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Dragging Him In

Why men often resist outside help--and how to get aroundtheir reluctance.

Though many a couple might benefit from marital therapy, many men would rather have their fingernails pulled out than visit their local marital therapist.

This isn't surprising when you consider that therapy demands emotional vulnerability, not to mention admitting that you can't solve every problem by yourself. "Each of these requirements conflicts with the culture of masculinity in fundamental ways," notes Harvard psychologist Ronald Levant, Ed.D.

Men, after all, are socialized to repress feelings of hurt, shame, or caring. Push a young boy into the playground dirt and "he knows it's his job to come back with a fistful of gravel rather than a face full of tears," says Levant, author of Masculinity Reconstructed (Dutton).

But while some of the traditional male aversion to therapy may be breaking down, guys are still more likely than women to resist seeking outside help. Below, some tips on how to help get a guy through the counselor's door:

o Ask him for a one-time visit. That can seem less imposing than signing on for an endless series of sessions--and may be enough to soothe his fears. Once he learns how therapy works, he may be more willing to make regular visits.

o Explain how therapy gives him the chance to tell his side. When a couple has problems, their therapist needs the whole picture to suggest an effective solution. "I don't want to hear just one side of it, because partners have different perspectives," says Carolynn Maltas, Ph.D., codirector of Harvard's McLean Institute for Couples and Families.

o Understand that a man's reluctance to express emotion, whether at home or in the therapist's office, doesn't make him defective. Says Maltas: "It's easier to overcome if it's not demonized."