Day after day I witness the impact of traditional masculinity and gender stereotypes on men, their intimate relationships, and their capacity to be available and present fathers. Messages like: ‘Boys don’t cry’. ‘Man up’. ‘Toughen up’. ‘Perform’ and ‘Don’t be a girl’ (i.e. a double insult) still echo in our culture and around the world. Thankfully things have changed, especially in the last few decades, but there’s still a long way to go.

“At its core, traditional masculinity rests on two pillars: the rejection of vulnerability and the delusion of dominance. Instead of trying to connect through vulnerable sharing, traditional masculinity dictates that we men win approval through our performance”. Terry Real

Telling a boy or a man who is upset to ‘toughen up’, ‘don’t show weakness’ or ‘don’t be soft’ is essentially asking him to deny being an authentic and real human being. It sets him up to be disconnected from himself and disconnected from the people closest to him. And, in my experience, this is not what men want.

I see men in couple’s therapy who are self-proclaimed ‘alpha males’ and men who still subscribe to traditional gender stereotypes. At the heart of being an alpha male is the desire to ‘dominate’, have ‘power over’, or be ‘superior or better than’. This is fine in certain contexts when it is clearly negotiated and agreed upon; like on the rugby field, the boxing ring, or even if it’s negotiated with full consent between equals in the bedroom.

Beyond these clearly defined contracts, if a man assumes a fixed dominant position in his intimate relationships, it can create big problems such as:

  1. He limits himself from feeling and expressing all his emotions (except perhaps anger and lust) which are universal to all human beings. He becomes more and more disconnected from himself.
  1. He cannot deeply connect with another human being because that requires emotional intimacy and being vulnerable.
  1. He risks being lonely or dissatisfied in relationships because these days there aren’t too many women who want to be ‘submissive’ all the time.
  1. Even for women who chose to have a traditional, feminine, or submissive role, she will usually want a man who is also emotionally available and connected, which she won’t get because of 1 and 2.
  1. Pushing down emotions, coupled with traditional beliefs around male dominance, can contribute to explosions of anger and use of abusive behaviours. From the more garden-variety verbal abuse to devastatingly harmful patterns of abuse and control.

Connecting with our emotions and sharing our vulnerabilities to those closest to use, is an act of courage. As Brene Browne says, “Vulnerability is not a weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous”.

If a man is willing, he can 100% learn how to be more connected, honest, authentic, and relational. In my experience as a couple’s therapist, supporting men to be relational, means coming out of the delusion of dominance.

“In our modern world many men are torn between two compelling versions of what it means to be a man: one version is traditional, older, unabashedly patriarchal, and centrally concerned with hierarchy and power; the other is modern, younger, ecological, and centrally concerned with mutuality and partnership. It’s difficult to imagine a contest with higher stakes.” Terry Real

The wonderful news is that things are changing and new societal beliefs about what it means to be a man are emerging, this allows men who display vulnerability and openness to experience more positivity & acceptance. More and more men, especially the younger men I work with, have learned to substitute what Terry Real calls ‘performance-based esteem’ for ‘healthy self-esteem’.

This gives me great hope.

How to move from a mindset of ‘alpha male’ competitiveness to authenticity that embraces vulnerability, empathy, and self-awareness.

  1. Embrace Vulnerability: Recognise that vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. Allow yourself to express your true thoughts, feelings, and fears without fear of judgment.
  2. Practice Authenticity: Be true to yourself and your values, even if it means going against traditional notions of masculinity or alpha male behaviour. Authenticity fosters genuine connections and respect from others.
  3. Challenge Stereotypes: Challenge societal norms and stereotypes that perpetuate toxic masculinity or unhealthy competitiveness. Encourage open dialogue and promote a culture of acceptance and inclusivity.
  4. Practice Active Listening: Instead of focusing solely on asserting dominance or winning, actively listen to others with empathy and understanding. Engage in meaningful conversations and seek to connect on a deeper level.
  5. Cultivate Empathy: Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Put yourself in others’ shoes, consider their perspectives, and respond with compassion rather than competition.
  6. Develop Emotional Intelligence: Build awareness of your own emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions. Learn healthy ways to manage and express your emotions, fostering deeper connections with those around you.
  7. Celebrate Others’ Successes: Shift from viewing others’ successes as threats to celebrating them as opportunities for growth and collaboration. Cultivate a supportive environment where everyone can thrive.
  8. Focus on Collaboration: Instead of striving for dominance or individual achievement, prioritize collaboration and teamwork. Recognize the value of diverse perspectives and collective efforts in achieving shared goals.
  9. Seek Growth and Learning: Embrace opportunities for personal growth and self-improvement. Continuously educate yourself, challenge your beliefs, and strive to become a better version of yourself.
  10. Lead with Integrity: Lead by example, demonstrating integrity, honesty, and humility in your actions. Inspire others to follow suit and create a positive ripple effect in your personal and professional life.

Be Courageous. Ask yourself how gender socialisation may be affecting the way you show up in relationships. Where does this come from? What are the costs? Ask yourself what might be stopping you from connecting with your body and emotions. If you’re struggling with this, seek professional help.

The Courageous Man offers in-person and on-line individual and couple’s therapy. Link to bookings page.


I am focused on heterosexual relationships and use binary terminology. My lack of non-binary pronouns and lack of reference to different sexual & gender orientations, and non-monogamous relationships is not intended to offend.

If you are using or experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence or coercive control we do not recommend you are vulnerable with your partner. We do not recommend couple’s therapy. For more information on The Courageous Man’s individual therapy for people experiencing or using domestic and family violence go to: The Courageous Man – Domestic and Family Violence