Dear Bernard:

My husband has been a “good guy” being a supportive and hard-working partner throughout our 10-year marriage. However, since the pandemic he has really been irritating me. He still struggles with the idea of wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. While normally a patient and fun-loving person, he seems to be irritable much of the time with both me and the kids. His hours at work have been cut in half. Money is tight. He looks stressed but he rarely talks about his feelings. He’s not staying in contact with his buddies. He rarely leaves the house. He’s been drinking a few more beers during the week than he normally does. Instead of being hopeful about the vaccine, he is pessimistic that it won’t do much good to make our lives better. His negative attitude is driving me nuts! How can I help him see what he is doing to me and the kids? 

– Shirley 

Jon Davies, 'Dear Bernard'

Dear Shirley:

 Thanks, I am sorry you and your family are being affected so much by the pandemic. You are not alone in your concerns. Most people are struggling to cope with the grief, fear, anxiety, and frustration that we are experiencing. Men have their own unique struggles coping with the pandemic, in part due to how they are taught to be “men.”

While no two men are raised in the same way, there are many similarities in men’s beliefs about how they should act as men. Some of the ways we were taught to be men are not helpful in coping with a pandemic. Men are often taught that they should be in control of all situations. However, most men are feeling a lack of control with what is happening to us. People are losing their jobs. schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and most of the things we do for fun are closed or diminished.

Men are taught to be independent and not to need help from anyone. However, many men, like your husband, find themselves needing the help of others. Feeling financially or socially dependent on others can be humbling and shameful. Most men don’t like to be told what to do or to feel controlled by others. Yet during this pandemic we are being told to wear masks, social distance and close businesses and institutions which are important parts of our lives.  

Many men are taught that taking care of oneself and one’s health is for “sissies,” not for “real men.” Yet many men are worried about how the virus could affect their families and themselves. Ironically, men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. Many men have been taught to be stoic and that the only acceptable emotion is anger. So underlying your husband’s irritation is probably a house full of feelings of anxiety, fear and shame, sadness and reduced feelings of self-esteem. It sounds like he is depressed. Many people, and particularly men, are escaping these painful feelings by being irritable and/or resorting to increased alcohol and drug use as a way to cope.  

I often remind the men in my groups that the pandemic is influencing us more than we are aware. As we talk about the different issues that we, as men, experience I make the following point: History has taught us that it is not the smartest or the strongest humans who survive but those who are best able to adapt to change. The role of men in our families, communities and societies has drastically changed during the last 70 years and has changed even more during the pandemic. To be the men our families and communities need requires us to be flexible; to do whatever is needed to help our families survive and thrive. 

So Shirley, here are some suggestions to help your husband. 

Recognize that you cannot control your partner’s response to your suggestions.

g Communicate. What is he doing that is helpful? How is his behavior affecting the kids and you? What do you and the kids need from him? If he is unable to hear you, offer to go to couples counseling. If he refuses, go by yourself. Consult with your counselor regarding how to proceed with your partner. 

g Model and encourage help-seeking. Demonstrate by your actions how you are staying in touch with your support group and seeking help. Encourage him to seek counseling. 

g Encourage physical activity. What can he do that will get him outside: riding bikes, taking a walk, visiting a park. 

g Arrange for alone time for both of you. Being around each other for extended periods can cause greater tension in your relationship.

g Encourage goal-setting both for yourselves individually and as a couple. “We are going to go for a walk together three times a week.” “We will have a date night once a week.” 

Resources for Men’s Groups

-The Center for Community Counseling has the McKenzie River Men’s Center to help men lead healthier lives and reduce violence. They offer two men’s groups: The Men’s Mentoring Circle and Men in Transition provide men help to gather and support each other in discussing all issues that affect men’s lives.

-In addition to group counseling, CCC offers individual and couples counseling. www.ccceugene.org

-Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous provide men and people of all genders support.

These are just a few of the community resources in our area.

Jon Davies, PhD, is a licensed Psychologist and volunteer at CCC who has lived in Springfield for the last 25 years.