The relationship advice industry is booming and men are increasingly getting in the game. Most people recognize celebrity authors who have built loyal followings through some other platform (e.g., music, media, and entertainment), but there are also lesser-known people who readily dole out advice on men and relationships on websites, blogs, and via social media. With titles like “Why Many Successful Women Can’t Keep a Man”, their advice is often packaged as a window into the minds of men. The problem, unfortunately, with many of these individuals is that not all of the advice is very good. In fact, I’ve noticed a few things that many guys, and some gals, get wrong when writing about men and how we approach relationships. Here are four of the most common mistakes.
1. Men’s needs are exclusively physical
One of the main mistakes that many men, both gurus and laymen, make when giving out relationship advice is giving the impression that men’s needs are exclusively physical.
An overemphasis on sex reinforces stereotypes about men that can actually hurt our relationships. Even though we don’t readily admit it, men have emotional needs that no amount of sex can fill. It seems counterintuitive but it is entirely possible to be in someone’s presence, even sleep with them, and not know anything about them. The problem is that our society has made intimacy synonymous with sex, but men desire connection on more than just a physical level. For example, one of the best things about being married is having my wife’s support when the stresses of life feel like they’re wearing me down. Unfortunately, it seems like most of what gets communicated about men and relationships is about our more carnal desires—a tendency that can leave us starved in other areas.
2. Women hold the keys to men’s behavior
I think this might be one of the most frustrating aspects of relationship advice from both men and women. While never stated explicitly, it is implied with titles like “6 Ways to Keep Your Man from Cheating” and advice that says that if women keep in shape, remain sexually available (see point #1), and are well-groomed, men won’t stray from home. This line of thinking implies that women have the power to control male behavior. It absolves men of responsibility for their actions and shifts the burden onto women. For guys, particularly those who like to tout their “leader” status, it seems weak and cowardly. This isn’t to say that the environment in a relationship has no influence on either party’s behavior, but a person’s response to a situation is their responsibility.
3. Making women the primary audience for men’s advice
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have men in my life who I can go to for advice and who will speak to me honestly about what it means to be a man and husband.
The great thing about each of these men is that they focus most of their time and energy talking to me about my actions and behavior, not my wife’s. This fact alone separates them from most of the men in the relationship advice game. It seems as if men, and some women, have created a niche market by directing relationship advice primarily to women . To be clear, I do believe there is great value in men, whether through personal relationships or other resources, taking the time to provide women a window into how men think. The problem, however, is that there is a lack of balance when it comes to resources directed at me, from men, on how to improve our relationships, communicate with women, etc. One of the reasons I’ve heard given for this is that men don’t read relationship books. That might very well be the case but there are other forums where men commune with one another. There’s nothing keeping concerned men from dropping knowledge in the barbershop, at the job, at happy hour, or anywhere else where men talk about relationships.
4. Not recognizing their blind spots.
Not recognizing “blind spots”, loosely defined as anything that impairs a person’s ability to judge a situation clearly, is a common occurrence for both men and women who give relationship advice. Common blind spots include our own life experiences, biases, stereotypes, emotions, and fears.
For many male relationship experts, this tends to manifest itself in the form of speaking almost exclusively from personal experience. For example, I once heard Steve Harvey say that it was next to impossible for men and women to be platonic friends. That might be true of his own life experiences but there are a great many people who would disagree. The same principle applies to other areas of relationships advice as well. Speaking strictly from our experiences—the very ones that we ourselves contribute to —produces advice that inherently lacks the type of objectivity that is needed to tackle complex, personal relationship issues.