Making Love, Playing Power: Men, Women, and the Rewards of Intimate Justice



What if the measure of a man was his willingness to love? What a different world this would be, and what a difference we’d find within family and couple relationships.
Men can love. To some people, this may come as a surprise. They still believe that men can’t handle the emotional heavy lifting that love sometimes requires, and only women can shoulder the real work of couple relationships. This kind of thinking finds its roots in patriarchy, the worldwide system that puts men in charge and assigns women service work, including the day-to-day work of maintaining relationships. The good news is that a growing number of people, men and women alike, no longer accept this arrangement. Instead, they seek couple partnerships based upon love, mutual respect, and fairness. Building such partnerships presents major challenges, however, because the world has a way of pulling us back into the old patriarchal mold.

This book will help you resist that pull and create lasting positive changes in your couple relationship.

Patriarchy hurts everybody. Amazingly, most relationship-help books tiptoe around this fact. Not this book. I describe exactly what this beast called patriarchy looks like, how it wreaks havoc upon couple relationships, and how we keep it alive despite the fact that it does none of us any good. I offer “principles of love” that provide firm ground for partnership, discuss the important role that different kinds of power play within relationships, and describe what fairness looks like. I show you how to make healthy changes within your daily life. Using the information, exercises, and “action steps” within this book, you and your partner can build a lasting relationship based upon mutual respect and fairness rather than the old rules of patriarchy.

Whether or not it’s overtly stated, most relationship-help books focus on women. In keeping with patriarchal thinking, these books presume that women are and always will be far more willing than men to take responsibility for relationship matters. But I see this pattern shifting as my male therapy clients claim an increasing degree of responsibility within their important relationships. The book focuses on men in order to promote this hopeful trend. I spotlight men’s beliefs, expectations, and choices that often contribute to relationship problems but go unacknowledged (much less challenged), and in doing so, I bring much needed balance to the way we understand the relationship equation. My recommendations for both men and women show how to transform these patterns.

What I have to say will be deeply validating for most women and challenging, in a positive manner, for most men. Therefore, if you are male and reading this book at the request of someone who means the world to you, I commend you. You are already performing an act of love. If you are reading from your own initiative, regardless of your gender, I commend you for your act of self-love.

This book will lead you to change, and committing to change means braving fear and uncertainty. I commend you for your courage. While a journey of change never progresses without some discomfort, it becomes easier when you have a clear destination in mind and a map that guides you there. I provide you with these essentials.

The Places We’ll Go

I grew up in the same world as you, learned the same things about what it means to be a man, and have done all the things talked about in this book. I’m always working toward doing better, but I know that I’m still far from perfect. In short, I am no better than the next guy. So this book does not come from a place of infallible authority, instead it describes what I’ve learned from many teachers, mentors, clients, and loved ones during the four decades of my journey as a family therapist, organizational consultant, student of human diversity, partner, parent, son, friend, boy, man, and human being.

Though the book focuses on couple relationships, it is important to recognize that relationships never take place in a vacuum. I discuss patterns within our society and the impact these make on our most important relationships. I also emphasize the importance of children, parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, and coworkers in the lives of couples.

21st century couples come in many different forms: married couples, committed partners who live together but remain unmarried, committed partners who live separately, opposite-sex couples, and same-sex couples. The principles and suggestions I offer apply to them all.

Because nothing sheds light on a subject better than real life examples, I include many of them. They come from my family therapy and organizational consulting practice, as well as personal life experiences. Additional examples come from stories shared by friends and colleagues. You will notice that I often mention the ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation, age, and other characteristics of many of the individuals in these examples. I do this because I want to help you notice the discrepancies between stereotypes and the real world of human beings. Also, case examples help most when they include people with whom a wide variety of readers can easily identify.

Nine chapters conclude with a list of “action steps” for men, women, and couples. These will help you and your partner put new learning into practice immediately. Don’t be surprised when the action steps instruct you to discuss what you’re doing with close friends and ask for their monitoring and support. Our time-honored commitment to privacy, another one of those patriarchal rules, works against us when we seek healing changes within our relationships. Nothing helps us follow through on planned changes more than the support of loving friends. Prioritize the relationship changes you and partner seek over concerns about privacy and you’ll be on the right track.

Because each chapter informs those that follow, I encourage you to read them in order. They are sequenced as follows:

  • Chapter One addresses love: what it is, what it isn’t, and how vitally important it is for each of us to shape an understanding of this term so we are prepared to make the most important decisions affecting our relationships.
  • Chapters Two through Four explore the ways that men in our society are taught to understand themselves and behave within intimate relationships, along with the impact these patterns have on couples.
  • Chapter Five illuminates the ways that power structures all relationships, including couple partnerships.
  • Chapter Six addresses the important topic of domestic and dating violence. I discuss abuse within this book about couple partnerships because the problem occurs with epidemic frequency and remains closely linked to other relationship patterns, much as we may wish it to be otherwise.
  • Chapter Seven emphasizes the importance of being an assertive and knowledgeable consumer when seeking counseling assistance. As you’ll see, those who are supposed to offer help too frequently only add to the problem.
  • Chapters Eight through Ten promote lasting change. These chapters will help you build habits that sustain your most important relationships.
  • Chapter Eleven presents an imaginary dialogue between a reader and me. I answer questions that might be percolating in the minds of readers and are drawn from those that are frequently asked when I give talks on the subject of couple partnerships.

As you read on, please be gentle with yourself and those closest to you. Keep in mind that this book is about learned patterns rather than aspects of us that are gifts of nature and beyond our power to influence. Doing so will help you experience the book not as a tool for casting blame or source of guilt and defensiveness, but rather as a resource that builds understanding and launches welcome change.