Expert Insights

Relationship Advice for Men: Where to Start

Highlights

  • How you communicate with your partner is critical. Be as direct and explicit as possible, always. Don’t make your partner guess.
  • The needs of each person are important. What you feel and think matter.
  • Deal with conflict. It always comes back unless you deal with it directly.
  • Act from a place of kindness and compassion.

Once you find that special someone, you can sit back, relax, and reap the rewards of a search completed, right? Nope — just kidding! 

If you’re reading this article, you probably know that having a relationship isn’t easy. You may be experiencing firsthand the ongoing effort that goes into one, and the uncertainty that goes with it. 

This article provides relationship advice for those who identify as men to address common challenges they face. These are common experiences that my clients share with me as a psychotherapist.

First I’ll go over some common relationship problems, then I’ll suggest some solutions and techniques you can apply to improve them in your relationship.

Who can benefit from this advice?

If you are a human, chances are at least some of this information applies to you.

Honestly, anyone who’s interested in improving the quality of their relationship(s) can use this information, whether you’ve been with a partner for a long time or this is your first relationship.

In this article I focus on addressing the challenges that people who identify as men often face in romantic relationships. These often develop out of societal expectations about what a man should be and do (at least, through a Western lens — I’m based in Canada).

LGBTQ2IA+ and polyamorous folks, this article can be for you, too. Society tends to assign roles based on how a heteronormative person should behave in order to “find the one,” but the truth is that most relationship experiences and issues are pretty universal across gender, sexual orientation, and number of partners.

What relationship issues are common for men?

Before we can find solutions to our relationship issues, we need to identify the problems. 

Here are a few common relationship issues for men that my clients tend to experience. 

  • Conflict avoidance. When you have trouble engaging in conflict with your partner. You may not want to make them upset, or maybe you think you’d rather spend enjoyable time together, not cause hard feelings.
  • Lack of communication. Your partner says you don’t communicate enough.
  • Discomfort around your needs. You find it hard to tell your partner what you want and need, especially if it conflicts with what they need.
  • Not knowing how to provide emotional support. When your partner’s in distress, you don’t know what to say or do.

What can I do to improve my relationship?

Here’s where to start.

1. Define your values

A meaningful relationship is subjective — there is no perfect relationship! To improve yours, take a moment to consider what you value. What are the most important features of a relationship, and why are you in one?

You can pick different values for each area of your life — including your romantic relationship.

Knowing them can help you determine your priorities, and on a deeper level inform whether you feel that your life is turning out the way you want it to. Values are ongoing qualities we strive to cultivate rather than a goal item that can be completed and checked off a list.

For example, a value sounds like, “independence,” whereas a goal that’s related to that value would be more specific and sound something like, “go to a music festival without my partner.”

Once you get clear on your values, you can evaluate whether you are actively cultivating those values in your relationship.

For example, if you select trust as an important value in your romantic relationships, the next step would be to make an intentional effort to show your partner that you trust them.

You can never control the actions of others, but when you treat your partner the way you want to be treated, according to your values, you co-create the relationship dynamics you need. 

Our values provide a roadmap of how we would like to show up in our lives, and they also help us identify the gaps.

For example, what if you find yourself in a relationship that most people would observe as healthy, and you think your partner is “the whole package,” yet it feels like something is missing?

By reflecting on your values, you might be able to locate that gap.

Ask how you are contributing to that gap, if you need to share the issue with your partner, or if you should reevaluate your values. Evaluating your relationship against your values is one way of breaking relationship issues down into more manageable pieces and seeing things from a new perspective.

I encourage you to brainstorm your values in a relationship and then identify your top four. Using them, name for yourself the key things you need in a relationship.

2. Establish safe communication with your partner

Creating a safe, open space for communication is a simple concept, but not easy, especially if this is new for you.

To create an environment that makes you feel safe to try, you need to know the other person will allow space for you to misuse words, fumble, and simply say the wrong thing.

Explain to your partner that you are working on communicating more, and directly ask them to help support you by being patient and kind as you’re learning.

It’s common for partners to react negatively when hearing difficult information, particularly if you’re telling them about something they did that you didn’t like.

These are sensitive and important matters. Be open and willing to discuss how you can communicate about sensitive subjects in a way that works for both of you. Both partners should be mindful to not lose sight of the main issue you wanted to talk about — it’s important your issues are addressed.

3. Use “I” statements as much as possible

Avoid “you” statements. These often bring a tone of blame and can create defensiveness in the other person.

Instead, use “I” statements and focus on your own direct observations and feelings, not your assumptions.

For example, instead of saying, “You don’t appreciate when I clean up,“ which is an assumption of what your partner is feeling, you could say, “I feel let down when you don’t acknowledge that I cleaned up.”

In the first sentence (the “you” statement), the speaker is making assumptions about their partner’s feelings, which may or may not be true.

By using an “I” statement instead, the speaker is communicating that they feel a certain way (“I feel let down”) in response to a specific behavior (“when you don’t acknowledge that I cleaned up”).

In fact, your partner may actually feel appreciation toward you, but just hasn’t said so. Using the “I” statement gives them a chance to make that clear without feeling blamed.

4. Give the long explanation

Remove the expectation that a good partner can read your mind. They can’t, but that’s OK.

Be willing to say exactly what you mean, what is important to you, and what you need to be in a relationship — that is, what role you want to have.

Clients often ask me to help them communicate what they want to say. When they share their genuine thoughts and feelings with me, they often convey a very kind and caring intention and offer a very clear explanation of how they got to their current feelings and thoughts about the situation.

Once they’ve processed their ideas with me, I ask them to share what they plan on communicating to their partner. But at this point, my client sometimes changes their message completely! Sometimes this new version can sound ambiguous, apathetic, and distant. Other times, it’s demanding, curt, unyielding, or authoritarian.

Give the long explanation — don’t edit yourself! Let your emotional reasons show through.

And remember: Just because you communicate a need, doesn’t guarantee the other person will provide it. Clear communication simply gives us the best chances at being understood and getting what we need.

5. Show genuine interest in the other person’s well-being

Enter a situation, conversation, or confrontation with genuine care for the other person. Assume a stance that the other person likely cares for your well-being too — that you matter to them.

6. Negotiate

Each person’s needs are important. Be willing to work as a team to negotiate and meet each other’s needs as best you can.

Acknowledge that things will never be perfectly fair and even in all circumstances and every day, and that’s OK.

There may be periods of time where you make decisions as a couple that directly benefit one of you more, and the other person may take a supporting role. It could if one person is in school, having a busy season at work, or stepping back to support a friend or family member through a tough time. Be flexible.

7. Stay connected and respond to your partner’s bids for connection

Make a conscious effort to stay connected to each other. Connection comes in many forms: physical affection, intellectual conversation, quality time, intimate conversation, support, vulnerability …

Be ready to notice when your partner is trying to connect with you and do your best to let them know you see them. A bid for connection could be a very subtle comment, like your partner saying, “Have you ever wondered if there is life in space?” or, “I’m wearing that deodorant you like.”

If you can’t engage in the moment, still try to acknowledge them and make an effort to initiate a moment of connection at your next chance. This can sound like, “Ooh, I’d love to ponder that with you. I have 10 minutes to submit this to my boss, but I’ll come grab you right after.” Or, “Nice, I love that smell on you.”

Relationship advice for men FAQs

Here are my answers to some frequently asked questions about relationship advice for men.

WHAT’S SOME FIRST RELATIONSHIP ADVICE FOR GUYS?

Your first romantic relationship is a very mysterious place to be. You might have questions like, “How do I make them like me?”, “What am I supposed to do?”, or “What do they like?”

Remember: You can’t make anybody like you. How someone else feels is ultimately out of your control. So instead:

  • Be the best version of yourself. Focus on behaving like a person you feel proud of, and then allow time to see if you and the other person are compatible.
  • Ask questions. Get comfortable asking questions and learning as you go. You aren’t a mind reader so it’s just not possible to know all the answers from the beginning.
  • Stay present. Try to be present when you are together instead of in your thoughts or on your phone — you might be surprised how much you observe and learn about the other person just by listening. And you can always ask them directly, too.
  • Ask permission. Ask how comfortable they feel with physical touch instead of just going for it. My clients sometimes worry about coming off creepy or making someone uncomfortable. Asking about what your date enjoys or prefers makes it clear that you care about their feelings and respect their choice. Plus, enthusiastic consent is sexy.

HOW CAN I BE A GOOD BOYFRIEND (OR HUSBAND)?

All the advice throughout this article applies to this question, so I won’t repeat every word here, but here’s a quick list of important things you can do:

  • Talk regularly and express genuine care toward each other.
  • Share your needs with each other.
  • Be honest about what you can (and can’t) provide to meet your partner’s needs.
  • Be transparent in your actions and words.
  • Manage conflict when it comes up and don’t let problems go unaddressed.
  • Set clear boundaries with your partner.
  • Respect their boundaries.
  • Accept each other’s mistakes and issues with kindness and forgiveness. Be willing to accept imperfection. 

Being a good significant other also depends on your (and your partner’s) definition. Ask questions about what your partner needs and how you can support them.

WHEN SHOULD YOU QUIT A RELATIONSHIP?

Unfortunately, you are the only person who knows the answer to this question. Something to consider is whether your relationship values are present in your current relationship.

Here are some signs my clients have noticed in hindsight after a breakup:

  • The relationship is starting to negative impact your ability to engage with work, school, or other aspects of your life.
  • Multiple people in your life who are not part of the same network voice concern about your relationship.

These don’t necessarily mean you should break up, but could be an indication that you need to reflect and take a deeper look into the relationship.

The final word

There are no steadfast rules when it comes to relationships, otherwise it would be so simple. A healthy relationship is when two imperfect people choose to collaborate and build a fulfilling relationship together.

Take ownership over that shared role by engaging with the hard questions and requesting the important things you need.

I encourage you to remind yourself that what you feel and think matters.

The answer to your relationship questions lies within a conversation.

Melody Phu, MA, RP
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Melody Phu (she/her) is a BIPOC Registered Psychotherapist based in Toronto, Canada, supporting adults virtually across the province. In her former life as a corporate go-getter and yoga instructor, Melody was inspired by the transformative effects of encouragement, joy, and self-care in people under the duress of hustle culture. Her mission is to remind others that they matter categorically, and that our lives can change once we accept ourselves.