Your Relationship Can’t Give You Everything You Need: Why Community Is Key

Owen Marcus explores the benefits of men and women forming micro-communities, and shares how our ancestors got it right.

We work hard in order to own more, do more, and be more. Much of the reason we don’t feel we have what we really want is because we are looking in the wrong place. The place that we miss is the one right in front of us.

In our modern society, we forget that our genome—the complete set of genetic material of an organism—is the same as it was 200,000 years ago when we existed as tribes. Until the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, we lived in micro-communities where our tribe provided everything we needed. Our society transformed, yet our genes and instincts have remained the same. We still need a small group to watch our backs, celebrate our wins, and be our deep friends. When we don’t have these micro-communities, we try to fulfill that need with junk. We join gangs, watch TV, or hang out in bars—you know the rest.

How I discovered the need

Like all of us, I hungered for more. I went for success, love, and fame. Regardless of what I achieved, I never felt nourished. Sixteen years ago, I decided to join a men’s group because I had never tried one. My first group didn’t cut it, but the concept had me. When I moved to Sonoma County, Calif., I helped form a men’s group that proved to me a group of committed men could teach each other what they had never been taught growing up. The group also showed me that with the right set up and commitment, a deep community could form.

After moving to northern Idaho, I experimented with developing a few groups before I redesigned the model we use today. I invited 11 other men on board, and within seven years we had sponsored several groups for men and women. We saw over 50 men and women get more from life because of these groups.

With hindsight, I began to see something that I had not seen before. I saw a community develop within the groups, that went beyond the purpose of the groups, to help the men or women create the life they wanted. These men and women had a new order of friends who accepted them for who they were. These friends were a band of brothers or sisters that watched their backs. They helped each member be accountable to his or her commitments. These micro-communities became a forum to learn emotional intelligence. Each meeting was different, and they were always fun. We continue to laugh deeper in the meetings than any other time in the week.

The Paleo Community, our ancestral roots

The Paleo Diet’s popularity is in part due to its simplicity. It’s easy for people to understand, in spite of cultural advances, our body chemistry is the same as our ancient ancestors’. Our social needs are still the same as our ancestors. We want to belong to a group. Even we introverts need groups.

Christopher Ryan, PhD, and Cacilda Jethá, MD, co-authored Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, which speaks about how our ancestors shared everything, including their partners. Ryan and Jethá contend, it served all to share all resources. Neither Ryan, Jethá, nor I are suggesting we create groups of polygamy. The point is, that within a small group, the focus goes from “what is mine and is not yours” to “we are all in this together, let’s share.”

In these modern tribes, we aren’t sharing partners, caves, or a kill. We share our emotions, wants, pains, joys, and friendships. Out of that sharing, deep bonds of a micro-community are formed. When members sense and experience those bonds, they relax. You feel you aren’t in this world alone—you don’t need to do it all yourself.

As much as our biology continues to be based on our ancestral roots, so is much of our psychology and sociology. Our instinctual behavior to seek out a close group of friends is a deep need within us. The deprivation of this key nutrient will produce disease. The lack of the support of a close community manifests symptoms of stress. Something is missing in our lives, but it’s been gone for so long we don’t know it is missing.

Your relationship can’t give you all you need

Over the years, we repeatedly see men and women transform their primary relationships, when they have their “micro” supporting them. Their tribe of brothers or sisters fills the gaps no primary relationship can fill, no matter how good. People in the best relationships produce a different dynamic than a group of peers meeting to solely serve its members.

Particularly with men, we we tend to project our emotional needs onto our partners. We need to open up to our partners. Not even the best relationship can fulfill all our interpersonal needs. Without other sources for these needs, either our primary relationship dies a slow death, or we “cheat” in some fashion. Cheating may mean affairs, or it might mean shutting down to our partner, and covertly fulfilling our emotional need someplace else. We often live in a world of limited emotional resources, so we horde what we have and share in situations where we get an immediate return. I see men hanging out with their buddies as if it’s an escape from the bonds that bind them to their partner or relationship.

When those men have a venue where they aren’t just hanging out, but opening up and sharing emotionally, in a masculine way, those men go home nourished. Both the men and their partners tell me how their once emotionally closed-down demeanors evolve into open and giving ones. Rather than retreating to a video game, TV, the Internet, or a beer, they are engaging with their families. It’s not just that these men are learning how to be different from other men. It’s that they have a place to be a man. They are learning what was never taught to them: masculine emotional intelligence.

Because there is no external relationship outside the group, such as a shared workplace, the members get to be themselves. They get to risk expressing in new ways. There’s no boss to fire you or partner to get upset. We see men who have never spoken up speak up. They learn in the safety of their group to express anger, or to ask for what they want. To their amazement, not only are they not rejected, but they are celebrated for taking a risk. In relationships where there are other needs at play, stepping out of your normal role may have consequences. In these groups, there is no pressure to perform outside of your agreements to the groups. Your secrets don’t matter. You are accepted. You get to start over.

Micros are easy

Anyone can start his or her own group. We started ours with no support. To guarantee your success and certainly make it easier, we offer a set of Word docs, free of charge. You can download them, to start your group, at our nonprofit site, Men Corps. Get some friends together and start your own tribe. It’s more fun than you can imagine.

Owen Marcus blogs for men and women about men at His new book, Grow Up, Guys: Your 9-Steps to Releasing the Remarkable Man Inside You, will be out in late 2012.

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