I must share that in researching this topic for men, the majority of studies and articles revolved around men’s needs inside a relationship, or needs as they pertained to a woman. There simply wasn’t much available on the topic of men saying no, or even on men fulfilling their needs. Some of the research claimed that men don’t even know what their needs are most of the time! However, I know there are men out there facing the same problem as women: how to say no, how to meet their own needs--it’s just not talked about.
Some women might balk and respond with disbelief. They might exclaim, “What? Men seem to be much more filled with a sense of entitlement and ease in fulfilling their needs!” And I have plenty of friends who’d support that opinion telling me they spend hours trying to get their partners to return from a surfing session, for instance, that they said would last only “a couple of hours.” Play time for some men, whether it be surfing or a golf game, can easily turn into a half a day, or even a full day. Gasp! Women would argue they have to plead and bribe to get the same amount of “play time” inside their families. But rather than argue “Who has it easiest?” let’s keep it fair and earnest, and explain a man’s perspective of feeling “selfish” and their ability to say “No.” Just like there are all types of women in their ability to fulfill their needs, so too are there men.
Generally speaking, men who have a hard time fulfilling their needs are those who find it easier to take care of others. Just like women who don’t put themselves first, neither do some men. These men won’t speak up and wind up giving all their power away to others. Soon they feel resentful and wonder why nobody ever listens to them.
One of my clients, Sam (not his real name), was transitioning back into being single again. It was a very difficult time for him because he felt so emotional about his break-up. But the demands at work were enormous and he wanted to help his boss handle it all. He wanted to “do his fair share.” Plus, it helped to fill the hole in his heart. So rather than say “No” when he felt like he needed to go home at the end of the day, he stayed longer and worked another couple of hours. This happened every day for six weeks until he found himself feeling horribly resentful toward his boss. He no longer perceived him as a friend but as a slave driver. And yet, he still couldn’t let him down and tell him, “No.” Subconsciously he perceived his boss’s needs to be more important than his own. Working with me, he was finally able to see that his needs not only were just as valid as his boss’s, but even more important at the time. If he had continued at that pace with a newly broken heart, his body would continue to wear down and physical illness could present a new problem. Transitions can be emotionally demanding, which is why it’s important to be able to say, “No, I need to take some time out for myself.” In learning how to prioritize himself, he was able to alleviate stress and sleep at night.
I have learned by experience that there are also men who find it easier to say “Yes” and go underground with their real desires and motives, than to say, “No” and state what they need. In other words, in order for them to get their needs met they become passive-aggressive (dishonest). By giving a superficial “Yes,” or never saying “No,” in their minds they are keeping the peace in their relationships. To their partners, families and friends it may look as if everything is okay, when in reality these men are meeting their needs secretly, even rebelliously. Meanwhile the dishonesty doesn’t seem to be a problem because firstly, they haven’t gotten caught yet, and secondly, these men don’t see themselves as being dishonest. A minor example would be a husband who sneaks off to the movies when he gets a break and doesn’t ever invite or tell his wife about it. A more serious example is a boyfriend who has a drug habit or is having an affair. These men find it easier not to say anything than to express what they are needing out in the open. This type of man needs to ask himself: “Are my actions harming others? Is my effort to meet my needs adversely affecting my relationship? Are my actions jeopardizing the trust in the relationship? Am I not in integrity with myself?
”It’s not uncommon for relationships to be riddled with power struggles where partners aren’t happy with their roles. One feels resentful because the other gets more “play time.” One believes there is no equal exchange in how they divvy up the duties/tasks around the house, child rearing, or income. It’s much better to be honest and forthright with your needs by sharing what they are. Have the confidence to state what your needs are. Maybe there is a conversation that needs to happen inside your relationship, on the topic of, “How do we both get our needs met?” Love yourself enough to initiate this discussion.
The last type of man that I’ll discuss is the man who wants to take it all on and be the “hero.” This man thrives on the sensation of this kind of power and therefore refuses to delegate. These men almost get a “high” from helping others and placing their own needs last. The “high” is the reward that causes them to keep living this way, until someone, usually their wife, speaks up to say, “Honey, I love that you want to help everyone but maybe you should help yourself first. Your car is looking like a garbage can. You haven’t sat down to eat a meal with us in weeks and you could use a haircut, too!” All in good fun, this example shows how these men usually will keep going until someone steps in to intervene. Or worse-case scenario, they contract an illness.
Another type of “hero” includes a man that feels good as a result of helping others. In this case, the high comes from the feeling of rescuing someone, whether it’s a damsel in distress who needs never-ending help, a boss, a job that’s never done, or a best friend who needs a place to live (without any end in sight). These men thrive on this type of giving and end up neglecting themselves and their families as a result. Wives or girlfriends become jealous of the damsel in distress, or feel resentful of the workplace or best friend. Arguments and separation become the norm and these men really have a hard time understanding why. They rationalize to themselves, “But I am helping this person and they need my help!” Ah-ha, there is the root of it all; usually these men aren’t feeling needed inside their relationships or family.
“There are two questions a man must ask himself: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble.” ~ Sam Keen
For men learning how to say “No” and express their needs to others, it’s a matter of staying connected to their hearts. Men, in particular, feel good when they believe they have a purpose and can be useful to others. They need to check in with their hearts to ask, “Am I feeling useful?” or “Am I feeling appreciated or respected?” or “What is my purpose today?” For men, giving time to themselves will involve the answers they give themselves to these questions. “Play time” (a golf game with their buddies or similar pursuit) is one way for men to stay connected to their hearts and themselves. Without this need being met, they simply don’t care, lose their inner power, and can be self-destructive. “Play time” for men is equivalent to what women call “Me time.”
Keen, S. (1992). Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, Bantam Press.Excerpt from Chapter 3. Croley K. M., (2014). A New Leaf; 12 Spiritual Truths for Starting Over. A New Leaf; personal life coaching press.