Congratulations! You’ve decided to join with other men who’re working together to give their lives deeper meaning. It can be intimidating to consider opening up in front of strangers, but the other men in your group won’t be strangers for long. In fact, they’ll become the best friends you’re ever likely to have. They’ll share your joys and successes and will always be available to you if your life spirals downward.
To help you create a group, here are answers to frequently asked questions based on my eighteen years of men’s group experience.
What should the group’s purpose be? Before recruiting members, it’s important to clarify what you want your group to achieve—most basically dealing with emotional baggage and becoming better men. A social component may develop over time, but this shouldn’t be the primary goal of the group.
Who should join? Each member has to support the group’s purpose and be willing—or even eager—to tell his story, identify his issues, and work toward overcoming the demons that control him. Steer clear of anyone who has another purpose in mind or who you have to convince to join. This work isn’t for everyone, and some men are too shut down emotionally to tackle it. Don’t worry if it takes a while to find the right seven or eight men, because including members who can’t carry their own weight will end up holding the entire group back.
How often should we meet? My group has been meeting every other Thursday from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, without fail, for eighteen years. Three hours every two weeks is just the right balance between not having enough time and not having enough to talk about. The members take turns hosting at their homes and serve a simple half-hour supper before the meeting begins. Because no family members should be home during meetings to protect confidentiality, those who can’t host at their homes can provide the food at another member’s home.
What ground-rules should we follow? My men’s group found the following rules to be essential:
- Attendance is mandatory. The only excuse is illness or being out of town.
- Confidentiality is paramount. What’s said in the group stays in the group. There are no excuses for disloyalty.
- Discussion of religion and politics is out of bounds except during the suppers.
- The members must treat each other with respect. There’s no facilitator in the group, so all of the members are equals and should be treated as such. You’re a group of men, so expect disagreement—sometimes quiet, and sometimes noisy and angry. Keep arguments about the issue at hand, though, and not a man’s character. Interrupting a speaker should be discouraged, and threats and violence are unacceptable. Any man who’s disruptive or constantly diverts the group’s attention from its goals should be asked to leave.
- New members are carefully vetted. Each prospective member should be interviewed individually by the group members and voted in unanimously by secret ballot. A new member is temporary for three months, when another vote is taken to admit him as a permanent member.
- Typical topics include marriage, divorce, relationships, sexual issues, and any other emotionally based issue that arises.
What do the meetings look like? The host begins each meeting by asking who needs time to talk about his issue and keeps track of time so everyone gets a chance to speak. Men should discuss their issues as much as possible in terms of feelings, not thoughts. Thoughts are opinions and, as such, are debatable. A man’s feelings, on the other hand, are his absolute truth, and no one can tell him his feelings are wrong. What he needs to hear from the other men is what they felt and what they did when experiencing a similar issue or, if they haven’t experienced something like it, what listening to him makes them feel. A man who begins by saying “I think” needs to be steered towards talking about what he’s feeling. The more experiential and emotion-based the dialogue, the more growth each of the group members will undergo.
Where can I turn for help? I’m always available to answer questions and make suggestions by contacting me. I would also consider visiting your group in person.
I want you to succeed!