This last weekend I started a personal transformation programme. I really enjoy this kind of work because everyone has freely chosen to be there and are investing both time and money in it. This means they are fully engaged and open to the journey we want to take them on.
After I finished, Mona asked me how it went and who was there.
‘Any men?’ she asked.
‘Ummm … only me,’ I replied.
‘Typical’ she continued, ‘No wonder so many of the women I work with have such immature men in their lives’.
This then turned into a very interesting conversation about how much better the world would be if the men in power took their personal development seriously. Or even paid any attention to it. I find it hard to imagine some notable world leaders (including a recently-ex world leader) have ever done any significant work on themselves.
But I digress.
Doing the Work
Yesterday I was watching ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ (in my defence I grew up on Marvel and it’s a nostalgia trip for me). In one scene Bucky is lamenting how hard it is for him to move on from his past conditioning (as a super-soldier). His friend Sam tells him ‘Are you ready for some tough love? You need to do the work!’.
This struck me. We all have pasts that have shaped and conditioned us. To become the person I want to become requires me ‘to do the work’. And sometimes it is tough. Therapy, self-development, transformation journeys, introspection, meditation, yoga, courses, coaching, mentoring. Take your pick. This is the work.
As a crude generalisation, it is mainly women who are doing the work and not the men. Hats off to all the men reading this who are doing the work. Really, I salute you.
I’ve been working in the self-development industry for 30 years as a trainer, coach (and participant). My work has spanned both people development in the corporate sector and personal development in communication, self-awareness and relationships. It’s pretty balanced in corporate sponsored work – they recognise the importance of this work even if motivated by the bottom line.
In personal development work, though, it is quite different. I haven’t kept any accurate data but I would guess that around 80 to 85% of participants on personal development programmes are women. There are men, of course, but they are consistently outnumbered by women. Even on my current couple’s programme there are fewer men than women. I used to run a programme for fathers a few years ago and most dads told me they had been sent by their wives.
I can conjecture about why this might be, but what really interests me is how this plays out in relationship dynamics. As couples and as parents. If one partner is ‘doing the work’ and the other is not, what are the implications?
We are all changing as we get older. Even if only our physical form is changing, it is still change. I believe though that we change in many other ways. As a couple we grow together as we learn about each other and experience more of life. It will happen inevitably. Even when we grow in this spontaneous way and at the same pace it can be challenging as we grow in different directions. Becoming different and better versions of ourselves means the relationship needs to grow to hold us both. I know many couples who have not managed this and either drift apart or live in dysfunctional and unhappy relationships.
When one chooses to actively and consciously develop then the relationship needs to grow even bigger to hold both. It puts even more strain on the relationship and the potential for moving apart increases.
I hear many women frustrated with their partners who are not evolving. That frustration comes from being held back by their man either passively or actively. Personal development comes with deep and profound insight and it is natural to want to share this in the couple. Yet it is hard when the partner isn’t interested, actively dismissive or deliberately undermining. For the partner who is content with who they are and has no wish to grow, their partner diving into doing the work can be threatening and scary. It threatens to imbalance the relationship dynamic and creates an impulse for change when change is not wanted. This fear can lead to undermining the work of the other and destructive dynamics.
It is also quite natural to want the relationship to be nurturing for both parties.
I often hear women complain about their men being emotionally closed down which they recognise when they themselves become more aware. I see this in myself and there was a time this was me. I was so out of touch with my own emotional world that I didn’t have any way of making this available to someone else. It led me down some very dark holes and I made some terrible decisions – simply because I was able to shut out a whole part of myself – my feelings. I didn’t have access to that part of me that could tell right from wrong and could feel into the impact of how I was choosing to live my life. Being emotionally cut off is dangerous to the relationship, and I may even say dangerous to the world. I often wonder about some of the decisions made by people in positions of power – they do not seem to come from emotionally intelligent men.
And as parents? Educating ourselves and developing our skills as parents means bringing more of the world’s current understanding about parenting to bear. When one is doing the work and the other parent is not, they are often stuck in their own parents’ paradigm of raising kids (how else do we learn about parenting apart from how our own parents did it?). One parent actually knows what they are doing and wants to improve and the other parent thinks they know what they are doing and sees no need to improve.
The way forward?
I don’t believe that reversing growth and evolution of our consciousness is either possible or desirable. As we expand ourselves and gain deeper insights into what it is to be a human being, as we heal our wounds, as we invest in a better future self we also make the world a better place. More connected. More aware. Wiser. Compassionate. Balanced. Fair. Safer. More enjoyable.
So if your partner is improving themselves and you’re not, then my recommendation – do the work as well. Get on board. Read that book. Listen to that podcast. Attend that class. Follow that programme. Your relationship will get better. So will your life. And the world too.