Men and Feelings
Do you know how to shut your male partner down quicker than a door slams? Just say, “Why don’t you ever share your feelings with me?”
This question is guaranteed to kick off the stare of one of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore, or a look of panic as if you have caught him paying too much attention to a woman at a cocktail party.
You may think that sharing feelings is just what best friends do. You have no trouble involving yourself in deep conversations with your girlfriends. So even in response to an observation from your beloved that points toward a feeling, you may find yourself rubbing your hands in anticipation. You assume that when he says he’s worried about the future, you may assume that’s a prelude to a deep heart to heart exchange. Suddenly you realize that he was only talking about the economy and your hopes of a searching connection slip away.
So, you probably have concluded that your husband is withdrawing to punish you. Or you may see his surfing the Internet as a way of staying locked behind his wall. His reserve may leave you feeling that he never wants to be close.
Sarah, a vivacious extrovert, laughed when her husband said she was his best friend. She felt that if he shared with her no more feelings than she got, she could not possibly be his best friend. She knew far more about the vicissitudes of her best friends than she did about what was going on in her partner’s head.
But the important thing to understand is that many guys do not share feelings with their best friends. This tends to fall under the category of having a problem. In the hierarchical relationship of men, having a problem and telling someone about it seems to give the other man a “one up” position. Guys tend to do that reluctantly.
According to the Myers Briggs 65% of men, make decisions based on a logical frame of reference while 65% of women, make decisions relying more on feelings.
Some studies tend to assume that men are just more naturally left-brained and that accounts for their lack of sharing feelings.
A study summarized in the book “What could He be Thinking” by Michael Grain suggests that men are just wired differently. Scientists are using scans that show which part of the brain is being used during specific activities. Men simply do not have that many brain areas that light up when trying to discern what a person in a picture is feeling. On the other hand, when their brains are presented with a problem in math, much more of their brain will light up than in a woman’s brain.
So, what then are the questions that will tend to invite your male partner into exploring with you without that look of panic when you ask him “to do feelings?” Since men feel incompetent when women demand feelings, don’t attempt to do “can opener therapy.”
When you are both relaxed, simply ask him questions like “what was that like for you?” When he speaks of a colleague at work getting a promotion, you might say, “You mentioned that you felt some pressure when your boss moved up that deadline.” Then simply pause. Since men’s brains may make connections a little more slowly in the feeling area, your patience might be rewarded with a reflective insight about the nature of the pressure and what’s upsetting about it.
Silences will invite him to go further without seeming to confront him about his lack of feeling dialogue. Using the question “oh?” when he starts to tell you of being moved by a moment with your kid, may invite him to say a little more about what touched him.
One thing not to do is to say, “Oh wow, that was a real feeling, you never share those feelings with me.” This statement will touch off inadequacy that men feel when they perceive a woman coming after them about feelings.
What works is a simply noting that you loved hearing about that moment with your son. Men can do feelings if they are given room, and trust that you will receive their efforts in that direction without labeling them as inadequate. Best of luck as your conversations become more inviting.