In my Twenty+ years of marriage, I used to have endless conflicts with my then-husband about him not talking, not sharing emotions, not being as verbal as I wanted him to be. A caring, compassionate, soft-spoken quiet man, I would take his quietness personally, and would protest it endlessly.
It was years later after our divorce, after becoming a competent psychologist and marriage psychotherapist, that I would look back wondering “if I knew then what I know now…”
He was showing up the way he knew best how to show up. Being competent himself in his brilliant mind, and a superior business man, he would rather do more of what he felt confident doing, and less of what I wanted and needed him to do. And the more I nagged with unhappiness.. the more he moved toward where he felt successful… his work.
Whenever a frustrated woman in a therapy session asks me the question, “why doesn’t he talk to me about his emotions” or on the contrary, the frustrated man is trying so hard to explain and show their emotional side to their partners; I ponder if the word we call emotion is to ‘blame’? or maybe it’s that men and woman have different ways to show emotions? or is it that we are scared to talk about our emotions for fear we will get it ‘wrong’, or from the feared negative consequences?
According to Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of EFT (Emotional Focused Therapy), we at times do not show our emotions, or talk about them, because we are afraid. The fear of being vulnerable, the fear of being rejected or abandoned, the fear of being wrong, the fear of not doing it ‘right’… Men may have a harder time showing and expressing their emotions, partly because they may be afraid to get it wrong and are quicker to withdraw into the ‘freeze or flee’ or ‘fight or flight’ mode prompted by a primary panic button of danger.
“I cannot do it right by her” he tells me. “I try to be emotional but then she thinks I am weak” he says, or “I hide my emotions and try to be reasonable but then she feels I am avoiding the issues and then when I do finally show anger (which is an emotion), she gets angry back.” And then he says, “I cannot win this,” and sighs, and then we give up, or resign, or withdraw or whatever we do (men and women) when we feel hopeless and helpless.
Many times I come across the notion from the experience of women, that men simply “do not have feelings.” This is far from the case. The problem is that women believe men should feel things the way they do. The truth is that men have a much harder time processing these feelings. Men are taught from an early age that they need to be strong, confident and stoic. They begin to equate emotions with weakness.
One of the aspects we explore in my Hold Me Tight workshops is the ability to find the space for both partners in a couples to share and explore their emotions in a safe and vulnerable way. Most of the time we start “talking” about our emotions at a times of highly escalated conflict. In our workshop we follow Sue Johnson’s Seven Conversation for a long lasting relationship.
In the famous book Man is from Mars, Woman are from Venus, John Grey writes:
‘We expect the opposite sex to be more like ourselves. We desire them to “want what we want” and “feel the way we feel”. We mistakenly assume that if our partners love us they will react and behave in certain ways – the ways we react and behave when we love someone. We have forgotten that men and women are supposed to be different. Clearly recognizing and respecting these differences dramatically reduce confusion when dealing with the opposite sex.
In one of the latest Elephant blogs, Keith Artisan writes:
Men don’t fall short in the emotional realm because we are emotionally immature. We are emotionally inexperienced. Men face expectations and pressure about emotions that are confusing and contradictory. And when we find a woman who loves us and we love in return, it brings to life a living fire that had been suppressed for a lifetime. Yet fires burn, and the burgeoning sensitivities is akin to a child learning to walk. We fall down, we make blunders, and we are blind as to how to listen and communicate our emotions.
In the book Five Languages of Love, Gary Chapman outlines 5 ways to express and experience love, what he calls “love languages.” They are: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Chapman claims that emotionally, people need to receive love. He suggests that each person has one primary and one secondary love language. To discover a love language, we must observe the way we express love to others. To express love and emotions, we should not use the love language that we like the most, but rather the love languages that we know our loved one will receive. People tend to naturally give love in the way we prefer to receive.
Is it possible that Emotions can be viewed in a similar way? Is it possible that we all show our emotions in different language?
In his book What Men Don’t Tell Women about Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook, Christopher Flett claims men don’t often exhibit emotion “because we are taught that it is weak to do so. Men don’t cry! Or if we do, we’ll rarely admit to it. The truth is we do get emotional; we just don’t show it. Our fathers pull us aside and tell us to be two-faced: a private face you have outside of the public eye, and a public face that shows no weakness.” Do “big boys don’t cry” and “take it like a man” sound familiar?
One of the Ten Commandments of masculinity is “Thou shall not feel.” This kind of mind-heart disconnect begins when boys are in the early years of elementary school. You’ll see kindergarten and first-grade boys bringing stuffed animals from home to comfort them amid their fear of the social demands of school. They’ll even hold hands and put their arms around other boys and girls to show affection and express joy. By second grade, male indoctrination begins. Boys are sissies if they show fear, pain or heaven forbid the most taboo expression of all: crying.
Things do not get any easier when the partner in the relationship are of the same gender. It is always a struggle to share emotions, especially when we have blame and shame shaping the relationship after a long stretch of escalated fights.
In the Pixar movie, Inside Out – we see the role emotions play in shaping our experiences. Through this animated film, we see how emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.
Learning more about emotions and/or sharing them and/or managing the fear, primal panic, anger or joy behind them, is a life-long process.
In therapy, I try to encourage curiosity, inquiry, tolerance, respect, vulnerability, softness and more than anything, love of oneself and the other.
Experience this ground-breaking work to renew trust and intimacy within your relationship, deepen your emotional connection and closeness with one another and create a secure base for both people to flourish.