How to start a life-changing conversation with the men in your life

The expert ways to start a potentially life-changing conversation with the men in your life.

Most men would rather join you for an entire day of shopping than have a serious chat about their health. But open dialogue can be crucial, especially when it comes to early detection and the prevention of serious diseases. With Men's Health Week happening this week (11-17 June), there's ever been a better time to get the guys in your life to open up. Here’s how to start those tricky conversations…

How to chat about… mental health

Emotional wellbeing and mental health are one of the toughest topics to talk about, but by focusing on physical symptoms rather than touchy-feely stuff, you’re less likely to freak him out. “It might not be as threatening as a conversation about emotion and sadness," says Lysn psychologist, Breanna Jayne Sada. "You might say, ‘Hey I’ve noticed you’re not eating as much as you normally would’, ‘You’re sleeping a lot more than usual’, or, ‘Things seem to be bothering you lately, is everything ok?’. Don’t lay blame and stay away from assumptions." Be prepared for him to baulk the first time you bring it up. "It’s ok if they don’t say anything with your first attempt, you can’t force them - they have to be ready,” says Swisse Wellness expert, Dave Cannata. “But what you have done is opened up the dialogue; created a safe space and left them with something to think about."

Start the conversation:

  • Focus on the physical symptoms like changes in his sleeping patterns, rather than feelings.
  • Choose your moments. You want him to be calm and composed.
  • If you or someone you know needs help, please get in contact with Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 26 36.

How to chat about…his diet

Diet and eating habits are a potentially explosive topic of conversation (not just for men!) so choosing the right moment is key to keeping things on an even keel. "Ensure you bring up the topic in a private conversation or safe place, and not randomly at a social family gathering in front of everyone," says Dave. "Make it clear you are concerned, but also the reasons why." Tackling these issues together can also minimise the chance he’ll feel under attack. “If they feel targeted in any way they will have the opposite reaction,” warns Breanna. “Never suggest something you wouldn’t do yourself. Ask yourself, am I making a realistic request?”

Start the conversation:

  • Inspire change by making good lifestyle choices yourself. Make a pact to cut down on junk food or alcohol together, or challenge him to a healthy bet.
  • Reason with him. Giving cause for your concerns can help men to realise why you feel the way you do.
  • Head to the Dietitians Associaion of Australia website for specific advice and ideas for men. Drinkwise also has great resources if you're trying to cut down on alcohol. 

Encourage him to talk about… his prostate

The very thought of a prostate exam strikes fear into the hearts of men of all ages. But a regular examination should be a part of his medical routine after the age of 50. One in six men in Australia are at risk of developing prostate cancer by the time they're 85, so getting checked every year could save his life. “You make a regular appointment at the dentist or the GP, so use the opportunity to bring it up and offer to make the appointment or ask if he’d like you to go along with him,” Breanna says. Sharing your own experiences with “scary” tests can also help put him at ease. “Talk about your own apprehension before an appointment, as well the benefits and importance of why we have these tests. Hearing what women go through can build the trust and respect for men to hopefully open up more on this topic,” says Dave.

Start the conversation:

  • Try not to nag. Talking about the reasons and benefits of the screening calmly will get your point across.
  • Create a sense of unity. Drawing on your own, uncomfortable experiences can really help him come to terms with the idea.
  • Need help or support? The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia is committed to reducing the impact of prostate cancer in men, through fundraising, research and support groups.

How to chat about… sexual health

You may dread this chat as much as they do, but speaking frankly about sexual health could save a life. For younger men, it's all about choosing the right time to chat. “If there’s a sex scene in a movie you are watching together, use those moments as teachable moments,” Breanna says.

If you’re having the conversation with your partner, don’t be ashamed. “If as a couple, you are comfortable enough to have a sexual relationship, then you should be comfortable enough to broach the topic of safe sex and STIs,” says Dave. “That simple decision to not talk it through can have significant ramifications, with many STIs leading to serious and lifelong illnesses.”

Start the conversation:

  • Be frank. Speak about the importance of STIs, how common they are and how to avoid them to younger men.
  • Normalise it. Chatting about your sexual health is essential for any partner – casual or long-term.
  • MensLine Australia is a counselling service that can lend support on family and relationship issues for men. Reach them on 1300 78 99 78.

How to chat about…hearing loss

If you notice that your partner isn’t listening to what you say, it may be time to get his hearing checked. “Hearing does decline over time, so if their hearing is fine right now, it would still be good to get that measured as a baseline to compare with future hearing assessments,” says Dr Brent Edwards from Australian Hearing. “Tell your partner that getting their hearing tested is easy, quick and free, and if they think that they don’t have a hearing problem, then why not get it checked out?” he says.

Start the conversation:

  • Bring it to their attention. Much like a slight deterioration in eyesight, men may not realise anything is wrong until they're tested.
  • Encourage a check-up. Make him understand that everyday activities like watching football, live music gigs and using power tools can contribute to hearing loss.
  • If you're not sure where to find a specialist, Australian Hearing has a comprehensive list.

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