For the most part we learn and develop our relationship skills through the modelling and integration of how our parents communicated and loved. For a lot of people that’s an incredibly good thing, and for others, it can be a challenge to unlearn unhealthy behaviours so that they can thrive in their romantic relationships.
The real struggle(and empowered truth) is that relationship skills appear to be hereditary. And what our parents struggle with, likely theirs did as well. It’s not about pointing fingers, being a victim, or blaming them for our faults. I see many behaviours I’ve picked up from observing my parents and/or other mentors. But instead of using these challenges as the reason to stay stuck and blame them for our relationship failures, we can see that this awareness allows us to change the pattern.
My father and I share many deep conversations on love. Unlike the models that most men are taught, my father has always been exceptionally good at peering into my heart. He would ask the right questions to get to the bottom of my fears, and even further, he would allow me the safe and loving space to be who I was and feel everything I was feeling. Regardless of whether it was considered “manly”.
I realize that this is rare. I also recognize that my father is born in a era where these acknowledgments of emotion are few and far between. After another one of our “talks” the other day I asked him, “How is it that in a time when men were not endorsed or promoted to be emotional, you have embodied so many of these essential skills?”
My father replied, “My past relationships and the one with your mother demanded it of me. And your grandfather often would to talk to us, as kids, about how we were feeling. Your grandfather was a very emotionally intelligent man.”
And it had me thinking… Is being a gentleman hereditary?! I thought about all of those times that my grandfather was transferring these skills to his kids, he never realized the massive impact he was actually having. His desire to be present and defy the mould of the classic male archetype has transcended two generations. And it has inspired a lot of the work I do.
Wow. That to me is so powerful. The decisions of one man can change the course of his kids lives, and then in turn the lives that they touch, and so one. That is incredible. My grandfather wasn’t always a great partner, and my father recognized some of grandpa’s language choices and shifted how he showed up in his relationships. This is the perfect evidence that we have the power to shift how we love and communicate in any moment. Unlike the DNA genetics we pass on, the emotional genetics are ones we can consciously choose to change. And that, in turn, impacts people and has the rippling effect to change the world.
I’m not a father, however I can tell you that I take the words I choose and the role I have in people’s lives very seriously. I consider how I’m modelling my behaviour for strangers, kids, and partners.
If our fathers don’t connect with us then it’s important to try to connect with our fathers. Not all of our fathers are going to be open to that, and that reality is ok. We can’t make people become how we wish to become. We can’t force someone to open up emotionally. But, what we can do is invite them to join us. We can start but being the one who initiates the conversation. Have you ever asked what your father’s greatest dream is? What is his greatest fear? Just these two questions are ones not everyone discusses, but they are a safer gateway to vulnerability.
Now, I recognize that not everyone shares the same childhood experience and some men don’t even have fathers present. So how do we change the way we have learned to communicate and show up so that we can change the lineage of our emotional intelligence? How do we become the “ideal” man who communicates from a place of kindness and empathy, and still knows how to honour his boundaries?
1. Find a mentor: Look for men whom you look up to. Find men who are already the way you would like to be. The types of men who are already doing the type of job you want, emulate the integrity and values that resonate with you, and communicate with their friends and partners in a healthy and loving way. A mentor will offer guidance and feedback which we allow you to get to where you would like to be. To a life that is similar to theirs.
2. Surround yourself with men like you want to become: When we have people around us who live the life we used to live and choose the things we no longer wish to choose anymore, they will be an anchor to our growth. Maybe the single greatest hack to our evolution is surrounding ourselves with men who reflect who we want to be.
How do we find those people? Go to events that your future self goes to. Ask friends if they have friends they could introduce you to. Every year I go to a conference by myself and/or sign up for a course that focuses on an area I would like to grow and expand in. This choice alone has expanded my network substantially. I’ve met incredible people, created lifelong friendships, and been influenced by the types of people I want influencing me.
3. Hire a coach: During my whole life I have had amazing men around me and a fantastic community who have always supported me in every way I could imagine. And still, despite all of this, I know that hiring a coach is an investment in myself. The difference between a coach and a mentor is one I didn’t grasp till I hired a coach. First, we pay a coach to hold us accountable. Research suggests that when we pay someone for their time and to work with us we are more likely to engage in the necessary changes and growth that is agreed upon. Find a coach who works in the specific area you want to grow in.
I never realized until that recent moment with my father how deeply grateful I am for the man he chose to be and the long lineage of men in my family. The words we choose, and the energy and intention we put behind those words can change the hereditary path of our families. We can literally decide that we will be the last generation to communicate from a place of fear.
Instead of passing on material and wealth, let’s strive to pass on healthy and loving communication. Let’s teach our children to honour their emotion and love their partner with the utmost respect and passion.
Being a good father, modelling vulnerability and growing past the hereditary blocks of our past can change the course of families, nations, and worlds.
Mark Groves is a relationship coach, blogger, speaker and sales consultant. He’s in love with science, psychology, and uncovering the mysteries of what makes great relationships work. Speaking of that, he’s certain there are no “secrets” when it comes to great relationships. Rather, he believes that all relationships are by design and we are all the architects of what we want.
Mark has a Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology and has written for The Purple Fig, Plenty of Fish, and Trifecta Magazine and is the host of the podcast “Just The Tip”. When he’s not working with clients you’ll find him traveling the globe, playing in the mountains and ocean, or pretty much anything that gets his heart beating in the paradise that is Vancouver, BC.
You can read more of Mark’s writing at www.markgroves.tv.