In our March 13 Men’s Healing Matters webinar, Support After Abortion Men’s Healing Strategist Greg Mayo explored best practices when speaking with men. He addressed the effectiveness of these tips and strategies when engaging with men both before and after abortion. 

HOW DO MEN AND WOMEN COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY?

Communication differences among men and women is a. He mentioned the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus iconic book from the 1990s and described comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s bit about communicating with his wife after receiving a text from a buddy who was in a car wreck. This humorous take on the subject segued into a discussion of two research studies on the dynamics of male-female communication.

The first study by CareLeader.org says men communicate “through actions or the sharing of ideas, suggestions and information.” The second, a study conducted by Michigan State University stated that men communicate through “body language such as physical gestures, facial changes, muscle tensing and gritting teeth…” Greg advised watching for non-verbal cues when speaking with men.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES LANGUAGE MAKE WITH MEN?

Greg addressed the need to think about the language we use and speak to men in a way that resonates with them. He highlighted the challenge of finding a balance between being too “touchy-feely” and validating  emotions without diminishing them. 

He shared from an article published by MensLine Australia that said men tend to “want to address the problem that needs solving or make a point.” 

“Men don’t want to talk something to death,” Greg said. “Once they share the problem, they’re most interested in fixing it, not talking about it.” He shared how he and his wife addressed this “big communication foible” in their relationship: when one talks about a problem or issue, the other asks, Do you want a solution or sympathy? That is, do you want me to listen or try to fix it? He said this was valuable for them because “You may just want to say whatever it is you need to say, you may just want to get it out, but I want to fix it. And we’re learning that a lot of guys are wired like that.”

HOW CAN I BE DIRECT, HONEST, AND AUTHENTIC WITH MEN?

Greg described an approach to asking questions that can lead men to acknowledge a problem and open a path to solutions.

Being authentically interested is key. “You don’t have to tell a man he’s in a safe space,” Greg said. “He’ll know by your actions and your authentic interest in whatever he’s saying. He’ll know because he’s likely not experienced that much in life.” 

”If you come off as having an agenda or trying to drive the conversation or drive his thoughts or his actions,” Greg said, “that’ll come off as inauthentic and you’ll lose him.

Greg then described a 4×4 Method of Questioning – 4 questions wide and 4 questions deep. In this method, there are no predetermined questions. Rather, you ask one question and the person’s response will inform your next question. This process “shows authentic interest without an agenda,” Greg said. “It focuses on who he is, what he needs, and what he’s dealing with in the moment.” 

Another aspect of authentic communication with men Greg shared is not telling a man what he needs to know, but instead telling him what worked for you or what you think you know. “I know what you need,” Greg said, “is not something guys want to hear.” He recalled the earlier discussion about guys wanting solutions and to fix a problem, “but they need to be a participant in the solution.” 

This is what worked for me. This is what I do. This is what I think I know today. … Greg described these as examples of what he says and what resonate with men. “Opening myself vulnerably” in an approach that says Look, I don’t have it all figured out “gives a man the freedom to say Yeah that might work for me or I think I’ll try something different. It gives him the freedom to problem solve the next step for himself based on the options you’ve shared.

Being open and vulnerable is so important, Greg emphasized. He conveyed that in “talking to men from all over the country and other parts of the world for Support After Abortion, “when I share honestly what my struggles were and what I did about them, men are more likely to share their struggles and what they really need.” 

During the Q&A portion of the webinar, Greg did an impromptu one-man-act role play illustrating the 4×4 approach.

HOW CAN MY WORDS & ACTIONS BE AN OBSTACLE TO MEN’S HEALING?

“Hurting men stay away,” Greg said. He reflected on last month’s Men’s Healing Matters webinar that touched on disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation. He gave a short explanation that disenfranchised grief involves discounting a man’s emotions – your pain isn’t real – and emotional invalidation says your emotions don’t count.

“When we released the white paper last year on our national research study that showed the negative impact of abortion on men,” Greg said, “we had an opportunity to publish op-eds and do interviews in several national-level media outlets, such as Newsweek, Fox News, The Washington Stand, The Washington Examiner, and others. Thousands of comments came in. I’ll share a couple of them with you: Shut up. Your feelings don’t matter. Men can’t grieve abortion. They chose it, they deserve to feel bad.” And, he shared one that was directed to him as the author of an op-ed: I hope he has a daughter and she’s raped. Then we’ll see how you think about abortion. His article wasn’t about abortion itself, but the emotional impact after abortion. 

Greg commented that being 15 years into his healing journey and talking publicly about his abortion experiences for many years, he’s become immune to these types of comments. “But, I’ll tell you all today what I thought about as I read those comments,” he said. “I kept thinking about the guy reading those who hasn’t told anybody about his abortion experience(s), the guy who’s still in his pain and is scared to talk about it because he’s been told he’s a man and his feelings don’t matter. Those kinds of comments push him further away from healing.”

Then Greg described his experience at age 18 waiting outside an abortion clinic while his girlfriend and her mom were inside. “As I was sitting on the steps, I saw poster boards on the ground. They said things like burn in hell, baby killer, and stuff like that.” He described how that impacted him as a young, confused kid. “That puts a man in a place where he literally has no idea who to talk to or if he even should talk to anybody. And that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

He suggested that the impact of these types of words and approaches toward men may be why men have never told anyone about their abortion experiences even decades later and why they can be an obstacle to men’s healing

Greg relayed that whenever he speaks publicly about the impact of abortion on men, guys will come up and say Hey, I’ve never told anybody this before, but 10 years ago, or 30 years ago – the longest was 57 years ago, my girlfriend or wife or partner had an abortion. “That’s part of what we’re talking about here,” Greg said. “How do we get guys to talk? And how do we get them plugged into the help they need?”

WHAT MAY BE UNDER MEN’S PAIN AND ANGER?

Often men “express anger first,” Greg said. “But below the anger is often fear.” He shared points from an All Pro Dad article that spoke to men’s biggest fears and applied them to men impacted by abortion.

FEAR #1: FAILING

Men facing an abortion decision often voice that they are afraid of failing as a father or provider. Men who have been impacted by a partner’s pregnancy termination often share a fear of failing recovery. They may say or think things such as, I’ll never feel better. I can’t forgive myself. God won’t forgive me. For them, it can become difficult to imagine a world without pain.

FEAR #2: BEING INCOMPETENT 

Before an abortion, Greg explained, the fear of being incompetent typically relates to a fear of not knowing how to be a dad. He said many men share that they didn’t grow up with a good example of being a dad. “I tell them you learn as you go,” Greg said. “There’s no manual for parenting.” 

For men struggling after abortion experiences, the incompetency fear often manifests as I don’t know enough. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know where to go. Greg shared that Support After Abortion’s men’s research showed that 83% of men either tried to find help or said they could have benefitted from help. But only 18% knew where to go.

FEAR #3: BEING WEAK OR BEING PERCEIVED AS WEAK

Greg discussed the messages men receive that affect a man facing abortion are that  a strong man just supports the woman and what she wants. When struggling after abortion, men can become stoic and try to be strong with an attitude of I’m a man, I’ve got this. I don’t need help. He described how men for whom faith is a part of their life may say God forgave me. I’m fine. Moving on. These often come from a belief that asking for help is a weakness, saying I can’t do this on my own.

Greg compared this to 12-step recovery programs where the first step is to “admit I was powerless over whatever and my life has become unmanageable.” He described how rather than showing weakness, “there’s great strength in asking for help, and that’s a message we need to help” convey.

FEAR #4: BEING IRRELEVANT

This is where disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation come into play. “My feelings don’t matter. My feelings are irrelevant. My opinion on the abortion, either before it or after it, is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. I’m not the woman. I’m just the man,” Greg said. 

“All the vile things we see online that people say about this carries over into every aspect of a man’s life,” he continued. “A man wants to think that what he does matters and that his life is relevant, that it means something.”

“But when we look at healing, if you feel irrelevant as a man,” Greg said, “if you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter, if you feel like you’re not even supposed to have thoughts or feelings about an abortion, I don’t know how you could feel any more irrelevant. And that’s something we need to break out of.”

FEAR #5: LOOKING FOOLISH

Greg shared the results of informal polling he’s done over the years with men on the questions What does it mean to you to look foolish. One of the biggest fears men have in this regard, he explained, is crying in front of strangers, which translates into showing emotion in front of people. And if that’s your fear, “you’re going to try to hold your emotions back as best you can,” which can be an obstacle to healing.

Another fear men shared with him is not knowing the answer. Greg described one instance of how this played out in his own life. Any time he tried to work on one of his cars and had to reach out to somebody to ask questions, “I would feel embarrassed and somehow less because I don’t know how to work on a car. It may seem like a silly example, but it’s a very real thing.” While he’s not a mechanic, Greg is a carpenter. He shared a few stories about times when he was building a deck or putting on a room edition and brilliant, professional men would make excuses for why they didn’t know how to do it. “One guy literally had three doctorate degrees, and he’s telling me how he feels bad he can’t put two boards together.”

NAVIGATING CONVERSATIONS WITH THESE FEARS IN MIND

“These fears are very real for men:” Greg said, “looking foolish, being irrelevant, being weak or perceived as weak or incompetent, and, number one, failing.” Being aware of these five big fears men are dealing with “helps us understand how to talk to them better because we can speak through those fears” using the 4×4 approach with open-ended questions and truly listening to what a man has to say.

Greg shared being afraid of failing as a dad when his wife was pregnant with their now 24 year old. And what was behind that fear? “I had a father who abandoned me at six and an abusive stepdad.” He talked about the need to navigate these conversations in a way that gets to the underlying fear and then what’s triggering that fear.

“When we approach a man like this, without an agenda, without telling him what he should do or know,” Greg said, “but with a true and heartfelt interest in where he’s at, who he is, and what he’d dealing with – well, we may be the first person who’s ever done that in his life. And that level of conversation may be the absolute difference in what helps him find a healing journey.” 

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  • Men think and communicate differently than women, so approach men in the ways they’ll receive it.
  • Men need to know and sense that your interest in them is authentic, so stay focused on him and the conversation and truly listen.
  • You can help reverse disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation by giving men space to share – and acknowledging – their emotions and experiences.
  • Speak encouragement to men who are facing abortion decisions and those who have been impacted by a partner’s abortion.
  • Ask authentic questions and truly listen and remember.
  • Be mindful of the five biggest fears men have: failing, being incompetent or perceived as incompetent, being weak or perceived as weak, being irrelevant, and looking foolish.

NEXT STEPS

Click here to watch the video of this webinar.

Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar. The topic will be The Male Abortion Healing Volunteer.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Men’s research and white paper on the impact of abortion on men.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Women’s research and white paper on the impact of medication abortion on women.  

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.