Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the best-selling book The Five Love Languages and I have a lot in common. First: we’re both as handsome as-can-be. Second: although we are not at all related, we share the same last name. And third: we’re both dedicated to helping others create successful lives and relationships through our counseling, writing and speaking.
The men I counsel most often come into the office because they are struggling with roles that affect their relationships. How can I be a better husband? How can I be a better father? How can I be a better man? And I struggle right alongside my clients. Relationships are not easy and neither is being a good man.
I’ve been a fan of Garry Chapman for many years. His books have sold well over 8 million copies and The Five Love Languages is required reading for every couple I work with. It’s simple wisdom changed the way I look at my own relationships and has impacted me in my journey to becoming a better man. For this reason, I was excited to have the opportunity to talk the man behind the book had to say about being a “good man”.
CC: “So Gary, what is a good man?”
GC: “Wow! That’s a hard question,“ he chuckled. “I think a good man is a man who has an ‘others orientation.’ That is, he is thinking in terms of ‘how can I enrich the life of my wife and my children?’ If he’s married or has children. If he’s single he thinks in terms of ‘how can I honor my parents?’ And ultimately, he thinks in terms of ‘How can I enrich the lives of people I encounter?’ A good man is opposite of a selfish man; his attitude is essentially an attitude of love and kindness towards others.”
CC: “As a renowned relationship expert and someone who has been helping people develop successful relationships, what have you learned that a man can do to enrich the lives of people he loves and encounters?”
CG: “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is ‘how to listen.’ By nature, many of us are not good listeners. We have our opinions, and we are quick to tell our opinions. If it’s a family relationship and we get into a conversation where we have an opposing opinion, we might try to dominate… and show the other person the ‘errors of their ways’. But, what I have learned is that if you will listen to people, continue to ask questions and make sure you understand what they are thinking, what their position is and why they feel that way, how strongly they feel about it, they will respect you even if they disagree with you… because you are respecting them. When you say to them ‘I hear what you’re saying, and I think that make a lot of sense’ because it always makes sense in their head. Once you have shown them respect and listened, you’re more likely to have them hear your side. I think that’s a huge lesson I’ve learned through the years is helping people learn how to listen. Some research has shown that the average person will listen for seventeen seconds before they interrupt to put forward their idea. When that happens, you’re typically into an argument where nobody is listening to the other person.”
CC: “Who taught you about what it means to be a good man?”
GC: “I’ve had a lot of men, ordinary men, who have interfaced with me at different junctures of my life. My father was a very positive influence in my life… But there was a man by the name of Jim Murk. Jim is now in his eighties, but when I was at Wheaton College, Jim invited a couple other college friends and me to live in his home. Jim taught us a lot about being a good man by doing the things he did and incorporating us into his family. We washed dishes, changed the baby’s diaper and helped around the house; things that a man should do. He lead us in Bible studies, and also mentored us individually. He greatly influenced me and his mentoring had a profound impact on my life. Before I ever considered becoming a counselor, Jim taught me a great deal in terms of how to relate to others.”
CC: “Your new book Married And Still Loving It is about having a successful second half of marriage. What would you say is the key to being a good husband in the second half.
GC: “It is the same key as it is to have a successful first half. It’s as simple as loving your wife. I find there are not many wives that will leave a man who is sincerely asking questions like ‘How can I help you? How can I make your life easier? How can I be a better husband to you?’ Those are the three questions that turned my marriage around. I think if a man has this kind of attitude towards his wife and is caring and supporting of her, then chances are she’s going to ask him the same questions. When you get two people living in that direction you’re going to have a good marriage. But it takes us a while to get there because by nature we are all egocentric, and if our wife is not meeting our needs we are fast and quick to tell her and often in a condemning way — which pushes her away. But if we’re asking those three questions, then we are stimulating a positive atmosphere that if and when she reciprocate, then you’re both winners. Loving supporting and caring each other is what a healthy marriage is all about.
CC: “As a man, what’s your greatest fear?”
CG: “I don’t know if it’s a fear, but certainly a deep concern is to end life well… I’m seventy-eight years old now; I’ve had a wonderful life, great wife, great kids and wonderful grandkids…. God has been good. But I’ve seen through the years, men who in their later years get in a rut and sort of coast through life. I don’t want that. I want to end well. People like to ask me what I want to do if I retire. I always say ‘I want to do what I’m already doing. I love everything I do, and I want to keep on doing this.’ But I think my biggest fear would be that I would somehow get side tracked and not be open to everything God has left for me.”
After our conversation, I was struck by several things: I was reminded that adopting an attitude of “others orientation” as Gary Puts it, is about leading from a position of service. It’s was an important message for me to hear, that as a man, when I strive to “enrich the lives of others” I am emulating, at least in part, what it means to be a good man. I was impressed that early in his life, Gary had a mentor who taught him the fundamentals of service; not just in the big picture, but in smaller the day-to-day things. And I was encouraged to hear that he struggled in his marriage, but found a way to turn it around by asking questions and learning to listen.
However, the thing that stood out the most to me was that for this man, a success by anyone’s definition, the greatest concern is ending well. I can relate, because as a man I struggle with doing the very things that it takes to be a good man, all the things we talk about. Every day, I try to develop the qualities of a good man and I often fail….but I get back up and try again. I think perhaps this is one thing that all good men have in common; the ability to get back up.
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