How a man’s relationship with his mother affects all his relationship with women.


August 10, 2010—Does your partner display the following tendencies (or if you’re a man, do these proclivities sound familiar to you):

  • He often tries to prove his masculinity in front of other men or women
  • He goes out of his way to court danger
  • He sacrifices intimacy with family in favor of the professional goals he believes will make him feel secure
  • He is unable to commit to relationships longer than a few months or a year’s time.

These statements describe a man who may be operating more out of fear than confidence.  To better understand his mindset, one place to look is at a man’s relationship with his mother.

In best-selling author (The Wonder of Boys) Michael Gurian’s classic book The Invisible Presence (originally published in 1994, under the title Mothers, Sons, and Lovers) he explores the intricate relationship between a son and his mother, and how that relationship must evolve in order for the young boy to individuate and be initiated into manhood, confident in his powers and no longer dependent on his parents for affirmation.  If this transition is fraught with anxiety, despair, or humiliation, the likelihood is high that these grown men will have difficulties relating with women.

This is not a book about heaping blame on all mothers of sons.  Letting go of a child is often painful, particularly for mothers, who feel the child they bore is “theirs.”

But if this initiation does not happen in a healthy way, the grown man will move into adulthood with fear, guilt, and a feeling of inadequacy.  Whether a mother is neglectful to her pubescent son, critical of men as inherently flawed, or anxious or smothering, the affects to the son’s masculine psyche can be deep and far-reaching.

“Part of the core development of a child is his knowledge that there is a safe place, and that safe place is with Mom.” Gurian says, “But to grow up, he must be able to survive fate and crisis by developing his own safe place and place of wholeness. It must be a place he controls, from within.”

The Invisible Presence takes men on a “hero’s journey” through tasks and rituals designed to connect men with their pain, grief, fear, and strength.  It will also help the mothers and lovers in their lives to better understand how a boy becomes a man and how a man becomes a secure and intimate partner.

Michael Gurian is a pioneer in the study and application of gender studies as they affect homes, schools, businesses, corporations, and public policy. Cofounder of the Gurian Institute, he teaches, lectures, and leads workshops in the United States and internationally. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Leadership and the Sexes and The Wonder of Boys.

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MICHAEL GURIAN is a New York Times best-selling author of twenty eight books, including The Wonder of Boys, The Wonder of Girls, and What Could He Be Thinking? He has been featured multiple times in nearly all the major media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, Time, The Today Show, Good Morning America, National Public Radio, The 700 Club, and many others.