Fascinating new research conducted by the University of British Columbia indicates that Millenial men tend to value selflessness, social engagement, and health over traditional male ideals like physical strength and autonomy.
Are Millennial men drifting away from stereotypical masculine values?
Did post-modern masculinity finally articulate itself? Are their brand new masculine virtues?
And how will science-based couples therapy respond?
“As a millennial myself, I can see these values reflected in the lives of men around me,” says study co-author Nick Black, managing partner at Intensions Consulting, a research firm that helped carry out the survey. “They want to be both caring and strong, both open to others and self-sufficient, and they see no contradiction in these values.”
The researchers believe millennial men in Canada are overhauling their value structure and redefining what it truly means to be masculine.
Or did the researchers miss something important by not asking the right questions?
In other words, what if there isn’t any new man at all? I believe it is more likely that the ancient Roman virtues of Dignitas, Gravitas, and Pietas are shaping their study subjects.
What if the modern millennial men they studied are simply reviving an older conception of masculinity? The fact is Stoic ideas are being consumed freely by millennial men. Interest in Stoic ideas among Millenials is described as being at a “pinnacle.”
…And does this online stoic revival help to explain the value shift that is now pre-occupying the world?
What these researchers may have missed was where their study subjects more got their ideas from. If they did, they may have uncovered the source of these new conceptions of manhood… ancient Greek and Roman Stoicism.
“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”- Nassim Taleb
This remarkable statement is attributed to a theologian with whose ideas I disagree in every fundamental respect: Reinhold Niebuhr. But — omitting the form of a prayer, i.e., the implication that one’s mental-emotional states [serenity, courage, wisdom] are a gift from God — that statement is profoundly true, as a summary and a guideline: it names the mental attitude which a rational man must seek to achieve. The statement is beautiful in its eloquent simplicity, but the achievement of that attitude involves philosophy’s deepest metaphysical-moral issues. Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand ‘s novels have played a robust role in the teenage imaginations of young men for decades. Reading Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged was practically a right of passage.
Ayn is now on the margins because there’s no way Ayn’s wokeness will hold up under scrutiny, and she will be intellectually defunded.
Cosmopolitan Stoicism poses a robust challenge to the intellectual narcissism of our time. Lead author John Oliffe, nursing professor and head of the men’s health program at UBC, released the new findings in a news release. The findings are startling and indicate a profound shift in male values.
“Young Canadian men seem to be holding masculine values that are distinctly different from those of previous generations. These values may run counter to long-standing claims that young men are typically hedonistic, hypercompetitive, and that they risk or neglect their health.”
In order to better understand these New Men, I think it’s important for evidence-based couples therapists to have a discussion about Stoic values in some depth.
Not only are these ideas transforming a generation of Canadian men, but these ideas may be also transforming a world of New Men right under our noses.
What about couples therapy with our New Man?
But first, I’d like to first explain why this conversation about Stoicism is so essential.
These New Men will not only volunteer for couples therapy they are also more likely to show up early.
This is what we are exactly not used to as couples therapists. The new man isn’t just new…he’s a new client as well.
For the Stoics, practical path to eudaimonia (happiness) is grounded in a few essential beliefs:
“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not.
Within your control are your own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel you. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.
Not within your control is literally everything else. You must remember these things are externals, and none of your concern.” -Epictetus
“ Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time. “
The concept of Memento Mori is important for these New Men in couples therapy. It’s the ability, for troubled couples with children, to view the long game of eventually raising happy well-adjusted adults. Here’s a training course that addresses that aspiration:
The foundation of Stoicism is that all human beings have to be reasonable actors in society.
We are all members of the same human family. Stoics embrace the mindset of cosmopolitan oikeiosis.
This is an “appropriation” of the concerns of others …as if they were our own. A good human life improves society.
Stoics seek to acquire in themselves the discipline of the Four Cardinal Stoic virtues;
Epictetus summed it up best.
“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” Epictetus.
Gottman therapy differs from Stoic aspirations but doesn’t directly contradict them.
Don’t be surprised if the New Man winces at the notion of a “good enough relationship.”
The Stoic goal is Ataraxia…tranquility of mind…and tranquility of relationship logically follows.
It’s my hope and expectation that the New Men in couples therapy will heed interventions that impact their Friendship and Admiration System with their partner.
Millennial men are Different. And as they move through time, their values and sensibilities emerge in ever-higher relief. The New Men barely resemble their Baby Boomer forbears. Brand New Men are shaping a New World with remarkable speed.
And many of them are both steeped in Stoic thought, and comfortable working online. They may use Stoic points of reference. Or perhaps those silos are filled with the brim with tools for a science-based couples therapist to uncover and unpack. No matter, a richer discussion of Stoic ideas and deep intimacy is inevitable.
Will couples therapy be ready? Who you choose to work with matters.
The study was published April 16, 2018 in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.
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