How deep do you go for answers to relationship problems?April 18, 2018
Conflict over parenting? Are your styles different?May 3, 2018
Talking and expressing feelings.
She married you because you are the strong silent type, and now she wants you to talk?! Do you wonder why being strong and silent isn’t enough?
How did you learn that expressing feelings is a sign of weakness – for a man? But a sign of strength for a woman? Do you take for granted that women can speak, weep and express feelings? But that a man stands there, stoic and silent? No matter what his grief, shame or disappointment?
Men and women are affected by this double standard.
Sometimes men talk awkwardly about “emoting”. They leave that to their partner. The word “emote” carries a judgemental tone and expresses the idea of exaggerated emotions. Hence men often judge themselves for even modest expression of feelings.
But let’s follow the idea that somehow men should have a stiff upper lip and not show their feelings. That a man must have broad shoulders for his woman to cry on. Therefore masculine strength means not indulging in feelings, and not crying. If you show feelings, do you chide yourself for being “such a girl”? (It’s noteworthy that this happens just as much in gay relationships.)
In my work with couples I see men who cry, and their wife looks on in wonder and amazement. “I’ve NEVER seen him cry before!” How amazing. What a relief!
Do you see anything wrong with this picture of believing that men expressing feelings is wrong? Or sissy?
I see several problems. Firstly, men learn to rely on women to articulate what they, the men, are feeling. This creates verbal and emotional laziness or at least a gap in a man’s development where verbal and expressive abilities might grow.
Secondly, when a woman speaks for a man, she is also taking control of the relationship in a way that puts the man in a lesser role, like a parent with a child. (And come to think of it, do you speak for your son, and not show him how to speak for himself?)
Lastly, it is as difficult for a woman to learn not to speak for her man, as it is for the man to learn to speak up for himself. These are two separate tasks. The man needs to step forward and speak up, and the woman needs to hold back and wait.
I’m making an assumption here, of course, that the silent partner is always the male. Clearly, that is not always so. However, it is true often enough that many men (and women) believe this is natural. Why is this so?
Are you really the strong, silent type? By nature I mean. Or have you learned to act that way? Is being “strong” and “silent” part of your basic nature? Or have you followed other men because that’s how you thought men are.
What happens when “strong silent types” suppress feelings?
For a man, silence is absolutely dangerous when you really have a lot to say. Bottling up those feelings because you’ve got no idea how to express them feeds a range of unhealthy situations:
- Explosive anger and rage – sometimes expressed violently
- Health problems – you probably put off going to the doctor too, for fear of being “weak”.
- Suppressing emotional discomfort with alcohol or other addictive substances. I venture to say that ALL alcoholism is about difficulty with feelings.
- Relationships go nowhere when one partner is absent from the conversation. To the other partner, if feels as if you have already left.
- Feeling so lost in those thoughts and feelings can, and does, lead to suicide. The rates of suicide among men (the “strong” ones) are statistically higher than for women (the “weak” ones).
This is very serious. On the one hand, it really is hilarious, that she married you because you are the strong silent type, and now she wants you to talk. However many serious repercussions hide in that dynamic.
What are the risks of talking, or showing feeling?
Do you say, ” I don’t say anything because that keeps me out of trouble.” Well, mate, it also gets you into trouble.
But I do acknowledge that revealing how you feel is a scary business.
For instance, you might be held accountable for what you say.
Perhaps you will be misunderstood.
You might even be judged.
Worst of all, you might be shown up in some way, and shamed. This really is awful! No wonder you protect yourself against it.
You might be scared of saying what you think before you’ve heard what she thinks. Specifically, you might avoid committing yourself before you’ve had a chance to adjust to her position.
Begin revealing who you are.
You can begin to show who you are by having conversations with your partner about what really matters to you. And why it matters. With lots of details. These subjects carry feelings and passion. What matters might be football. Or your first car. Or how loyalty is what you value most with your mates, and what exactly that feels like. Your conversations might take you to how overwhelmed you felt when your favourite grandma died when you were 5. You might find yourself sharing how scared you were when you were a kid and your parents fought and drew a knife.
When you take this risk of revealing yourself, choose a time when you and your partner are relaxed, and the kids are in bed or on sleepovers. The role for your partner is basically to listen, without comment, except to agree and be delighted in who you are.
Then it is your turn to listen attentively while she speaks of what matters most to her. Like you did on your first date.
Two kinds of communication.
I’m leaving my most important point to the last: There are two kinds of communication, which need different words.
Many, if not all, men, believe that conversation is about solving problems, fixing things, inventing things and coming up with answers. This is the language of trades and commerce, and getting the job done. We definitely need that kind of language.
The kind of communication we are talking about here is very different, though. It’s not about problems or answers. It’s about being human together. When you open yourself to this kind of conversation you are very loveable. Such openness, in turn, opens your partner’s heart.
Keep reading these Relationship Insights and you will learn a lot more. This insight is related to “Two different kinds of language”, which will be coming soon!
In the meanwhile, you might find this Insight helpful: the stages of change.
Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018