Developing healthy relationship skills supports men’s mental health


by John L. Oliffe, Gabriela Gonzalez Montaner and Mary Theresa Kelly,

There are few courses or programs that teach men relationship skills from a healthy masculinity perspective. Credit: Shutterstock

Healthy relationships positively influence men’s well-being. Coupled or married men live longer than single men, and they have better mental health than single women and men. Marriage appears to offer a protective influence on men’s health, reducing loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies, and is associated with less substance and alcohol use.

Despite these benefits, male suicide continues to be a global crisis. As men’s health researchers, we have focused on the suicidal tendency of men. Much of this work is motivated by the fact that men commit suicide three to four times more than women, and are known to use more lethal methods (firearms, asphyxiation) to end their lives.

While major depression is a contributing factor to suicidality, a recent review concluded that being unmarried, celibate, divorced or widowed are also good predictors of suicidality in men.

Men who embrace traditional aspects of masculinity – emotional stoicism, need for control, fear of being seen as weak for asking for help – are more likely to isolate themselves, resort to anger or aggression, or self-harm when experiencing distress. The links between mental illness, suicide and intimate relationships among men are of particular concern when one considers the high rates of divorce and separation in countries like Canada, Australia and Britain.

To study the intersection of men’s health and intimate relationships, we conducted an in-depth, semi-structured interviews on Zoom with 49 men and 30 service providers working with male clients. We collected men’s first-person experiences of an intimate partner breakup, as well as providers’ perspectives on relationship challenges and how masculinity influences men’s coping in strained relationships.

The impact of losing a relationship

Interestingly, the men enjoyed the interviews from their homes in familiar surroundings and openly shared detailed stories of their breakups. They also reported anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies following the end of a relationship. We found that the loss of a relationship exacerbated pre-existing mental health issues for some men, and for others it catalyzed the onset of mental health issues.

Men in long-term and short-term relationships spoke of the challenges they faced during their relationships: domestic conflicts, parental stressors, infidelity, illness or job loss. They also shared how these issues made it difficult for them to negotiate effectively with a partner to maintain and grow their relationship, or to separate amicably.

Gendered aspects of traditional masculinity, such as autonomous problem solving, control over life events, and being seen as a confident family man, have been tested and undone by distressed relationships.

The men described their states of distress, their fragile mental health and their potential to collapse following a breakup. Many participants commented on how they struggled with the emotional labor involved in maintaining a long-term relationship.

Intense emotions including sadness, anger, guilt and regret were triggered by the loss of partners and manifested in varying degrees of anxiety, depression and, for some men, suicidal tendencies. Several men detailed the experience of panic attacks that led to hospitalization following a breakup.

To cope with emotional distress, many men relied on alcohol, “herculean” amounts of cannabis, excessive exercise, frenzied dating, gambling marathons, and other strategies to stir up emotions. However, we also learned that over time, most men seek support from friends and family and seek out books, podcasts, and online resources to ease their distress and better understand relationship dynamics. .

Some men have gone beyond their own networks and joined parenting or divorce groups, and found that activities with male peers helped improve their mental health. Many have undergone professional therapy to address long-standing mental health issues or have experienced the benefits of a professional therapeutic relationship for the first time.

Social skills

Because the influence of intimate partner relationships on men’s health — and on others in their lives — is so crucial, the question of relationship skills arises. We performed a scope review—an assessment of the extent of available research—relationship skills training for men. He concluded that existing programs tend to be remedial in nature, designed to change men’s behavior in the context of family or intimate partner violence.

There are few upstream domestic violence settings, courses, or programs that teach men relationship skills from the perspective of healthy masculinity. It may be appropriate to develop relationship skills training and interventions to help men cope with the stressors inherent in intimate relationships for the benefit of their health and that of those around them.

Given the positive influence of healthy relationships on men’s mental health, making strength-based relationship skills resources a priority, beyond programs that address violence, could have clear benefits for well-being. to be men.

When relationships break down, men are at risk for mental illness

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Building Healthy Relationship Skills Promotes Men’s Mental Health (2022, April 25)
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