7 Lessons to Teach Our Sons About Relationships
Experts offer tips for teaching sons about love, romance, and relationships.
It’s been said that a man’s first love is his mother. That’s why it is important we teach our boys about love, romance, and relationships through our behavior and by sharing wisdom.
“A son learns much of what to expect in his dealings with women from his mother,” says Licensed Clinical Psychologist Mark E. Sharp, PhD, of the Aiki Relationship Institute. “She is thus pretty important in the ideas and expectations he will take into a relationship.”
Lori Cluff Schade, PhD, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist who is also mother of seven children, five of whom are boys. She adds that even though boys will begin to identify more with their dad’s behavior toward mom, a mother has a lasting effect on how a boy will relate to women.
“When moms are responsive to emotional and physical needs, it sets up a healthy relationship pattern for healthy attachment in the future,” she says.
Expert say these are some of the biggest love lessons we can instill in our sons:
- Love yourself. This helps boys grow up feeling worthy of good relationships. “Teach your son to love himself,” says Licensed Psychologist Shaelyn T. Pham, PhD. “When he loves himself and treats himself well then he’ll learn to recognize his value, worth, and esteem, which will then attract a woman who will also love and value him.”
- Trust your instincts. Moms may want to influence who their offspring select as dates and mates, but the healthiest approach is to empower him to make his own choices. “Teach your son to trust himself in his decisions knowing that you have provided the guidance for him to make the best decisions for himself,” says Pham. “Communicate to your son that you’ll respect his decision when it comes to picking his partner and you’ll love him no matter what.”
- Relationships require mutual respect. Imparting this message teaches boys how to treat their partners. “Mutual respect and common decency needs to be at the root of any relationship,” says Sharp. “A man needs to learn to treat women in such a manner or they won’t have successful relationships.”
- Men are allowed to be vulnerable. Our culture promotes stoicism and aggression in males, but a mom gives her son permission to also be vulnerable by being supportive when he displays that trait. “She can also teach the lesson by showing her own vulnerability,” says Sharp. “Parents often feel like they have to ‘be strong’ for their kids and therefore don’t show their worry, fear, or sadness.” When parents show vulnerability with their children and one another, this validates the idea that it is normal.
- Express emotions in a healthy way. Giving language to feelings will help. “Boys end up getting socialized into pretty narrow expression of emotions –such as happy, sexual or angry — and helping them identify ‘hurt,’ or ‘scared,’ helps normalize those experiences for them so they aren’t shamed by emotion,” says Schade. Sharing real emotions also will help them, ultimately, to be more supportive of and engaged with relationship partners, she says.
- It’s not just about you. When it comes to love, boys must learn to consider the needs of their partner. “Relationships mean thinking about things from someone else’s perspective,” says Schade. “Boys aren’t often socialized in this regard and are labeled ‘narcissistic,’ as adults. To really develop a quality relationship, you are going to have to make some sacrifices for the betterment of the relationship, but it offers a long-term benefit of the comfort of close relationships.”
- Stay present during conflict. Every relationship has challenges, and boys need to learn to stick around emotionally and find solutions, rather than detach. “I think boys get socialized to avoid emotions and emotional expression, so they often become men who withdraw when things are difficult in relationship,” says Schade.
The most powerful thing both moms and dads can do to teach by example.
“Children truly learn from imitation,” says Marriage and Family Therapist Allen Wagner, LMFT. “How a person interacts in their own relationships with regards to power, role, physical and verbal displays of affection, and conflict resolution does shape us.”
“Modelling affection, selflessness, and mutual respect can help normalize these things, and establish a desire [in boys] to seek this out in their lives,” he surmises.
What lessons have you taught your son about relationships?