Experts Share The Most Common Marriage Complaint They Hear From Men In Therapy

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man talking to therapist

By now, we're well aware of the perils of ignoring the mental health of men. 

We know that men aren't necessarily the tough guys they were expected to be back when being "masculine" meant hiding behind a public facade of callous indifference to anxiety and depression.

Still, even though men remain less likely than women to be diagnosed with mental illness, they are far more likely to fall victim to dire consequences related to mental health problems.

After all, according to 2020 statistics released by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men were 3.88 times more likely than women to die by suicide. The rate of suicide is highest among middle-aged white men.

The stakes are high. But the good news is, the stigma that kept men from seeking mental health treatment is crumbling.

Men's health organizations like Movember, the Men's Health Network and the American Society for Men's Health have staked out prominent positions on the front line of men's health advocacy.

When men seek therapy to help with emotional challenges and mental health obstacles, they've already taken that first important step toward a better understanding of their overall health.

But what do they talk about in therapy? We asked for insight from some of YourTango Experts' top healing professionals. Their responses are below.

RELATED: Why All Men Need Therapy, According To A Male Therapist

Here are the complaints four mental health experts hear most frequently from men in therapy about their marriages:

1. Excess criticism of behavior, lifestyle, character traits & more

When a husband’s behaviors, lifestyle, values, choices, and character traits are criticized it leads to great distress within the individual and the marriage.

When the focus is on being critical the other spouse loses sight of what is loveable.

Criticism leads to disregard, disrespect, contempt, and even hate.

When criticism of a husband becomes prevalent or a habit in a marriage, I have seen that even when the husband is willing to change the criticized behavior it is not valued, rewarded, good enough, or met with a “yeah, but” quickly focusing on the other criticized behaviors and devaluing the change.

The good news is the behavior can be responded to differently, addressed, and ultimately eliminated in the marriage.

Husbands want to be valued, adored, admired, accepted, and respected. Husbands can learn communication techniques and tools to defend themselves in a non-defensive way when criticized.

They can have a voice that can be heard and they can be understood. We cannot love that which we do not understand.

Building each other up by giving praise and compliments will replace criticism. Then, healing begins and the marriage has a chance to thrive.

Dr. Susan Pazak, clinical psychologist and life coach

RELATED: Top 4 Complaints I Hear From Men In Couples Counseling

2. Unfair judgment from others

In a Psychology Today article by Dr. Harriet Lerner, the author writes, “No one can survive a marriage (at least not happily) if they feel more judged than admired." 

In Alison Armstrong’s book the Queen's Code, she emphasizes the importance of recognition and appreciation. 

Both authors touch specifically on how men feel criticized and judged versus appreciated. This is why the top complaint I hear from unhappy husbands is that they are constantly being judged.

Nothing is more destructive, including cheating, than being judged. This is true for either partner.

But for men, they feel that they can never fully satisfy their wives because mixed with any kind words is an assessment of their behavior — which for a man is directly an assessment of his worth. 

Most couples in challenging relationships react to behaviors based on their individual needs and desires without taking time to inquire and understand the actions of their partner.

This results in neither feeling safe expressing their feelings.

One simple and profoundly important shift is to inquire before concluding and to listen for the unknown rather than the expected. 

Larry Michel, founder of the Institute of Genetic Energetics

RELATED: 5 Common Confessions Men Make In Therapy That Are Red Flags For Couples Counselors

3. An unhealthy or inconsistent sex life

As a trauma and addiction psychologist in New York, I find a lack of sex is among the most common issues that men initially mention when they come into therapy.

What this means is far more complex than this simple statement. Sex for most men is a physical act that produces emotional closeness. 

Sex for women is an emotional act that involves physicality. They begin at two different points, which means it is easy for this to become disrupted, and for both to feel frustrated for different reasons.

The reason for disruptions is many of the factors that are common in life.

The problem for a man is that if he and his wife are stressed due to the demands of their life — work, children, new house, family illness, his wife will feel less emotionally close, and will be less likely to engage in sexual intimacy because she will have less emotional bandwidth, the element she needs to become intimate.

A wife can feel resentful due to feeling pressured to “take care" of her husband. Her husband feels frustrated and abandoned.

In couples therapy, opening up communication about having a shared purpose, and reminding them of why they married, can begin to heal this common rift.

Patricia O'Gorman, psychologist, life coach, best-selling author

RELATED: Mental Illness Has Always Been Around, Our Generation Just Understands It Better

4. A litany of mental health triggers, relationship obstacles

Although women are the main drivers of marriage therapy, a good therapist will quickly help a man to have his say.

What I mainly hear are these complaints:

  • We haven’t had sex in months.
  • She talks all the time.
  • She repeats herself and rambles on forever, so I can no longer remember what she was saying.
  • She complains that she does “everything” and I do nothing without regard to my work time, commute time, car, yard, and house maintenance.
  • She can’t control her emotions and attacks me.
  • She hates my friends so any social life we have is with her friends.
  • She overprotects and interferes with the kids getting real-life consequences.
  • Her family, she thinks, is perfect — and mine is dreadful.

William Meleney, licensed counselor

RELATED: The Hidden Forces Keeping People From Getting The Help They Need During America's Mental Health Crisis

Carter Gaddis is the senior editor for experts and wellness with YourTango.