Relationship Fitness

S19 E6: Grant Yourself Space to Be Yourself

In Episode Six of “Relationship Workout for Men,” titled “Grant Yourself Space to Be Yourself,” Vince Vasquez and guest Luis Maimoni, a seasoned marriage and family therapist, delve into the unspoken expectations placed on men to maintain a stoic demeanor. They discuss the necessity for men to explore and embrace their authentic selves rather than conforming to societal molds. Luis offers insights on breaking free from the “masculine cage” by advocating for honest self-expression and understanding in relationships, emphasizing the importance of vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. This episode encourages men to redefine masculinity in a way that embraces emotional openness and genuine self-reflection.

Guest 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. Schedule a visit via his website: LuisTheTherapist.com

Vince:

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner and being a better partner for the person they choose. I’m your host, Vince Vasquez, and today I’m speaking with Luis Maimoni, a licensed marriage and family therapist for people in all kinds of relationships. We’re in Season 19, focusing on building and keeping commitments. Episode Six is titled ‘Grant Yourself Space to Be Yourself.’

The key theme of this episode is the unspoken expectation for men to remain stoic in the face of adversity. In truth, none of us are invulnerable. Are you being the person you think you should be, or are you being your authentic self?

What do you think about this, Luis?

Luis:

I say preach it, brother. Seriously though, despite what society often claims about being who you want to be and doing what you want to do, this doesn’t generally apply to men. We are, more than women, expected to fit into a specific role. I don’t blame women for this; it’s on us. Despite all the advances in feminism, we are still largely confined within a ‘masculine cage’ where we must endure any pain and struggle, earn for our families, and protect them while being tough and not necessarily caring or sensitive. There was once a term, a ‘sensitive new age guy’ or SNAG, but it was often used derogatorily. Although attitudes are slowly changing with younger generations, the stereotypes persist, especially in culturally traditional regions like Southern California where I’m broadcasting from.

Men are still expected to fit into a mold. When asked, ‘Who do you want to be?’ the expected answer is typically about a profession—firefighter, police officer, mail carrier, or astronaut. Rarely is there room for a man to say he wants to be a dad, or that he wants to walk through a field of flowers and feel his spirit soar. Saying ‘I want to be a soldier’ is acceptable, but not ‘I want to be a poet.’ These expectations are unwritten and unspoken, but they drive our every action.

This conditioning to be what we think we should be, not who we are, traps us. Now in a relationship, this means I might fall into the role of provider, fixer, protector, or father without ever really understanding who I am or what I want. Vince, you often ask how I know who I want to be. That is a personal journey, and the answer varies for everyone. In my case, I never imagined becoming a therapist. Raised on the philosophy of rational egoism and admirer of Ayn Rand, I was expected to be a scientist or, at the very least, an engineer.

Yet here I am, a therapist, because I took the time to discover who I really am and what my strengths are. Often, our destinies seem carved in stone, and we challenge them at our peril. In this relationship space, who are you willing to be if not yourself? When and where do you get to be yourself if not here and now? You’re over 18, presumably, with the right to self-determination, but we often don’t know how to use it.

We need to take time to be our fullest selves in relationships. Remember from Episode Two, transitioning from ‘me’ to ‘we’? While there is a ‘we’ in relationships, a relationship also needs ‘me’ to stay fresh. If all we do is watch the same TV, share the same hobbies, walk the same paths, or work at the same place, nothing new will ever enter our relationship, and it won’t have the nourishment it needs to grow. Any organism, including a relationship, that doesn’t grow, stagnates. So, it’s okay to find yourself and be yourself, even if it’s a bit outside of what you do with your significant other. And it’s okay for her to do the same; it can be part of what makes you strong together.

Vince:

I’d like to highlight two points. Firstly, I find it remarkable that one of the key themes I promote is that men should strive to be the best partners they can be. Yet, this idea never crossed my mind in my younger years. If you had asked me upon graduating high school what I wanted to be as an adult, the answer ‘to be the best partner I can be’ would not have been part of the conversation. I believe it should be.

Secondly, I want to address the challenge of coming home and sharing daily failures with your partner. As men, we’re often expected to create a safe environment for our family and significant other. However, a safe environment doesn’t necessarily accommodate personal failures. How do you bridge this gap? How do you share your failures when your partner expects you to maintain a secure environment, and your failures might undermine that sense of security?

Luis:

OK, so you brought up a couple of points. I’ll address the current one you raised, and we can return to the first one later if you’d like. Let’s consider what constitutes a safe environment. As a child, safety typically means physical security; no one wants their parents to be constantly fighting. However, if I create an environment where it’s not safe to fail, then it’s not truly a safe environment but rather a rigid one where failure is unacceptable. If I come home and it’s just a giant pity party, that’s problematic. But if I can say, “I aimed for the moon and the stars and only managed to grab some fruit from the treetop,” that’s still a victory. Maybe I didn’t reach the stars, but I achieved something worthwhile.

What I’m saying is that the best relationships occur when we are our most authentic selves. This authenticity means we don’t always have to pretend everything is fine. Sometimes, things don’t go my way. There are people who, in their overprotectiveness, might wrap their children in bubble wrap before letting them step outside. Such overprotection denies children the chance to face and overcome challenges. We want to keep our kids safe, but we also need to give them opportunities to build resilience.

By modeling vulnerability—showing that it’s okay for the head of the household to fail—we make it easier for everyone else to accept their vulnerabilities and strive to be their best selves. That’s the direction I think we should take with this.

Vince:

OK. Regarding the point about intentionally being the best partner you can be, I find it a bit ironic. We go to school to prepare for our careers and professions, striving to perform well in our jobs. But do we, as men, commit to doing the work necessary to be the best partners we can be for our spouses and families?

How can you maintain a commitment to your relationship if you are not striving to be the best partner you can be? It seems to create risk. It appears that we would benefit from having the space to make mistakes, as well as the opportunity to learn and grow—and the desire to do so.

Luis:

So, that’s where the first point transitions into the next, but initially, it was really about reflecting on my teenage years and what I envisioned for myself. During my formative years, I wasn’t thinking about becoming the best partner I could be. My focus was more on typical teenage activities—beer pong, partying, going to the lake, girls in bikinis. However, as I transition from focusing on ‘me’ to ‘we,’ I start to consider what it means to be a relationship partner. There’s an assumption that I will be the breadwinner, the one who provides and makes the decisions because I earn the money, which gives me all the power.

I believe this approach can detrimentally affect the relationship. It’s important to bring the best version of myself to the relationship and really understand what that entails. Yes, I want to embody masculinity, but what does that mean within the family role? Traditionally, family roles are often viewed as feminine, a perspective not widely endorsed by feminists. This is evident in my professional observations and studies that indicate women still handle most of the household chores. This isn’t about judging whether it’s good or bad; it’s simply the reality of how gender roles are typically distributed.

What then should a man contribute, and how can he effectively do so while allowing space for exploring aspects traditionally seen as feminine? Being masculine and feminine are two sides of the same coin, so exploring the other side doesn’t mean abandoning masculinity; it means enhancing it by being loving, caring, and a good father.

Vince:

I think the concept of being authentic involves giving ourselves the space to be imperfect while aiming to improve and grow, inviting our partner to join us on this journey. This way, she sees your authentic self, warts and all, and still loves you for it.

Luis:

I think she might be projecting a fantasy onto you, and you are enabling her to maintain that fantasy by continuing to act as her ideal. This is one of the ways that men can struggle internally. Often, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, but we’re conforming to her expectations of what an ideal husband should be, which may not align with who we truly want to be.

Vince:

Great points. Let’s wrap up the episode there. These are truly rich words of wisdom. Thank you.

That concludes episode six: Grant Yourself Space to Be Yourself. Thank you, Luis.

In the next episode, episode seven, we will talk about sex.

Thank you, Luis.

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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