Men's groups and the art of listening

Men's groups and the art of listening

Men's groups and the art of listening

Updated 1 June 2017, 9:10 AEST

Compared to how women talk "naturally", these men say dedicated men's groups are what they need to help them through tough times.

Often men benefit from a dedicated framework to help with intimacy and that is where men's groups can help. Three men from central Victoria share their stories.

'We're wired differently'

Camilo's world was falling apart but the worst was yet to come, years later.

Fragile after the separation from the mother of his daughter, he joined a men's group at a friend's suggestion.

"They gave me a space to share my story, a space to be heard and witnessed by others without feedback or without judgment," Camilo said.

After a decade of involvement, the 40-year-old youth mentor has learned to sit and listen with an open heart and eventually learned the art of surrender.

"They've witnessed your story, your journey and seen you fall apart and seen and heard you grieve your pain," he said.

None more so than a year ago when he fell apart after losing his partner of five years to suicide.

Not only did Camilo have the incredible loss but the indelible image of her death took him to "rock bottom".

"I understood for the first time how when one partner dies the other partner dies, and for the first time in my life I thought maybe I should take my life too," Camilo said.

"That scared me and I just pulled back from that dark thought and never went there again."

He said without the group of men to stand by him it might have been a different story.

"I knew I had a support group there that was on hand to help me whether it was physically, emotionally in any way," Camilo said.

"I feel confident that there's nothing I couldn't bring up in my men's circle and so far, that's been the case."

He referred to the fortnightly gatherings as a special space, largely unavailable for men in a western culture.

"Men typically do that by drinking beer at the pub and it's just completely different," Camilo said.

Whereas women tended to communicate more "naturally", he said a dedicated framework helped men with intimacy.

"We're wired a bit differently," Camilo said.

Despite the varied make-up of the men he conceded it took a "particular" man to join, one that was open to "working through some of his shit".

"A friend of mine described them as the low hanging fruit — easy to reach," Camilo said.

'They're some of my best friends'

From the moment Ruben walked into the circle of men, he felt welcomed.

Left feeling heartbroken and vulnerable whilst in the throes of a 10-year marriage breakdown, he found a place to be heard.

"They were there to listen and that was what it was all about," Ruben said.

"I was a taken aback by that and was hooked, pretty much straight away.

"It was exactly what I was looking for and it was perfect."

Five and a half years later, the 40-year-old ex-teacher-turned-carpenter, is still part of his local men's group and credits them with helping him.

"I'd spent lots of time in pubs and the answers weren't there," Ruben said.

But in those early days, still hurting, he hid in alcohol, often drinking before a meeting.

He described it as being absent.

"No-one in the group really had too much of an objection, but I felt that I wasn't being me," Ruben said.

"For me it's about being able to be real and be present and not be pissed or even a little bit drunk or whatever."

Instead, he learnt to find strength in vulnerability, surrounded by trust.

A few years ago, overwhelmed by grief, the strength of those relationships held him.

His seven-year-old son was killed, hit by a car driven by a neighbour in front of their house.

The loss gave way to a grief that at times had no words.

"I couldn't talk and my check in was that I cried, and they accepted that as an answer, they accepted that as my check in and everyone pretty much cried with me," Ruben said.

His grief also didn't have a time limit.

Nine months later when his grief continued, some in the community were unable to cope, at times crossing the street to avoid him, but not the men.

"They gave me their friendship and they gave me their love," Ruben said.

From the funeral to the first and second anniversaries of his son's death, they have listened to him and supported him.

"I've never known people like these guys before in my life," Ruben said.

"They were complete strangers at the start, I didn't know any of them and now they're some of my best friends."

'I am eternally grateful'

The idea of sitting around talking about personal issues with a group of strangers did not initially appeal to Taron.

"I was in a place of shame mostly," the 43-year-old carpenter said.

Adept at keeping secrets, he had lived a "double life" for more than a decade after his marriage ended 15 years ago.

But he felt he had no choice after his recent partner attempted suicide after discovering the extent of his infidelity — the "final straw".

"She was completely and utterly gutted and heartbroken," Taron said.

Feeling responsible for her actions he became seriously depressed, disgusted in the pain he had caused.

"I was quite messy emotionally, I was feeling hurt but I was mostly feeling shame, embarrassment, guilt feelings and kind of not knowing what to do with them," Taron said.

Having no-one to confide in and in the midst of trying to sort out the relationship he joined a men's group and over the past 18 months has developed a certain level of trust and safety.

"It helps to hear other men's stories, it opens you up to deeper emotions," the father of two said.

It has allowed him to slowly open up about his marriage breakdown that led to his slow steady decline of drinking, smoking, and the pursuit of sexual gratification.

"Not always being able to get it in a new relationship I started paying for it," he reluctantly revealed.

It was easier to pay for sex workers than navigate the tricky terrain of a sexual relationship but harder to tell anyone.

"There were times I was so disgusted and disappointed in myself, straight after going to a brothel," he said.

Despite the shame of being "found out" he was grateful the hiding had given way to healing.

"I regret the pain I caused but the emotional and behavioural growth for me, I am eternally grateful," Taron said.

Although he has found comfort from the men in his group he says there are still some "places" that he has not gone to but feels he is well on the way.

"I have shared so much of my own personal wrongdoings and demons, let's call them, all sorts of things and it gets easier the more we meet," Taron said.

What concerns him is judgment from people outside of the group.

"I know now my honesty and openness level means I'm going to share a lot of my past and that's a pretty scary thought to think of telling my story to my next partner," Taron said.