When I was getting divorced, a men's group invited me to an information session they were having with a family law lawyer. I thought I could learn some helpful tips, but I feared I wouldn't fit in. These divorced men were probably domineering and controlling -- that's why their wives divorced them. I, on the other hand, was a nice guy who tried hard to make his wife happy but she didn't appreciate me.
I went. The other men were the nicest guys you could ever meet. They all couldn't understand why their ex-wives didn't appreciate them. Each one blamed the ex. For them, the only solution was for the ex-wives to change.
When I blamed the ex, I was convinced I was right. But when I heard other men saying similar things, I wasn't convinced. I asked them what suddenly became obvious: What should you have done differently? What did you need to learn? Their answers were similar - they married the wrong person and they learned what they should look out for the next time around.
What I asked them, I had to ask myself: What should I have done differently? What did I, as a man, need to learn? I didn't want to go through another divorce.
Thus began my journey seeking wisdom on being a man. The first thing I learned from listening to other men is that a lot of us are confused. We were told to be sensitive. We so feared being accused of being controlling, we went to the other extreme and wanted women to make most of the decisions. We tried so hard to please - and couldn't understand why women were so frustrated with us.
On my journey, I read books on marriage and relationships but they said little to me about being a man. I then explored the teachings that men had written over the centuries on what it means to be a man - insights that fathers and other older male role models used to teach younger men. I was amazed how these timeless lessons were so relevant today and directly applicable to complaints I heard from women about what is lacking in men today. The three most important insights I learned were:
Show leadership -- One of the biggest complaints women have is that men don't show their share of leadership. When a man is oblivious to problems and leaves dealing with them to the woman, she feels like a single parent. Women admire men who are aware of situations and step forward to handle them.
Make decisions -- Don't think if you avoid making decisions, you avoid responsibility for the outcome. You are still responsible. A man needs to make his share of decisions and take responsibility for the outcome. To many women, a man who avoids making decisions is shirking his duties.
Take responsibility -- Forget about blaming. Take responsibility for what's going on in your home and improve the situation. If you give in to something your wife pressured you to do and it goes wrong, don't blame her. There is little sympathy for a man who blames a woman. People will say, "You're the man. Why did you let it go on?"
I worked on developing these traits. When I shared what I learned with other men - such as the fellows in the divorced men's group - some disagreed but most asked why nobody had taught them this before. A divorced woman told me she wished her husband had known this - if he had, their marriage would not have disintegrated.
I realized that blaming and thinking the only solution was for another person to change was avoiding responsibility. As I learned more of what I should have done differently, I realized that men need to see challenges with spouses as opportunities to grow as men. My new relationships are better. And I stopped blaming the ex.