There is no better way to challenge a man to be ‘the man’ than to have him marry. Unfortunately, most men are poorly prepared for the demands of marriage and generally struggle with the increased complexity and responsibility that comes with the new role of husband, and possibly father. Whilst men might have thought marriage to be a ticket to a quieter, more genteel existence, they didn’t realise they were stepping onto a fast moving, ‘ride of your life’, roller coaster adventure, which would challenge them to the core. Marriage is a testing and tempting ground that exposes what lies within us. Will we rise to the challenge and succeed, or fall prey to temptation and fail? Unfortunately, the statistics indicate that the odds of failing (or not truly succeeding) far outweigh those of success, but this hasn’t diminished the enthusiasm of young and older lovers from taking the big step. There is clearly something in the human heart that wants more and believes that the fairy tale of happily ever after can come true.
Marriage is both a covenant and a contractual agreement between two consenting parties. The contractual agreement is a bilateral one where there is an expectation that both parties will conduct themselves in a certain manner to fulfil the contract. Should there be a failure in this regard then the other party has recourse to terminate the contract based upon a breach of the contract. This has been the reason for many modern marriages failing as partners evaluate and judge one another’s behaviour in terms of a contract.
But marriage is far more than a legal contract. It is also a covenant, a more ancient way of showing commitment to another person, based upon the spoken word – “my word is my bond”. Traditionally, before the invent of pen, paper and writing, It was the spoken covenant promise, witnessed by others that was binding until death. Perhaps we would be more reluctant to step into a marriage if we knew this was truly an ‘until death us do part’ arrangement.
Which is why it’s so important that we make sure both men and women are properly prepared for the vows and commitment they are making to each other. Unfortunately, the power of romantic love can so strongly sweep two people off their feet that before they know it they have gotten married and are waking up to the reality of their life changing decisions after the fact. Marriage is no ‘walk in the park’ experience. It never was and never will be. For that you need a dog. Marriage is like scaling Everest. It calls you out and demands everything you have got, but if you understand that it’s where men (and women) are truly made, then I am sure you will past the tests, and there will be many.
The preparation I am referring to is proper male initiation, in which boys around the age of 13 to 18 are formally welcomed into the world of men. This needs to become a conscious process in which fathers, grandfathers, uncles, male friends, elders and mentors all play a part in developing healthy and whole young men. Time needs to be set aside for male bonding, games, adventure and testing, as well as teaching and equipping youngsters for life. Initiation into manhood is more than a once off event, although certain rituals will mark significant milestones in a boy’s development into manhood. In the Masai tribe it is said that a man cannot marry a woman until he has killed a lion. This is their way of saying until he has passed through a certain series of tests and been initiated into his manhood.
The reason so many marriages are failing is because initiation into manhood is not taking place, resulting in men still being subject to feminine energy. Remember a boy’s primary attachment figure in life is his mother, but there comes a time around the age of seven when his father, his same gender parent, becomes the focus of his attention. Later, around the age of fourteen boys seem to know that they must separate from their mothers if they are to graduate as men. This can be a difficult and trying time for the mother-son relationship, and for this separation to be healthy and relatively smooth, the mother must co-operate and the father must to step in and take on his responsibility. He invites the boy into the world of men, beyond the safety of the family walls, introducing the son to potential mentors and friends who will assist him in the initiation process. It is in the world of men that a boy gets to understand better who he is, and that he has what it takes. He gets to enjoy and appreciate the company of men and the healthy- male role models around him. He also learns what his role as a man is, and how he should respect and treat females whilst respecting himself too. He learns about his own sexuality and how to conduct himself in the world of male and female. He becomes proud of his own gender whilst honouring the females. He understands right from wrong, and how to manage the natural urges that are an inevitable part of his emerging sexuality. He is prepared in terms of the male archetypes (king, warrior, lover and magician) to one day form a profound partnership, contribute to society, and help equip his own sons and daughters and others with a knowledge and understanding that will assist them in their developing journeys.
Now because this is not happening, women are generally marrying boys and not men. Hence the frustrating and soul-destroying parent/child power struggles that so often dominate human relationships, rather than a truly adult/adult partnering. Two things need to happen for couples who find themselves in this position. Firstly, couple counselling to facilitate and ultimately teach the couple how to communicate through their differences and issues in a constructive/healing, switching on/turning on way. Secondly, understanding that in the dance of male and female, someone has to take primary responsibility for leading or initiating the dance, and that happens to be the man. But here in lies the problem, as most men have been under-prepared, ill-equipped, under-fathered and uninitiated into their manhood. So, their ability to step into this amazing dance of male and female, this great adventure of marriage, and lead their partners in a way that is satisfying for them and fulfilling for the women, is often sorely lacking. Hence, Men’s Work is where men get to help each other to deal with certain things that should have happened but didn’t, and other things that did happen that weren’t helpful, so that we can start to heal and deal, and build solid and life-giving marriages with our wives.
Acknowledgement for many of the certain concepts is given to the following authors;
John Eldredge “Wild at Heart”
Steve Biddulph “Manhood”
Harville Hendrix “Getting the love you want”