Theory is all well and fine, but this is an action-oriented weblog. So today I am going to give you direct advice on what you can do to both develop a positive image of masculinity, and actions you can take today to display stronger boundaries and a stronger character to your wife or girlfriend.
Make a Study of Great Men
If you are lacking good male role models in your life, find some. Hit the biography (or biographical film section) of you local library and learn about the lives of great leaders and heroic men.
Here’s a list of a few that I would consider a great start:
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Winston Churchill
- Mahatma Ghandi
- Martin Luther King
- Frederick Douglass
- Nickolai Tesla
- Jonas Salk
- Steve Jobs
- Kind David
- Mark Twain
- Dale Carnegie
Find men whose careers and deeds speak to you and learn about their lives. Most of these men put down words that they considered axiomatic about being good, decent, or being a Man that can have a great impact if they are taken to heart. Write down favorite quotes or thoughts and put them where you can see them.
While it is intended primarily for a Christian audience, and sometimes can be a little difficult to engage for non-Christians like myself, Stephen Mansfield’s Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men (amazon link) is an excellent starting point for men looking to find life stories and biographies of admirable men. I would also highly recommend Robert Greene ‘s The 33 Strategies of War (link) for discussion of men who were effective leaders, thinkers, and strategists both in War and in everyday life. John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (link) is another excellent choice.
Learn to See Your Actions as Character-Defining
We are currently drowning in a sea of relativism. We tend not to see our actions as having much context or impact. What we do in one moment doesn’t necessarily seem to fit in with our life stories, and so we often consider it unfair to judge us based on what we did yesterday – or in the moment. But the truth is that we do, and should judge.
When you understand that other people will judge your character by the sum of your actions, then you start looking out to make sure that every action you take reflects the kind of character that you want to have. A simple and effective way to start doing this is to start by abstracting any action you are considering taking from names and specific environments. Instead of “Is it okay if I decide not to take Lousia to The Crown and Firkin tonight, like I told her I would yesterday?” take out names, specific locations, and times: “Is it okay if I decide not to take my wife out like I told her I would?”, then simplify the language: “Is it okay not to take my wife out when I promised to?” or “Is it okay to break a promise to my wife?”
Finally, stop wondering if it is okay, and start asking yourself if that is the kind of man you want to be. So “Is it okay to break a promise to my wife?” becomes “Do I want to be the kind of man who breaks promises to his wife?”
When you start doing this, making good decisions becomes very easy.
Write Out Your Code
Most men never write down the rules that they live by. I really recommend you do, even if they are just a short list of simple rules and phrases. You don’t have to carve it into stone, remember that you can change and grow as a person. But once you have these rules set in a concrete form, they become something you can teach to your children, and it becomes a lot harder to break them.
Assertive Communication is a set of tricks in the way you think about and speak during your interactions with other people. If you learn it right, it is non-violent, non-manipulative, but helps you set firm boundaries and teaches you how to say “No” even to the people you love.
I offer coaching and training in assertiveness, as does just about every coach certified by the CCA, and many colleges offer adult education classes in Assertive Communication. If you’re the kind of man who prefers a book, you can’t go wrong with Judy Murphy’s Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still win the Respect of Others (link).
Volunteer, and Take Your Kids
Volunteer at a soup kitchen, shelter, or a program like Habitat for Humanity; teach at an Anarchist School; or participate in a program like Ask Me Why I’m Here. Even if you just do it once a year, taking time out to volunteer to help others can change your perspective and help you see what is really important in life. It can help you feel gratitude for what you have in a way that you didn’t before and put a lot of your own struggles into a totally new perspective.
If at all possible, get your family to come along, too. This is the kind of top-notch parenting that will make your wife and kids sit up and notice. It will also be an excellent display of leadership. The more you volunteer the more you will find yourself in front of and around good men. Volunteer groups are the ideal place to find a mentor or friends that will set a positive and healthy example of what a man can be.
Pro tip: There are many societies out there that are built around fund-raising and charitable activity. In the past they were a lynchpin for the community of Men in most towns, but are beginning to fade away. Groups like the Keys Club, Lyon’s Club, Men’s Auxilliary, and the Rotary Club are great ways to meet other men and build great contacts.
Make a Five-Year Plan
I have detailed this process in a few places (like this video), but I can’t stress it enough! Having a clear plan for the next five years, including your health, career, learning new skills, your hopes for your kids, and your financial goals can make your life and your decision making much easier. Once you’ve written it down, share it with your wife, ask for her input, and encourage her to add her own goals. This will make you look the The Man With the Plan and a solid leader that she will want to follow.
Decide What is Really Important
Once you have a clear set of goals though your plan, and have written out your code you have a great guide post to what is actually important in your life, and what isn’t. Make a list of the things in your life that are not negotiable for you. Some like “I will be treated with respect.” and “No one hurts my wife and children.” are self evident. Others are going to evolve as you look at your goals. For example “My kid’s schooling is the first thing I save for.” or “I take time out every week to learn something new.” will probably be products of your five year plan.
Having a simple idea of what is important to you can get rid of 90% of the arguments that you have with your wife. If she is being polite and reasonable, and it is not one of your non-negotiables, then why bother arguing? If it is an argument about having arguments (which it is a lot with married couples), why keep arguing? If it is non-negotiable, then there is absolutely no point in arguing, you simply state your non negotiable, and then close the conversation. Obviously, this should be a short list.
One of the best resources for both setting non-negotiables, and shutting down stupid arguments alike is Hold on to Your N.U.Ts: The Relationship Manual for Men by Wayne Levine (link) and a book I would put in my top ten books for men of all time.
Tomorrow, I will have a few more immediately actionable measures to start building character and a vision of the Positive Masculine that can help you start being the kind of man that your wife can;t help but get along with.