Relationship Fitness

P19 E6: Grant Yourself Space to be Yourself

In a world where men are often expected to be the unshakeable pillars of strength, there lies an unspoken pressure to conform to a stereotypical mold of masculinity. This ‘masculine cage’ dictates that men endure pain, shoulder the responsibility of earning for the family, and exude toughness, often at the expense of their authentic selves. But are these expectations truly reflective of who men want to be, or are they merely roles society has enforced upon them?

 

The notion that men should fit into predefined roles—like a firefighter, police officer, or astronaut—is pervasive. Rarely is there room in these expectations for a man who wants to be a nurturing father or, perhaps, a poet who finds joy in the simple beauty of a field of flowers. These societal norms are not just limiting; they actively suppress individuality, pushing men towards what they think they should be rather than allowing them to explore who they truly are.

 

This societal conditioning often traps men in roles that may not align with their true desires or capabilities. For instance, in a relationship, a man might default to being the provider or the protector without ever stopping to question if these roles fulfill him or allow him to express his true self. The journey to discovering one’s authentic self is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another. For me, despite a background steeped in the philosophy of rational egoism, I found my calling not in engineering or science, as expected, but in becoming a therapist—a role that allowed me to explore and utilize my strengths.

 

Authenticity in relationships is crucial. The transition from ‘me’ to ‘we’ in a relationship does not mean losing one’s individuality. On the contrary, a relationship needs the freshness that only well-defined individualities can bring. Doing everything together—watching the same TV shows, sharing hobbies, or walking the same paths—might seem ideal but can lead to stagnation. Relationships, like any living organism, need growth to thrive, and growth comes from each partner bringing their unique selves and experiences into the relationship.

 

Creating a safe environment where one can be vulnerable is essential. As children, safety often means physical security, but as adults in relationships, safety should also mean the freedom to fail. It means coming home and saying, “I aimed for the stars and only reached the treetop,” and knowing that’s not only okay but celebrated as a victory. By modeling vulnerability, we show that it’s acceptable to not always succeed, providing a powerful lesson in resilience and authenticity.

 

Reflecting on my teenage years, I realize that my early focus was not on being the best partner I could be. The assumption that, as a man, I would be the breadwinner and decision-maker was ingrained early on. This approach can strain relationships, as it often places undue pressure on men to perform a certain role while neglecting the emotional and relational work needed to build a healthy partnership.

 

Men need to challenge these traditional roles and create space for themselves to explore all facets of their personality, including those traditionally viewed as feminine. This doesn’t diminish masculinity but enriches it, allowing men to be more loving, caring, and engaged partners and fathers.

 

In conclusion, granting oneself the space to be authentic is not just about personal fulfillment—it’s also about bringing the best version of oneself to all relationships. This space allows for mistakes, growth, and, ultimately, the development of a stronger, more genuine connection with others. As we move from focusing solely on ‘me’ to including ‘we’, let us not forget the importance of maintaining a robust sense of ‘me’ in the equation.

 

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Luis Maimoni is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships of all kinds, including men having relationship difficulties. Luis offers a no cost, no obligation consultation.

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