk about this as, you know, rupture & repair is what all relationships are like. That’s all they do is we have great times together & then there’s a little rupture. & it could be a tiny thing, it could be a moment of miscommunication, it could be a moment of misattunment, it could be just a little bump. 

But if you don’t immediately try to repair that, that bump is going to then fester, & then you bump up against each other again & again & again until finally you’re like, “I don’t really like being around you anymore because every time you bump into me & I tell you, ow, that hurts. There is no repair, there is no care,” & that’s what really erodes trust in a couple, is, you know?

So as a couple therapists, I always want to normalize that, yes, you will have ruptures, this will happen. You are two different people. You’re going to have differences of opinions. You’re going to have different bandwidth on different days. But the thing that matters, the thing that makes you trust each other is what’s your commitment to the bond? Do you care enough to repair when there is a rupture? & if not, then that’s what ends up eroding trust. 

Rhoda: I love that “normalizing the ups & downs of relationship.” I think there’s a lot of people with that Cinderella Disney idea that everything’s going to be a honeymoon & wonderful & then they’re scratching their heads going, “Wait a minute!” So, I think that’s really a great thing. 

R is for mutual Respect. I am constantly saying respect is more important than love & that couples divorce when respect is lost. Please add to this. 

Kristal DeSantis: Absolutely. Yeah. So respect is, again, that kind of fairy tale that when you find your partner, you will never need boundaries anymore & that you’ll just become this, like magical blob & you’re each other’s other half & all of that. & actually what that does is it erodes a lot of respect in the relationship because you’re still a person that has boundaries & those boundaries need to be respected.

& the assumption that you & your partner are the same person, actually leads to a lot of contempt, right? Because if I would do something a certain way but my partner doesn’t do it that way & I’m judging them against my standard, well, then they’re failing, right? & so then I’m looking at them from a one up position of like, how can you not be doing it right when actually different is not wrong? 

& so having the conversation about: let’s normalize that as a person, you can still have your own boundaries & then as a couple you can make agreements with each other of how do you then negotiate both of your needs so that they both get met in this relationship as opposed to my way or the highway? 

& what I see often with men is, you know, respect is so important to men & yet when it comes to relationships, the fairy tale is sometimes the idea of the happy wife, happy life. & what I hear sometimes from men is like, “I don’t know if I’m allowed to set a boundary in this relationship. Am I allowed to say no to my wife? & if I do, is she open to hearing it, right? Am I allowed to be a guy who’s too tired?”

& again, normalizing & validating, like, yes, you’re a person & yes, your consent matters too & yes, you have your own boundaries & being able to articulate that in a relationship also then builds mutual respect. Because when you can say, hey, this is a boundary I have & your partner says, “Absolutely. I support you. I’m not going to push it.” That also establishes them as a safe & trustworthy person, right?

Rhoda: O is for Openness, which I wholeheartedly agree is important. In particular, how can a man who very much sees everything as one or ten without any four, five or six, how can they learn about the complexity of the middle? 

Kristal DeSantis: Yeah. & I think this is a lot to do with our society & the man box & the idea of masculinity as, you know, men are competent, but it’s really difficult to be competent in something that you’re a beginner at. & so this is where I think society kind of puts men in this, you know, between a rock & a hard place of like, we want you to be open to new experiences, but we don’t want you to be a beginner because if you’re a man, you better be competent & confident.

& so what I end up seeing is men end up staying within their comfort zones because they don’t want to expose the edges of where they might feel a little bit off balance, because that can be, again, vulnerable. But when it comes to a relationship—& this is where I divide my STRONG Model into surviving & thriving. So, the S.T.R is really the basic relational skills. If you don’t have safety, trust or respect, your relationship is going to be struggling to survive. 

But then the O.N.G is really where you can take a relationship to that next level of thriving. & so once you get kind of solid, once you feel safe with your partner, you trust them, you feel respected by them, that then also gives you the confidence to be a little bit open & be a beginner in something. 

So that’s where I think the partnership really comes into play. Is it’s difficult to say, go be open, try new things if there’s no safety in “well, what if I fail? What if I fall on my butt & I get it wrong? Is that okay?” & normalizing that yes, again, being a beginner, embracing openness is going to be beneficial to the relationship & there is an understanding that it’s not going to be perfect the first time. There is a learning curve. 

Rhoda: Yes. I have a nine-year-old grandson who’s a bit of a perfectionist already, & I say to him all the time that mistakes are incredibly important, & kind of trying to tattoo it into his brain because it really is such a big part of life to embrace your mistakes.

Kristol DeSantis: But I also think that’s part of the messaging that we send to men about being powerful, being performance-oriented. There’s no room for error. You better get it right. If you’re not first, you’re last. Like be a winner. Being a winner means… & all of this stuff. I mean, gosh with the stakes that high, it is scary to make a mistake, right? 

Rhoda: N is for Nurturing & the only thing I would add to that is that truth telling about hard things needs to be taught as nurturing of relationships. Nurturing does not mean no disagreement, only support, right? 

Kristal DeSantis: Absolutely. & again, this is where I think going into the longevity of a relationship, one of the things I found working with men is they like—you mentioned in the beginning of this podcast, that we don’t often allow men to claim the label of nurturing. We kind of socialize little girls to be nurturing. We talk about women him in as the nurtures & the caretakers, & really kind of normalizing that, you know, being an invested partner in the relationship means that you have to be nurturing because a relationship is a living thing. & if you have children, being a nurturing parent is so important.

& again, I think maybe we’ve seen in working with couples, this can be a point where couples start to—especially women will get very resentful of being the only person saddled with the nurturing of the children or the home or the family. & also, like you mentioned, with the sexual connection. Nurturing a sexual connection & kind of making sure that you have a culture of pleasure in your home is different than, “Okay, it’s Monday. Are we going to put it on the calendar today?”

& so changing that language & talking to men from being good at maintenance, which is caring for something that’s maybe inanimate, you can maintain a vehicle, as opposed to caring for something that’s alive, which is nurturing, which is a relationship is alive, your children are alive, your plants, your animals, which just requires a different level of care & attention & attunement, & presence.

& men are very much capable of that. I mean, men do that in professions all the time, but somehow when it comes to the home, we’ve kind of removed men from that conversation & instead overemphasize the role of women in that space & nurturing in the STRONG Model is really about bringing that balance back. 

Rhoda: Excellent. G is for Generosity, which is about attention & the benefit of the doubt, correct? 

Kristal DeSantis: Absolutely. & so for this, what I often go back to is the Gottman’s Magic Ratio, where he talked talks about the difference between what he calls master couples & then what he calls disaster couples. & the difference was really simple. It was couples that turn towards each other rather than turning away from each other. & that’s that generous choice. Because I was saying, as I say in my book & as I was looking at this, is I think it was so easy for people to want to label their partner as narcissist or some kind of personality disorder. & it’s like, no, they just made a selfish choice rather than a generous one on when it came to a choice point, they chose what was best for them over what was best for the relationship. That’s just garden variety selfishness. & all genders are culpable of that. & that is one of the things that will destroy a relationship. 

Want to hear the entire episode? Listen above! Want more info from Kristal? Her website: https://www.strong.love

0 0 votes
Article Rating



RELATED ARTICLES


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer


Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

FOLLOW ON TWITTER & INSTAGRAM

13 THINGS YOU CAN DO to IMPROVE YOUR IDENTITY

Download your FREE checklist


 

RECENT POST

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x