ERP 365: How To Develop Modern, High-Value, Masculine Traits — An Interview With Kristal DeSantis

By Posted in - Podcast March 28th, 2023 0 Comments

With the changing dynamics of society, the traditional definition of masculinity is being redefined, and there is a growing need for men to develop new skills and behaviors to thrive in today’s world.

In this episode, we will explore actionable steps that men can take to develop these traits, enhance their personal growth, and succeed in both their personal and professional lives. Join us as we dive into this fascinating topic and discover how you can develop modern, high-value, masculine traits.

Kristal DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with specializations in trauma, sex therapy, couples, and men’s mental health issues. Creator of the STRONG Relationship Therapy Model of trauma-informed couples therapy. Certified clinical trauma professional with training in EMDR, complex PTSD, and relational trauma in first responders, LEOs, and veterans.

In this Episode

5:32 Kristal Desantis’ background and interest in working with men, emphasizing the importance of normalizing therapy and emotional intelligence as part of strength building.

9:06 Redefining masculinity: moving beyond traditional roles and finding new ways to be a “high value” man.

16:33 Relationship field guide for the modern man: emphasizing safety and self-awareness.

20:05 The four key components of building a healthy relationship

27:07 Importance of self-regulation and trust in building healthy relationships.

30:35 The importance of Strong model for healthy and thriving relationships.

37:15 The importance of nurturing connection in relationships and expanding the definition of pleasure beyond just sex and increasing and expanding examples of pleasure.

40:30 A personal story and insights on true generosity and self-care.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Define what you consider to be modern, high-value, masculine traits.
  • Focus on developing the qualities that you value most. Some examples of modern, high-value, masculine traits could include emotional intelligence, empathy, self-awareness, leadership skills, assertiveness, resilience, and a growth mindset.
  • Work on cultivating a positive mindset. Learn to manage your thoughts, practice gratitude, and develop a growth mindset.
  • Take care of your physical health. Eat healthy food, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and manage stress.
  • Look for role models who embody the traits that you admire, and try to learn from them. You can also seek out mentors or coaches who can offer you guidance and support.
  • Step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Embrace the opportunity to learn and grow, even if it means taking risks and facing failure.
  • Practice self-reflection. Consider keeping a journal or seeking out feedback from trusted friends or mentors.
  • Stay curious and open-minded. Embrace lifelong learning and remain open to new ideas and perspectives. This can help you stay relevant and adaptable in a rapidly changing world.

Mentioned

Strong: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Kristal DeSantis

Websites: strong.love

Twitter: twitter.com/atxtherapist

Instagram: instagram.com/atxtherapist

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/kristal-desantis

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Kristal, thank you for joining us today.

Thank you so much for having me. 

Yeah. I am such a fan of really supporting just human development, and today, we’re going to be talking about men’s development, and also just the shifts around what it means around being a high-value man, for people who identify as a man, and just welcoming the masculinity of any person as we come and be inclusive here. 

But for people that maybe don’t know you, Kristal, what would you like to share about where you’re coming from before we dive into the topic?

So I’m a marriage and family therapist, and I specialize in trauma and couples and sex. So what I found as I started my practice is that I just really enjoy working with men. So in developing the strong model of relational therapy, I wanted to pick a word that really highlighted strength, to dispel a little bit of the myth that therapy is something weak or something that you only do if your relationship is in trouble, that you do if you’re really sick. Instead, changing it towards that strength focus, especially in trying to appeal to men. That this is like going to the gym, it’s something you do to get strong.

Oh, no doubt! I love that, just really normalizing this as a part of us all, and that in order to grow and be strong, and relational, emotional intelligence type of things, this takes a little bit of lifting and repetition. 

Are you open to sharing? I mean, I love, first of all, your background, and your weaving together of the trauma-informed therapeutic modalities with attachment research and influence, and also weaving in the sexual piece too. I mean, that’s all interconnected. So I love the background and the experience you have to really weave that together, it’s critical. As it relates to providing a different model, as it relates to being a high-value man, what got you curious about this, or what spawned your interest in this particular topic?

So Asian-American, and I actually spent most of my life growing up in Asia. I moved to the States to go to college. So when I came here, I was right at that age where I was very observant of the interactions between men and women. Coming to America, I started working at a sports bar, and I think that really gave me this insight. 

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“The way that we socialize women in America versus the way that we socialize men is so incredibly different. Then you put these two people into a relationship and expect things to go well? This seems really challenging.”

No wonder there’s difficulty.

Right. I mean, even just the way men bonded with each other, versus the way women bonded with each other. So I think for me, coming from a different culture, I was able to have like this outsider perspective, and also for myself, figuring out like, where do I fit in, how do I fit in? Then I went to an all-women’s college, so that was an interesting thing as well. 

Anyway, then, so as I became a marriage and family therapist, I really saw everything through that lens of the way that women and men would interact in the room. I found myself realizing, there really isn’t a bridge between the way that we socialize men and the way we socialize women. Often, what I saw the conflict was that it was my way or your way; one of us is going to be a winner, and one of us is going to be a loser. Because from the man’s perspective, he was like, this is how we do things. From the woman’s perspective, she’s like, no, this is how we do things. So that’s really where I wanted to say, wait, no. There’s a bridge, there’s a middle, just maybe playing translator a little bit.

Well, it’s so beautiful to have the perspective that you’re saying. I mean, it’s really you’re awake. You’re observing, you’re in this space of trying to understand. So it might be more visible to you culturally, where it’s new and different, so you’re seeing things. Then also just your own interest in couplehood and just how this is operating. I do think there’s this competition, sometimes if there is one up and one down, and especially in America and the West. So to be able to offer this different paradigm of the bridge and help be able to give value to both perspectives and give some opportunity for meeting, that’s just so beautiful. So I’m really grateful. Thank you for sharing that. I love that. 

Yeah, absolutely.

Okay. So where would you like to begin on maybe when we are looking more specifically at the men’s experience?

Absolutely. So what I found was, for men, just focusing on them, it used to be really easy to be a man. It used to be really easy to be a high-value man. I came across this anthropologist, his book is called [Manhood in the Making], and he talks about how masculinity, for many generations of men, was defined by being good at the three P’s: being a good Protector, being a good Provider, and being a good Procreator. If you did these three things well, you were a high-value man, every woman wanted you, every parent wanted to set you up with their daughter. Like, you could write your own script of how your life would be. It was easy to be a high-value man. 

Then the world changed. That is where, when I was looking, it’s like, do women still need men to be protectors? If so, how? There are a lot of men that still want to be protectors. But how is that relevant in the modern world? We don’t necessarily need women, again, looking at this, women didn’t want men to be picking bar fights every weekend trying to defend her honor. That would actually bring them into the therapy office where she would say he’s got a temper issue. He’s maybe in this position of like, “But I’m protecting you, I’m protecting us.” But she’s like, that’s just not what I want. Again, this idea of, how do we do that? How do I be a protector in this new way that she wants, where’s the script for that? 

The same thing with being a provider. What I found was that if we emphasize that men’s value is in their wallets, then we see the rise of these men who find that their entire identity in how much money they make and what kind of car they drive. It becomes very objectifying of men, but then that also leads to the objectification of women. It’s like, I’m the guy with the big flashy car that can get the bottles at this restaurant, and then I want this type of woman because she looks good on my arm. So that also, once again, it’s like, that’s kind of dehumanizing for both genders. Nobody deserves to be reduced to production value; you’re a pretty face, and you’re a big wallet. 

So what does it mean for a man to be a provider now, especially when the reality of so many American relationships is dual-income households? I mean, we’ve seen the research on this, that women earning the same amount as men, also having dual-income households, what we started to see and the research bears that out is that if a woman earns more than 40% of the family income, sometimes the man’s mental health starts to take a hit. That sets families up for being at an impasse. It’s like, if the woman earns more, the whole family wins. Yet, you don’t want to do it at the price of your husband’s mental health. So I saw these women being stuck in these impasses. So again, how can men be providers in a different way, where it’s not just reliant on the amount of money he brings in? So then, we can remove that. 

Then the same thing with procreation, and this is so interesting. I was talking with a male friend about this, and he was like, is that why men want to send dick pics on social media? I’m like, maybe so, because it’s this primal thing of like, “You need this. Woman, you need this to procreate.” It’s like, of course, when you look at the reality of the world now, women are like: “Absolutely not, do not send me that. It is not attractive. Why do men keep doing this?” 

So again, the three P’s of being a Protector, being a Provider, and being a Procreator, or simply, “I’m the guy with a penis that can give you pleasure.” That’s another thing, is that then studies of heterosexual women showed that not many women were getting pleasure from simply P&V intercourse. So these items that used to be really high-value, and again, not every woman wants to procreate. 

So what does it mean now to be a high-value man? What we see is often the rise of these men that are doubling-down on these three P’s, where there’s this rise of men being really super, super fit. Like, if you’re not in the gym, if you’re not lifting if you’re not doing jujitsu, you’re worthless as a man. Then these guys that are like, if I drive a Lamborghini Bugatti, if you’re not me, you’re trash. That’s the thing. It’s not only unhealthy for women because that tends to objectify women, but it’s also really unhealthy for men, because that is not an accessible reality for most people.

It’s so narrow! I’ve even heard the term, I don’t know if you’ve come across this, of gender abuse, like the trauma of having to live in such narrow, confined range of human emotion and experience.

Absolutely. I call that restrictive gender identity, restrictive masculinity, where it’s like, you’re not a man unless you have like these three things, otherwise your man card has been revoked. Anyway, it’s a whole thing. So that’s why I really focused on the strong model as like, this is what I’ve seen. Again, I’m a woman. I’m not a man, I don’t inhabit the male experience in the world. Yet, when I was looking at relationships, especially heterosexual relationships, women still want strong men, women still want a masculine man, at least heterosexual women, and there are a lot of them. Yet, the ways of being strong needed to just be adapted and developed for this new generation. 

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“I really wanted to validate that healthy masculinity is a thing; not all masculinity is toxic. There is restrictive masculinity that doesn’t allow for men to be entire whole people with a full range of emotions, but also, women were participating in that as well.”

So really expanding, in my world, what I mean when I say women want a strong man. I think a strong woman needs a strong man by her side, and a strong man needs a strong woman. I love formulas, so breaking it down into a little formula helps my brain.

Well, this is beautiful. Because I find sometimes, I have equal men attracted to my work, and it sounds like you have a lot of men are attracted to your work. I do think the ability to articulate and break things down and have it be a clear structure or being able to help organize is really helpful. 

Kristal, one of the things that I’m hearing, and really so grateful for your voice in this, is the ability to make it explicit, and again, building that bridge. Because so much of what is in the collective, either culturally, or historically, and family lineages, and also just how people are operating around gender, a lot of this is not named. It’s not always conscious. So you’re really bringing in some awareness, consciousness, and explicitness to this, and helping build a path. Not only a bridge, but a path towards assisting people in having a clear vision around how to develop. Like, sometimes we fumble through with our eyes closed through development. But it can be a little smoother when we have a little bit of leadership.

Absolutely. That’s why, my book, I call it a field guide. It’s a relationship field guide for the modern man. Because again, like you said, in the collective, sometimes there’s this message from women that’s like: “Guys, do better! Go to therapy. Be better.” Then guys are like, okay. But where, how? It’s just so nebulous. So what I wanted to do is be like, let’s break it down. Here’s some stuff. It’s a map. It’s a guide. Again, you don’t have to follow this guide specifically, but here’s the general direction. Then you can go to your therapist, and then you can feel more empowered when you walk in there. Because that was also something else is the barrier of men feeling like, “God, I’m just going to walk into a room with a stranger, and then I’m supposed to?”

Likely a woman.

Yeah, it’s nebulous and non-directive. So I also then saw a lot of value in breaking it down. So on my website, I have it very clearly spelled out, “Therapy is not woo-woo, I don’t cast a spell on you or anything. Here are some steps.” 

Here’s what we’re looking at. Here’s how to make it approachable and doable, and also clear. Because as you speak, I have heard so many men say, what’s the work? I mean, you look, we come from a history of genderizing around the man’s experience, and it being such a narrow range emotionally. Then there’s this call or this request to be doing the work emotionally, or help create emotional safety. They’re like, what does that mean? So you bring such wisdom here. Okay, so let’s pivot towards that.

Okay. So the first thing, again, coming from a trauma-informed perspective, the first thing is Safety. So that’s the essence around safety is the foundation. Again, this is where I saw a huge gender divide, where women are very hyper-aware of safety. Because of the reality of the world that we live in, and physically more vulnerable, women’s safety is on women’s mind a lot. Even again, being in college watching, “Hey girl, text me when you get home. Are you safe? Do you want me to walk you to your car?” Often, men just didn’t even think about it. So setting down safety. If you can be a safe man in an unsafe world, you are already way ahead of the game. Again, safety is such a big concept. So what does that mean? I broke it down to the four S’s.

Please. Because even as you’re saying this, I could hear that there could be the facet of physical safety, but there’s so much more, and emotional safety is huge. So let’s hear that. 

So the four S’s is, number one is Self-awareness. One of the things I found that brought a lot of insecurity into relationships, what Gotland calls sliding into commitment, and this is what makes women feel insecure in relationships. It makes everybody feel insecure, but if I’m positioning it this way, is if she doesn’t know why you’re with her. Are you with her for convenience? Are you with her because she’s beautiful? Or are you with her because you genuinely want to connection with her as a person? If you can articulate why you chose her out of everybody, that shows some self-awareness.

It shows even commitment. So for people who don’t know what that means, do you want to spell that out? It’s like, just this sequential, just doing the next thing without being super-intentional.

Exactly. Then also, that self-awareness of like, do you actually want to be in a relationship right now? Or are you feeling pressured because of societal expectations? I think also, for men, normalizing that just because a woman wants to be in a relationship with you doesn’t make you a bad guy if you want to say: “No, I’m not ready for that right now.” You’re allowed to have consent and autonomy as well. So again, that self-awareness of, are you actually in the place to be committed to a relationship right now? Or would you rather not? It’s okay that you don’t want to be, but let’s make that explicit. Then how do we protect those boundaries? That’s self-awareness. 

I know you have four things, and we have so much we want to get to. I just want to comment really quickly that that is such a counterintuitive thing that sometimes people get caught in this people-pleasing tendency of like, I want to tell them what they want to hear, I want to do the right thing and want to be liked, and this whole song and dance. When really, counterintuitively, by one really claiming and occupying their space clearly, it’s so much safer, and so much more likable.

Absolutely. Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” So that’s the self-awareness piece of what are you even doing in a relationship? Then the second one is Stability. Again, this is where I think we overlook how much basic life skills cause conflict in committed relationships later on. Like, if you don’t have basic life skills under your belt, or your partner doesn’t have basic life skills, you’re going to struggle. Some of that is about looking at your life and saying, are you in a healthy place? Are you stable as yourself? Do you have untreated mental health issues? Do you have unaddressed trauma? Do you have other things that you just need for yourself to get to a place of stability? I found, for men especially, just that idea of like, “I can be a stable person, then I can have the security of building a relationship from there,” rather than trying to find security in a partner. I think also, we give men sometimes this message that like, “Don’t worry, boy, you’re a disaster. You just need the love of a good woman, she’ll put you right back together.” I’m like, that’s awful for both parties. That’s disrespectful to men, and it’s also like, she’s now your mother/caretaker. Then that again, as we know, it leads to a very unsexy dynamic.

Totally. The parent-child, and then also, it takes away that sense of agency and advocacy. It can be emasculating that that you need the care of a woman to feel stable. Or going right from a family home into a relationship, and that dependency. I get the comfort and the need and the desire to have bondedness. But that’s very different than stability.

Exactly. When you are with another stable person, and one of the quotes I put in my book, and this is one of the things I like to say is, a healthy relationship is not half a person searching the world for another half so they can say you complete me. That’s that Disney-fied version. I’m like, no, it’s multiplication. One whole person times one whole person makes one whole relationship. So be a whole person first. Be stable in yourself, be self-aware. Then you can have a good foundation for being a safe person in an unsafe world.

Yes. Even just having the pursuit of that. That we don’t arrive at ultimate stability, but that we have the commitment to it and we’re responsible for it.

Exactly. Then the last two, which really speaks to communication and conflict issues, is Self-expression, and Self-regulation. So the ability to regulate your body when you’re upset, again, cuts a lot of conflict issues out, and the ability to self-express. For a lot of people, for men specifically, it’s about having more words to describe what you are feeling so you can express yourself more accurately. 

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“All emotions are information for connection. I always just want to normalize that emotion and sensations are just information about what your body and your soul are experiencing. Sensations are words that are happening to your body. Emotions are words that are happening to your soul.”

It’s data, let’s normalize that. So the more accurately you can describe the experience, the clearer the data.

Yeah. Again, I’m appreciating your ability to name this and organize this, because it gives some direction. In my experience and the research I’ve come across, and I don’t know what you would say about this, that stereotypically, in the way in which we’re talking about binary masculine and feminine, the masculine typically has the same internal faculties for emotion and empathy, but don’t always have the language or the verbal. So it’s that pathway, and sometimes I think in a relationship, there’s this sense of pressure or urgency or it needs to look a certain way. So to give a little bit of room and space to maybe learn what works for me in the way that I express, and how do I find what’s true, and how do I give myself a little time? It might take me a little bit longer to get to that clarity, but that’s more important than just blurting something out that’s not true.

Absolutely. Also, again, this is the way that we socialize men is, anger is the only acceptable emotion. So everything becomes, I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I’m pissed. It’s like, well, if we dig in a little deeper, maybe you’re hurt, maybe you feel disrespected, maybe you feel unheard, maybe your needs are not getting met. Being able to simply express that, it makes just a huge difference in the way that you can then connect with a person. Anger is not the most connected emotion, so just putting some flavor to it when you say you’re angry. Again, then the self-regulation of what does that feel like in your body? Are there any other memories attached to that? Is there a trigger here for you? Is there a different way that you’d like your partner to express themselves that maybe doesn’t poke on that pain point for you? So as a therapist, and as a couples’ therapist, conflict and communication issues are the number one things that people come in with. So when we talk about self-regulation and self-expression, that’s so much of the work of couples’ therapy.

It is, and I’m also feeling that these relate to each other with the four S’s. In that, if one has a little bit more clarity about what they’re feeling and can express, self-awareness helps with that self-expression, and when we can advocate for what we need, we’re a little bit more stable. Because then when we don’t advocate or we’re used to tamping down or suppressing our needs, it’s going to come out at some point. These are these bursts. It’s legitimate if we look at the emotion, but the actual expression of it doesn’t maybe create the most safe environment. 

Exactly. Same with self-regulation. If somebody doesn’t know how to self-soothe, it’s going to turn into unhealthy habits and unhealthy ways of self-soothing; drinking, maybe out-of-control behaviors. So again, when I say safety, this is what I mean: breaking it down into tangible, manageable, achievable goals.

I was just meeting with a male client yesterday, and he was asking about this safety, and I was giving him some essence of this, but I didn’t have the language to these four things to be so clear. So I’m absolutely going to recommend your book to him, and just this framework. So it’s really, again, helpful to have it be so clearly eliminated. Is there anything else you wanted to say? Or do you want to go back to the STRONG?

I can go back to the STRONG and keep going. So the next one is Trust, and again, you cannot trust somebody you don’t feel safe with. Again, I think when we look at couples’ work, a lot of people come in with trust issues. I’m like, if we don’t have safety, it’s just never going to happen. Trust is where I bring in a lot of awareness around attachment styles, and your imprinting of what you’ve learned about the trustworthiness of people is really going to come into play in your ability to build trust with your partner. So again, working on trust is not this nebulous thing. It’s like, let’s talk about attachment, and then let’s talk about repair. Because conflict is going to happen in every relationship, I don’t care how healthy or how soulmate-y; you’re going to have a disagreement, you’re going to hurt your partner’s feelings. It’s going to happen, and what’s important is a commitment to repair because that is what builds trust, is do you care enough about the hurt that you’ve caused to start to fix it?

That’s the actual felt experience in my view, is if we don’t go through it, if we avoid the difficulty, we don’t actually ever get to feel the strength of having overcome it.

Absolutely. That’s where I go back to the gym thing of like, rupture and repair is how you build muscle; rupture and repair in a relationship is how you build a strong bond. Trust is in the bond. It’s not an inherent quality that people just have or don’t have when they get into a relationship, it’s something that you build with each other. I trust you because there is a reliable, consistent record of us being there for each other, having each other’s backs and caring when we hurt each other, and we are both committed to protecting the bond. That’s what I trust. I don’t have to trust every little micromanage-y thing about myself or yourself. I trust the bond that we’ve created.

Yeah, so beautiful. Even if someone comes into the relationship initially with an imprint that isn’t necessarily trusting, given one’s experience, that that can be developed through what you’re describing. Would you agree?

Exactly, absolutely. This is where I think the misconception about attachment is that it’s like a diagnosis. No, it’s not. It’s a tendency towards. But you can change your attachment style based on the security of the relationship that you’re in. It’s called getting to earn to secure. So that’s what I really describe is the difference between earning trust versus believing in somebody. Again, I love my little acronyms. So I have an acronym for repair that I’ve put in the book, and it’s like breaking it down into steps to follow, and there’s a rupture. 

Then the next on the STRONG model, so R is Respect. Again, especially for men, what I found is that respect is huge. If I don’t feel respected by my partner, I just don’t feel the love. I don’t feel loved if I don’t feel respected. So really narrowing that down to, well, respect often goes back to how do you want to be treated. So then how can you articulate and hold your boundaries? Now, once again, I saw a lot that when there’s no respect, resentment built, and again, the way that we socialize man is this idea of: “Happy wife, happy life. So make your wife happy, your needs don’t matter. You’re at the bottom of the pile, your wife and children come first.” That just led to a lot of men feeling disrespected and resentful. But then putting the onus back on them of like, well, what are your boundaries? Do you want to say no to your wife right now? There’s that fear of like, “I don’t really want to say no to my wife, I want her to be happy.” 

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“It’s like, here’s the paradox is that when you tell your partner your boundaries, they can then show you love more accurately, and more respectfully.”

Vice versa. Are you able to hear her boundaries and respect them, and not see them as a rejection or a personal insult? She’s telling you how to love her well, that’s the way you show her respect. So really, again, bringing all of that into a relationship is like breaking love down into a recipe.

Yes, I’m really responding to what you’re describing, and it’s so helpful. Thank you.

So the STR of the STRONG model are what I talk about as the basic survival skills. If you don’t have Safety, if you don’t have Trust, if you don’t have Respect, the relationship will not survive. So if I’m working with a couple that’s coming in, in crisis, or the man is like, I just can’t figure out how to keep a relationship. I’m like, let’s work on these three skills, the STR. That’s surviving. Then when we go to the ONG, that’s about thriving. Again, there are a lot of couples that are like, “Nothing’s really wrong, we just want to come in for a tune-up, or we just feel like we could take this to the next level.” That’s where I’m like, that’s the ONG part. 

So O is Openness, which again, affirming that the person that you married at, I don’t know, 25 or 35 is not going to be the person that you end up retiring with. So building an openness throughout your relationship, looking for new things about your partner. Not seeing those things as threatening, instead seeing that as opportunities to continue to grow together. Because as we know, with the recent studies, is that, have you heard the term great divorce?

Yes, but not well.

So basically, the baby boomer generation has the highest rate of divorce right now in the entire country. So again, just the idea that in the past, people could rely on the tradition and the institution of marriage, just like it’s there until you die. Till death do us part. It’s like, no. Unless you continue to stay open and grow together, guess what, you’re going to grow apart. So when your children leave and you look at your partner, and you’re like, “I don’t know that person. I haven’t had a conversation with them in years, except about the kids. So I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”

Where I’m retired, and I don’t have my work to occupy me to such an extent, and now we’re building a new life. It’s like, who is this person? Like, we left our relationship on the backburner 30 years ago.

Exactly. So really highlighting that openness from the beginning, staying curious about your partner. Not assuming similarities, but assuming difference, and continuing to be curious about that difference. It’s really opening up your relationship for whatever growth that comes, and that way, you can continue to grow together rather than apart.

It takes a level of engagement. It’s easy to go into this comfort zone of thinking you know your partner, or you’ve got them figured out. It’s seductive to just assume, because it’s easier; the brain is trying to be really efficient.

Exactly. So openness, continuing to highlight that. Then N is for Nurturing. This is one of those words that I think I hear it a lot when it comes to parents, mother-child specifically. Like, women are nurturing, and all of that. Again, bringing this back, men are also parents, men can be nurturing. We just don’t often allow them to call it that. We call it maintenance, or we call it something else. So really highlighting that, and this is where I break it down in the book as well. It’s like, maintaining something and nurturing something is flavors of the same. But maintaining something is keeping something running, versus nurturing is about keeping something alive. A relationship is alive. It is something that needs active nurturing; you need to be paying attention, you need to be present. 

That’s also what I heard sometimes in therapy was women saying, “I just don’t feel like he cares. He checks off a box, and then it’s like he’s not really present the rest of the time.” He’s like, I took out the trash, what else do you need? It’s like, well, I need you to be present, I need to be actively invested in nurturing this relationship and nurturing this partnership. That’s also where I bring in a lot of the sex stuff, and again, talking about the difference between responsive and spontaneous desire is, a lot of women identify with more responsive desires. It needs to be cultivated. It needs to be nurtured. There needs to be a culture and an activation of pleasure before there’s any kind of desire there. So relying on “Hey, it’s Wednesday,” that’s not nurturing. That’s maintaining.

I know, you’ve been checked out, and now you’re interested because you wanted sex. No, there’s a lot more here that matters. I think to add to what you’re saying, that presence, I love that word as you described nurturing, because I think, again, as we’re talking about heterosexual relationships, or just even the masculine here, that energy of presence can be so healing and so powerful in such a embodied way. So to not give value to that is, I think, a big miss.

Absolutely. I think this is where it goes back to the science. 

Free Men on the Beach Stock Photo

“Men have the same neural pathways that women do that allow them the capacity to nurture, we just don’t often give men the permission to access that in a way that we honor as masculine.”

Again, breaking this down to what does it mean to be nurturing, what I give my clients is the three P’s on nurturing connection. 

It’s starting with presence, and then checking in with your partner around a point of Pride, a point of Pain, and a point of Pleasure. Again, it’s more than just like, how was your day? Good, cool. Okay, what’s on the agenda. But really saying, again, emotional conversations don’t have to be always painful. They can be like a validation of something that you’re proud of. Nurturing like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so proud of you. Wow, you’re amazing! I’m proud of us.”

Then Pain. Again, this idea that even pain is going to be this really hard conversation. It’s like, but not if we normalize it. If we normalize that, like, “Hey, I’m curious about your pain. Tell me about it.” Because that’s also where nurturing comes in, is being able to provide care. “I’m sorry that happened to you today. Is there anything I can do to help? Or what do you need right now from me as your partner? 

Then Pleasure. Again, paying attention to did anything pleasurable happen to you today? Maybe it’s as simple as “Oh my gosh, I saw the first Daffodil of the season.” Then that also gives you, and especially for men, what I found is it gives you more information to then tuck away. She likes daffodils, maybe I’ll plant some in the yard for the next spring, a little surprise. I’m going to give her a little moment of pleasure. Or that could be an opportunity of like, if she says nothing pleasurable happened today, this was awful. Being able to then say, well, would you like to create a moment of pleasure right now? Would you like a backrub? Should we go for a walk around the block? Let’s go watch the sunset. 

Also then, for men, also being able to expand the definition of pleasure. It’s not just about sex. It’s like, well, I haven’t had sex today. Well, are there other ways in which you have experienced pleasure? 

Yes, increasing and expanding, and giving example and connection to different experiences of pleasure. I love what you’re describing, it rings a bell. Did you ever look at the Blue Zone research of health and happiness? So he wrote another book about how it’s correlated, health and longevity of life is correlated with happiness, and he really focused on pleasure, purpose, and pride. So they’re very close. I mean, these are just part of our wiring. So what you came up with and what you’re visualizing or seeing in your work and your research, I think it’s tapping into something very human that really matters to us in significant ways. So I love that.

Yeah. Also, just again, that little moment of pride, I think coming from a different culture, what I noticed is that the ethos to be humble in American culture is really ingrained. Yet, for a lot of people, especially what I saw with men is, hearing the words “I’m really proud of you. You’re doing great, and I’m so proud of everything you’ve accomplished,” it’s like gold. So giving yourself permission to express that to each other in the safety of your relationship, where it’s like, you don’t need to go out and like toot your own horn all over the street. But at least telling your partner like, “Hey, I did this thing, and I’m really proud of it,” and having them validate you like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so proud of you, too.”

Oh my gosh, it’s profound. I’m willing to add a little bit, because my mother visited us. I know our time, and we want to get to your G. But a quick story. My mother had come, she bought us the Esther Perel Where Should We Begin card, the bronze, and so we were doing them. Anyway, we were in the living room, it was just the three of us. My husband and I have been together 17 plus years, so she has seen him throughout the years. I’ve never heard her speak in these terms. But she was saying I’m really proud of you, and she reflected and affirmed him in all these ways, just knowing him and his background and his family. It wasn’t explicitly verbal, so I don’t know that he got that. But I was so touched, and I think it meant so, so much. You’re right, I think a lot of people push this away, especially in America. It’s just like, not wanting to feel too self-involved or promoting or something. But when we’re talking about it in this really meaningful way, it’s touching on something really important that I think you’re speaking to her, which is powerful.

Absolutely, yeah. Then, so the G is Generosity, which I like to call the fairy dust of the whole STRONG model, where it’s like, it’s at the end. Because sometimes, if you Google and you find pop psychology articles and stuff, often they want to start with generosity; do nice things for your partner, be kinder to them, be more generous. I’m like, and I’m testing, so I’m like, it’s lipstick on a pig, unless you really have the foundation there. But once you do, that generosity is what makes it feel like a breath of fresh air. That’s where you start to assume the best of your partner, rather than the worst; a generous perspective. Like, “I know you’re trying your best, and I’m just letting you know that this little thing landed wrong. But I know that you’re a good person, and I love you, and you love me.” That generous perspective. If we try to start there without the safety, you’re setting people up for potentially being in really toxic relationships or pushing their own boundaries. So that’s what I always want to affirm is like, generosity and kindness and showing up for your partner and giving them the benefit of the doubt is so important, if you have all the rest of the ingredients. That’s the cherry on the top.

So important that you’re highlighting just how this all works together. Please, go ahead.

Well, and then just that last piece, as it pertains specifically to men is, often we tell men, don’t be selfish, don’t be selfish, men are just selfish in general. Then I think men sometimes slide to the other end of the spectrum of self-neglect. So that’s where I think we’ve all heard as therapists, you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s really starting with self-generosity. What do you need as a person? Again, I love my little tips and things, and I like the four P’s and the four parts of self: how are you doing as a Person, how are you doing as a Professional, how are you doing as a Parent, how are you doing as a Partner? What’s working? What’s not working? What do you need more of? What do you need less of as a person? Are you getting enough friend time? Do you have a supportive friend community? Do you get enough time for yourself at the gym, so you can feel good about yourself? As a professional, how’s work going? Is there anything that’s coming up that’s stressful? Being more generous with the way that you’re taking care of yourself as well, and self-care. I guess we’ve all heard this, but self-care is not selfish. It’s self-mastery. Again, really highlighting that. 

Free Positive African American homosexual couple with takeaway coffee looking at each other while sitting on bench during date on street Stock Photo

“If you want to be a strong man, you have to take care of yourself. That’s being generous with you, so that you can pour from a full cup. True generosity does not come from a starving place.”

No, and it’s so abundant in the way that you’re describing. Not only in our ability to focus, but if we’re coming from a place of resource, it’s so much more generative in this synergistic way that it continues to multiply, as you mentioned earlier. It gets out of that competitiveness, that one down and one up, if we’re looking and we’re generous. It reminds me, I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There’s this game in there that they will get groups. I can’t describe it really well because it’s been so long since I’ve been in touch with it. But the essence of it is you divide people into two camps, I think it’s blue and red or something, and you either get you take, and then you get a certain number of you take, and then if you give, you get a certain number. Anyway, the way that everybody gets the most is more generative and more generous. It’s very counter to the competitive maybe, that if I give I’m not going to get. It’s such a great example.

Absolutely. This is actually one of my favorite chapters to write, because I found what’s called the Human Generosity Project, and they break it down into research. That the cultures that are strongest, that survive the most, or the cultures that come together and are generous with their resources. It’s not the ones that are highly competitive. It’s the ones that are the most, like you said, generative. So that’s that generosity piece. 

Also, last thing. For men, what I found was that, the way that we socialize men is to be highly critical and performance-focused. It’s like, if you’re not first, you’re last. Are you winning? Are you losing? It’s very hierarchical. So with the generosity, also really highlighting the importance of self-compassion, rather than self-criticism. Again, tying it back to research is that what research has found is that the more self-compassionate you are, the higher your self-esteem actually is. Because you have a healthier sense of self, you’re more generous with yourself. You’re like, I’m a good person who made a mistake, I’m a good person who made me made a bad choice, but I can learn. It doesn’t go down that shame spiral of like, “Oh my God, I’m terrible, I’m worthless.” When you’re in that place, you can’t be generous if you don’t feel good about yourself.

This is tremendous, especially for men that might have come from or of a certain age, where I do think, collectively, this is changing. We’re developing as a culture, and globally even. But like, if we look at sports, and maybe some of football coach, there’s so many messages here that can be internalized in this self-criticism. Like, that’s actually how I’m going achieve more is by being hard on myself. Yet, you’re really pointing, the research is really the opposite. So thank you for spelling that out. 

Oh my gosh, I really could spend hours and hours with you, just so much wisdom here. I’m so grateful for what you’re sharing. How can people get in touch with you and what you’re teaching and your book? What would you like to invite people to do as they’re resonating perhaps?

Yeah. Well, if any of this resonated, I would love for you to check out my book. I actually just hit the printers yesterday, so you could still pre-order it. But the website is just https://www.strong.love/, you can see my book on there. Then also, my Instagram is ATXTherapist. So yeah, if you’re interested, if any of this resonated with you, that’s where you can find out more.

Beautiful. What can be found on stronglove.com?

It’s actually just strong.love.

I didn’t know that dot-love was available, what a domain you got!

So I have the book that you can pre-order, and then I also have all the illustrations from the book for anybody who’s downloading the audible. Then I also have just a giant, ongoing list of resources that is on men, on masculinity, on couples, on parenting. So there’s a resource page. I have a giant bibliography for this book, I have all kinds of other resources. Again, my goal is to enhance awareness and to contribute to a change. Because I think there are a lot of people out there that are looking for avenues. They’re like, “I want to change, I want to do the work. Where do I go?” So I’m working on continuing to build resources so that I can point people that are looking to avenues that they can then continue to do the work on.

And get the book. Say the title again.

It’s called STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man. Of course all genders can read it. But what I found was, there just wasn’t as many resources directed to men as there were to women. So I wanted to even the playing field a little bit for the men.

Yes. Well, thank you for your contribution, thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge here today. I do feel the change agent in what you’re providing and the power of it. So I feel very, very grateful. So I’ll make sure to have the link to your book and your website and your Instagram on today’s show notes. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining us here.

Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you for the work that you do, and for having me on today. It’s been fun.

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching