“When a man feels accepted it is much easier for him to listen and give her the understanding she needs and deserves.”
~ John Gray
Getting a man to open up to you and share his feelings, fears, and concerns is not as hard as you might think.
Here’s the thing: Most men want to be able to feel so comfortable with you that they can be themselves and share what they think and feel!
For the same reason you want to feel more connected to him. It feels so good to be able to be completely yourself with another person!
The problem for him is that he was raised very differently from you.
He has learned to keep his feelings to himself. He is afraid that if he shows you what’s on the inside, you’re going to think he is “less” of a man. And if he cares about you, he definitely doesn’t want that to happen.
So if you want him to open up to you, he has to feel safe taking that risk with you.
You have to show him that you accept him, as he is. When he shares his thoughts and feelings, you don’t want to judge or correct them. You can model what you want from him by “being real!”
Be your goofy, funny, sad, real self with him so he will get that you’re okay with real feelings…yours AND his.
Dr. Anita Sanz – www.sanzplans.com
In my counseling practice, I often hear women say they want their man to be more emotionally open with them. But inevitably, when their partner shares, they jump all over them. They get reactive, critical, or are unable to accept or take in what their partner is sharing.
So one of the first things to pay attention to is your own reaction when your partner shares his thoughts, opinions, or feelings.
If it is not a safe place for him to share, he will withdraw.
Do you make it a safe place?
If he shares something that you might not want to hear, do you get defensive, attacking, angry, or cry?
Most men want to be pleasing to their partner.
If sharing gets this kind of reaction from you, he may shut down to preserve the relationship or your feelings or his own ego.
This is not to say that you cannot have a response to what he shares, it’s just very important to not be reactive when he does share.
Dana Vince, MA, LPC – www.marriagecounselingknoxville.com
Often, my male clients express reticence when it comes to sharing their emotions for fear of backlash and “archeological digging” (the recalling of things your partner has said or done in the past, that you can “use against” him or her in later disagreements).
The rationalization becomes,
“If I don’t have any feelings or don’t communication my thoughts, we won’t have a fight and I’ll give you nothing to throw back at me down the road.”
Harsh as it may seem, this hesitance is real, significant and can greatly impact your relationship, unless you both take active steps to restructure the dynamic.
While the responsibility of “opening up” falls squarely on each individual’s shoulders, you can aid the process by being calm, centered and supportive when your partner does share.
You must show your significant other that you can handle their thoughts with care, non-reactivity and understanding (even if you don’t agree, as “understanding” and “agreeing” are two different issues, entirely).
While you may always ask questions and contribute your feelings, you want to be sure that they are given in a loving, open and soft manner.
Over time, your partner will learn that there is safety in sharing and your connection and communication will grow deeper.
Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT – www.lifeissuespsychotherapy.com
For a man to open up emotionally there has to be an atmosphere of trust and faith.
Trust that he will be heard from a man’s point of view and not expected to sound like a woman.
Faith that judgment will not follow.
I have worked with hundreds of men over the four decades of my practice.
As soon as they feel understood and accepted, they are often more open than many of the women I’ve worked with.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up in my dad’s barber shop in Beverly Hills. I spent many days sitting quietly in a corner listening to men talk to each other. The subject of women rarely came up.
They talked about sports, battle, business, and health. Sometimes, philosophy and how to maintain their identities in the face of competition and role expectation.
When I speak to a man about his internal world, I listen deeply to what he means underneath his truncated expressions and try to ignore the words he has been taught to use that are not flowery or excessively exaggerated.
Men tend, more than women, to couch their emotions in practical ways.
They are innate problem solvers and often want to skip details in favor of pragmatism.
When grieving, they want to be told how to get through their pain as quickly as possible and to make sure everyone else is okay.
When scared, they usually push through with heroism or minimizing their distress.
I have heard so many women try to get their men to feel, missing completely that they feel deeply but have not often been taught to share those emotions.
When their women don’t have their own hidden agendas and truly want to understand what their men feel, they approach them with honest curiosity and a desire to listen to how the situation looks from their point of view.
Too often, the woman in a relationship leads with her own emotional agenda and expects their man to follow suit. It usually backfires.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
The first thing you need to know is that most men won’t share their feelings like a woman.
It isn’t that men don’t feel—they do. It is that they express their feelings differently than women.
Here is how you can get a man to share more about what is going on inside him:
1. Accept he isn’t emotional like you.
In fact, men really are afraid to feel emotions and don’t know what to do with them when they do. So, don’t ask him what he is feeling.
2. Be his companion.
Do things with him “shoulder to shoulder” rather than “face to face.” This is the way men bond. If there is a safe time for a man to share his innermost thoughts and feelings, it is when you are with him without demanding he talk.
3. Let him know you believe in him, like him, and respect him.
It will be safer for him to express vulnerability because he will know that it won’t shake your belief in him or cause you to lose respect.
4. Don’t nag him about little things, mother him, or correct him.
If you do this, you will certainly be unsafe to share his innermost thoughts with and he will purposefully withhold things from you instead. Criticize his disclosures and he will clam up vowing never to go there with you again.
5. Listen to his thoughts and opinions.
Somewhere in there will be something related to a feeling that will give you insight into what is going on with him. Let him talk, but don’t expect it to be with your level of details and your emotional language.
A man will share his “feelings” with you, but not in the way you expect.
Make it safe to be who he is and you will begin to speak his emotional language rather than him speaking yours.
Karla Downing, MFT – www.changemyrelationship.com
Although it is a generalization many women do have this longing to get their men to open up emotionally.
However, unfortunately what often seems to happen is that because a woman has this feeling of lack in her man, she ends up communicating criticism and disappointment.
So, men too feel a sense of failure, as if they cannot ever “get it right” and that no matter what they give to their women they cannot succeed.
I think we need to go back to the realization that men and women’s brains are simply wired differently.
Women need to give up trying to get men to do anything, after all isn’t that just a recipe for disaster: trying to change a person?
Women are far better served by sticking with expressing themselves from their heart in a loving manner.
When a man feels safe, then he is more likely to open up.
Often men don’t know what they feel. They feel like they just can’t please a woman and that they don’t know what she wants. So, a woman needs to be able to articulate her needs and wants in a way that does not make her partner defensive.
When she shares her vulnerability from her heart with the message underneath that you don’t need to fix me or to do anything, but that I am just wanting to connect with you openly, this is far different from the message of neediness that often comes through to a man.
So, women need to connect in with their feminine selves and speak from their heart space. They need to make it safe for their men to respond and they need to articulate they are prepared to take responsibility for their own journey and not take their men’s behavior personally.
That way a man can feel respected and that his process is within his control: that he can choose to share in a safe space and open himself up to the love and intimacy that he also wants on a deep level.
Margie Ulbrick, LLB/BA/GD SOCSCI – www.margieulbrickcounselling.com
Most likely at some point your partner learned that opening up emotionally was a “bad” thing. He learned that sharing his innermost thoughts and feelings was painful and that deep emotionally topics could potentially “hurt” so he began to avoid them altogether.
A few examples of why are:
- To become verbally vulnerable is to open himself up to potential ridicule or rejection (pain).
- His feelings or thoughts were belittled or used against him (pain).
- It is too difficult to recall or talk about past events (pain).
- He is afraid of hurting someone if he is honest (pain).
What you can do:
We can never change another person, only ourselves, so the best bet to assist your person in learning to open up is to provide a safe place for his words to fall.
What I have discovered through my coaching/mentoring practice is that most people must feel 100% sure that they are emotionally “safe” prior to sharing their thoughts and feelings.
The key to helping someone verbally open up is to always (and I mean always) refrain from judging them when they express themselves even just a little bit.
For an emotionally quiet person, sarcasm, judgment or even humor regarding their thoughts and feelings can feel very painful. It ignites a trigger in them that sends them reeling and is the whole reason why they are not discussing their feelings in the first place.
Understanding, love and compassion can move mountains!
Kristen Brown, Certified Empowerment Coach/Mentor – www.sweetempowerment.com
Some people have an easier time trusting partners quickly, while others need a lot of time to adjust before they can share their emotions.
To be emotionally open in a relationship can cause us to feel vulnerable and so trust acts as a safety net for when we start to share who we are.
Trust is something that we can build and the following are some stepping stones along that path.
Before you start to hold expectations of others, it is important to get to know them and understand them.
You cannot force anyone to change or be who you want them to be, so it is important first to start with what you know.
- Is this person looking for an emotional relationship?
- Has this person been involved in an emotional relationship before and how did it go?
- What has this person’s life been like, and what messages have they been given about emotionality?
How we feel about our emotions and the emotions of others contributes to our willingness to participate in an emotionally intimate relationship.
If the person you are involved with is not interested in an emotional relationship, there is little you can do to change that, BUT if the individual is open to building an emotional bond then growth is possible!
After you understand who your partner is, what they are looking for and what they are comfortable with, the next step is to grow to accept them for who they are, how they feel and what they want.
Acceptance is a crucial component to building trust and emotional connection in a relationship because if we do not feel free to be who we are, it is much harder to build trust, and even harder to express emotions.
This kind of empathy requires deep listening and patience. Listen to them and allow them to share with you whatever they chose. Your openness will help them trust you which will in turn foster emotional relationship growth.
When we are patient and allow others to be who they are and to achieve change at their own pace, then we also encourage acceptance, understanding, and decrease pressure all allowing trust to grow.
To encourage an emotionally strong relationship to blossom it is important to have realistic expectations of your partner, understand and accept them as they are, and have empathy (through listening and patience).
Trust and effort on behalf of everyone included is key to building the relationship you desire!
Lisa Resnick, MA, EdM, LPC – www.lisaresnickholistictherapy.com
Do you often wonder what your man is thinking and feeling?
Do you feel like you need a crystal ball in order to know what’s going inside his head?
Have no fear. Dr. Love is here! There is a way to encourage even the most close-lipped guys to start spilling their emotional guts to you.
In order to help your guy talk, you need to understand the three main reasons why they resist doing so.
First: The male gender role itself encourages guys to keep their feelings close to the vest.
This vest is more like a straightjacket that demands of men that they behave in a “macho” way by avoiding the appearance of weakness and vulnerability. Instead of talking about feelings, they focus instead on actions, goals and outcomes.
Second: When a man loves you he doesn’t want to hurt you.
This is why many men hesitate to say what they’re thinking and feeling because they want to protect you.
Third: Men often feel inadequate when it comes to emotional communication.
They are afraid to open up emotionally fraught discussions because they don’t feel able to hold their own verbally.
They may also be afraid of facing your own emotional intensity–most especially your anger.
Your anger upsets them more than you could ever imagine, especially when they love you and want to make you happy.
Now, that you know the three main reasons why guys resist opening up, let me give you a blueprint for handling each of these three blocks.
In the first case, you can help your guy dissolve the macho armor by reminding him that it takes a lot of courage and strength to face strong feelings.
When he does exhibit the courage to put his toe in the water, make sure that you listen without judgment and thank him for sharing.
When he feels good about having made this first attempt, he’ll feel braver to wade into deeper emotional waters with you.
In the second case–he’s holding back to protect you–you can help him to open up by reminding him that his silence isn’t protecting you or the relationship.
On the contrary, if he doesn’t tell you what’s in his mind and heart, he could easily build up resentment, which can lead to a break up.
One way to get him started is for you to ask him to grade how you’re doing as his partner.
Ask him once a week what can you do to be a 10? Where are you falling short? Asking for feedback that’s couched in his own goal-oriented language will make it easier for him to start blabbing.
Third, if he’s afraid of the reaction he’s going to get from you when he opens up, it’s your job to learn how to contain your emotions so that you don’t overreact and dump intense feelings (especially anger) on him.
If he sees that he can talk to you, and feel heard and not retaliated against, that will invite more and more honest communications from him.
I’ve given a few pointers on how to get even the toughest clams to open up. My book Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First) will give you a complete, step-by-step, guide on how you can help your guy to open up emotionally.
Since emotional disclosure is so highly linked to relationship satisfaction, I encourage you to learn my proven methods today.
Dr. Jamie Turndorf – www.askdrlove.com
Stereotypically, the ability to express feelings freely has been ‘women’s work’. We have grown up in a culture where ‘real men don’t cry’ and those who do are viewed as ‘weak’.
As a counselor, one of the most basic elements I help clients realize is that it takes significant STRENGTH to express emotions!
It can be hard work to dig through the clutter in our mind and touch the places where feelings hang out – and they do – in all of us.
If your man is not particularly verbal about his emotions and you are attempting to connect on a deeper level, try this:
It seems simple enough but we may not be directly asking a question pertaining to our partner’s emotions. It’s possible that we assume if we talk about our feelings – our guys will just follow along. Ask a direct question about how or what they feel and keep the conversation moving. Don’t ask Yes or No questions.
2. Use/Learn Feeling Words:
I sometimes find that men (and women) don’t have a large vocabulary of feeling words; they use the basics – happy, sad, and angry. Print a list of feeling words and keep it around. Make a game out of it and practice using a word a day.
Men are more apt to express feelings when they are relaxed. It’s probably not a good idea to ask why he’s frustrated as he is fixing a flat tire or while he’s watching a Monday night football game. Try to choose moments that are calm and when it is just the two of you.
Leslyn Kantner, MSMHC, NCC – www.westgrovetherapy.com
While understanding that there are many layers of knowing him and it takes time to develop emotional closeness, model a healthy expression of your feelings in your relationship.
Demonstrate authenticity in who you are and how you feel by opening up at a pace that feels comfortable for you and articulating your own thoughts, feelings, fears and concerns to him.
Resist the urge to push him to share more with you because it is likely that he will retreat if he feels trapped or prodded.
Instead practice patience to help ensure that he does not feel forced to share and he can open up naturally.
Allow for a deeper emotional connection to occur by gaining comfort in your own emotions and withholding judgment of his.
You can also create emotional safety and opportunities for him to open up by validating how he feels and appreciating who he is.
Tell him what you like about him and articulate that feeling close to each other is important to you.
You can show that you care and understand him through attentive body language, active listening and good eye contact. Your positive response to his words and feelings are crucial to his comfort in opening up.
Rachel Dack, LCPC, MS – www.racheldack.com
Women often react to the perception that their male partners are not opening up to them with one of the following strategies.
- We may talk for the both of us, causing him to continue to not talk, because someone else already is.
- We may withdraw, feeling hurt, rejected, and frustrated, or we may pursue our partner, as though his feelings are an elusive treasure, and the more we pursue, the more he retreats, a pattern which comes to define the relationship.
Needless to say, none of these strategies work and actually do more to perpetuate or even increase the pattern of him not opening up rather than lessening it.
So, we can scratch out these strategies because as someone once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is especially true when it comes to relationships.
Maybe a better place to start would be to explore why it is important to us for him to open up.
What is the meaning we are placing on him doing so, and what need would his opening up be filling.
My guess is that it is a need to feel connected to him. Connecting with our partner doesn’t necessarily entail his sharing something dramatic or traumatic.
True connection can happen in moments of laughter and empathy expressed about the mundane frustrations of the day or the enjoyment of a shared minor experience.
This can happen easily and spontaneously. Moreover, it is the true glue of a relationship and lays the foundation for having a deeper connection between partners, as the relationship evolves.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that anything we focus on increases.
So, if we are focused on what we think our relationship lacks, aren’t we increasing the very thing we don’t want?
Wouldn’t a better strategy be to focus on the moments of connection we have with our partner and work on the assumption that deeper connection is possible.
We might ask ourselves, “If I have the connection with my partner that I want, what would my behavior be like?” and then act accordingly.
In this way, we can be the partner we want to be in the relationship and create the space and possibility for our partner to step into a more open and sharing role.
Margot McClellan, LCSW – www.margotmcclellan.com
When you have a partner that is closed off verbally with their emotions or not as open as you would like, it can be helpful to understand the language they speak.
Emotionally closed off partners may be more apt to share their feelings through actions. I am not referring to long stem roses and candlelight dinners. I am talking about the ways they consider you and come through for you.
If your partner isn’t interested in a serious, committed relationship with you,
they are certainly not going to include you in their plans for the future (like house hunting), consult with you on major financial decisions (investments or change in employment), change their plans for you last minute (to celebrate your sister’s surprise engagement), or be available to you in times of need (death of a family member).
Some people are simply not comfortable expressing themselves verbally for multiple reasons.
The last thing that would help them open up is to challenge them on this or schedule times to have talks about their fear of vulnerability.
This will only increase their fear and anxiety.
What can be helpful, in addition to learning their language, is giving them room to breathe and gently modeling behaviors.
- Don’t force them to talk about something they do not have the language for.
- Don’t make their fear the focus of the relationship.
- Do casually and occasionally share with them your feelings.
- Do give them room to build trust.
And most importantly, learn to work within their communication style as a means to connect to their experiences!
Brynn Cicippio, MA, LMFT – www.therapywithbrynn.com
Men do not have the same needs as women, especially when it comes to opening up and sharing emotions, generally speaking.
Studies have shown that a man’s brain is literally wired differently than a woman’s, so honoring these differences is key to developing a strong, healthy relationship.
Men typically “say what they mean and mean what they say.”
They do not analyze the words and tones of each conversation in the way women often do. In a general sense, you can take what a man says at face value – you do not need to read into it. Also note that men are not usually reading into what you are saying.
Because of this difference, if you want him to open up with you emotionally, you will probably have to ask direct questions. Dropping hints does not usually work very well.
In conclusion, it is best to honor your male companion for how he does communicate and what works well for him, rather than trying to change him to be more like you.
If he is not sharing enough for you, then maybe you need to look elsewhere.
Either he may not be the right partner for you, or you may need to get some of our emotional needs met from other sources, such as a good girlfriend. A partner cannot possibly give you 100% of everything you need. You must have friends and other people in your life to balance you out.
Kimberly Atwood, MA, LPC – www.KimAtwood.com
The eponymous metaphor, men are from Mars, women are from Venus, is popular for good reason: like people from different countries (or planets), men and women are culturally disparate.
Men share a unique set of values and expectations of themselves which shape their emotional experience and, in turn, how they choose to conduct themselves. As women, it is important to be culturally sensitive in our relationships with men.
When you find yourself getting frustrated at your man’s doings or non-doings it is important to stop and ask yourself two things
- Why is he behaving this way?
- How is my behavior influencing his behavior?
If you find your man avoids talking about emotional things, whether mild or severe, it is particularly useful to ask yourself these questions.
Men tend to avoid experiencing and/or expressing emotion because, culturally speaking, that is not a man’s job–that is what women are for! So, to make them feel more comfortable, it is necessary to gauge your behavior.
Show consistently that you are supportive and understanding.
You can do this by not reacting strongly to their expression of emotion or communication of honest opinions.
Regardless of how their words make you feel it is necessary for you to validate what they have to say.
“I hear what you are saying;” “It sounds you are feeling [insert emotion];” or “I understand that you feel that way” are all great validating statements. If you do this, they will be more likely to express themselves in the future.
Dr. Anna Morfe – www.behavioralhealthconnect.com
First of all, let’s agree that the idea that men don’t know what they feel and can’t open up emotionally is a generalization and not true for all men.
But many do struggle in this department, and for the women who love them, it can be a source of constant relationship stress. Let’s take a look at how they might get that way.
Men are reared as little boys in our culture to express their emotional lives less than little girls.
How many poor little boys have been shamed when expressing fear or sadness?
They learn to keep “a stiff upper lip”, “to be a brave little soldier” and “to never let them see you sweat!”
We fall in love with them as men because they’re strong, silent, stoic, in control, strong and brave.
Then, we put them in our “rehabilitation program” to try to turn them into our girlfriends. Once in a relationship, we pressure and bully them to relate to us like women.
This doesn’t work, Ladies!
For a man to open up emotionally, he must feel completely safe with you.
He needs to know that he will be heard without judgement or criticism.
Let’s face it, sometimes we are very good talkers and really could learn to be better listeners. Men will talk and open up if you provide enough time, space and curiosity about them.
If you want to get your man to open up:
- Get interested in what he wants to share (Tell me about what happened at work today? About your new car? About how the Dodgers are doing?)
- Learn to listen with interest and without interrupting
- Ask furthering questions about what you are hearing (Then what happened? How did you feel about that? What did you do?)
- Reserve judgement
- Resist the temptation to tell him what he “should” be feeling or doing (You should have told him that hurt your feelings. You shouldn’t have yelled)
- Do away with criticism, cynicism, complaining, and whining
Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT – www.mkcocharo.com
Before providing a tip on this very necessary topic, I did get the male perspective from my business partner (who is also my husband) on how to open up a man emotionally.
My husband first spoke about bringing up this conversation of working on communicating emotions over dinner.
I thought he was joking, but over time this concept began to make more sense to me.
Step 1. Nurture yourself and your relationship.
Gently bring this topic up while dining with your love. Begin the conversation from a loving and compassionate place. Tell him you enjoy his company and that you appreciate spending time with him. Maintain loving eye contact and romantic physical touch such as hand holding.
Step 2. You must communicate openly first before he will.
As you’re talking to your love, speak about what you LOVE and are GRATEFUL for about him. Walk him through what you value in him as a man and your partner. Personalize your examples and provide specific moments when he was most supportive, helpful, and loving.
Step 3. Speak his language and be specific.
Men are often concise with their words and decisive about what actions they need to take in order to get what they want. State briefly and succinctly what actions you are willing to take to improve the relationship. Name your shortcomings openly. Then note that you would love it if he could share with you a few moments from his day using feeling words.
Ex: “I felt frustrated when my boss criticized me in front of everyone.” (PS- This exercise will create a habit for him so he will be inclined to express more feelings willingly in the future).
Step 4. Entice through sharing your vision and how it will benefit him.
Paint the picture of how things will be massively better once he shows an effort in becoming more emotionally open. Let’s face it, you’ll both: be happier people, most likely make more money, travel more, improve your health, improve your appearance, have better and more sex, and will attract greater opportunities in your life once your relationship deepens and improves.
Brooke Campbell, MA, RDT-BCT, LCAT – www.creativekinections.com
Women in general, develop strong networks and friendships with other women and develop this over years of bonding.
Women become closer through conversation and spending time getting to know each other, confiding in one another, and sharing the ups and downs of life experiences together. They learn how to interact with each other and emotionally connect.
Men, on the other hand, usually bond in their same sex relationships through physical activities such as sports, or going to a variety of events together, and learn that it is easier for them, in a lot of instances, to open up and be more emotionally intimate with women than men.
Therefore, the stage is set for men to see a relationship with a woman as a space and place to emotionally connect and open up.
These are some suggestions about how to help a man open up and express himself:
– Make sure that you put aside time where you can sit and talk together. This should be when you are able to give full eye contact , and not have other distractions , such as the computer or tv on. This ensures that you can really listen and respond to each other. Men do not multi task as well as women do.
– Men like to feel heard and understood, but also like to feel that there is feedback given and that options for problem solving are discussed.
– Men like to feel that a woman has self awareness and self control of her own emotions. When a woman can model that she is able to express a variety of emotions in a way that is articulated and clear than a man feels safe to do the same.
– Men want to feel needed and valued, so it is important that women are aware of this and give constructive criticism as well as signs of appreciation and concrete strategies for how to help men deal with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The hope is, if there is initial attraction and compatibility, then men will be able to open up and express their feelings over time, and that the relationship will feel fulfilling to both partners in a variety of ways.
Stephanie Newberg, MSW, LCSW – www.stephanienewberg.com
As a rule, we women like to talk. Men, not so much. Especially when it comes to the awful “F-word”— Feelings.
That is just not safe territory for most men. They avoid it, shut down, turn to anger as their default “feeling,” or they try to fix it.
But odds are, many men would have trouble even identifying their feelings because no one has ever really asked. And if they have been asked, they have probably been shut down.
So make it safe.
- Don’t assume because you’re ready to talk about something that he is ready.
- Honor his process. Generally, men process feelings differently than women. Don’t expect his process to mirror yours.
- When he does start to open up, listen, don’t talk. Don’t judge. Don’t correct him. Don’t analyze him. Don’t tell him why he’s wrong to have those feelings.
- Express your appreciation that he was able to share difficult feelings with you. Validate his feelings even if you disagree. Validating isn’t about agreement. It’s about saying: “I hear you and I can see how you would feel that way.” (Don’t follow that statement with a “… but…”)
- When it’s your turn to tell him how you feel about something, use “I” statements. Don’t accuse. Don’t criticize. Tell him how you feel and why. The way you talk to your man about something that is significant to you can either invite safety for him to participate in the conversation, or it will shut him down.
- Talk while doing something else. Go for a walk. Cook dinner together. Sometimes it’s easier for a man to be emotionally open when he is physically occupied.
If your guy is emotionally shut down, consider what experiences taught him that expressing his feelings was bad or unsafe territory. Make it your goal to create new experiences that allow him to open up.
Bobbi Jankovich, MA, LMFT – www.bobbijankovich.com
If you want openness from your partner, you must first be open yourself.
If you want honesty from your partner, you must first be honest towards him.
Openness is rooted in trust. First, cultivate a sense of safety and an environment of trust.
The idea of looking for ways to get your partner to communicate more deeply suggests that you want to elicit a certain behavior, which he may or may not be able to deliver.
Being open means being able to see your partner for who he is, and not expect him to communicate in the same way that you do.
Sometimes, he simply won’t have the words.
Other times, he may not even know exactly how he feels.
Can you imagine the sense of impotence a demand for feelings might invoke in someone who feels truly unable to access them? It could easily create an atmosphere of pressure, and your partner will likely respond with fight, flight or freeze.
I think this excerpt from Osho’s love, freedom, aloneness is fitting:
“If you want to bring roses into your garden, forget about the roses and take care of the rosebush. Give nourishment to it, water it, take care that it gets the right amount of sun, water. If everything is taken care of, in the right time the roses are destined to come. You cannot bring them earlier, you cannot force them to open up sooner.”
Be gentle, be kind, be honest and be open; both with yourself and with your partner. He will meet you there in his time and in his way.
Elizabeth Baum, MA, MFTi – www.elizabethbaumintegral.com
Most heterosexual men have been socialized to repress their feelings, particularly their feelings of vulnerability.
They perceive vulnerability as a sign of weakness, and are arguably both biologically and socially wired to be providers and protectors. So you can see why being vulnerable is not considered a comfortable state for a man.
And opening up about your feelings requires vulnerability.
It leaves you vulnerable to judgement from others and undefended to potential “attack.” This is where a girlfriend or wife can help her man open up emotionally.
A man needs a safe place to be honest with his deepest emotions, without risk of shame, judgment and ridicule.
You can be that place for him. Men do occasionally open up, often in a way that serves as a “test” of how open he can be with you. How you respond determines how safe he feels to reveal more of himself to you.
When a man expresses his emotions:
1. Actively Listen.
This means no interrupting, no preparing your next statement or argument in your head in rebuttal as he speaks, making a mockery of him or exhibiting behaviors like bursting out in tears, throwing things or shutting down to what he is saying.
It means being present with him no matter what he is saying in an effort to truly understand him.
2. Treat him as if he has the best of intentions (unless his pattern of behavior has shown you otherwise).
Even if what he did or is sharing is hard for you personally, your willingness to accept his truth translates to him as you understanding him.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he generally meant well translates to him as you think he is a good guy. This will encourage him to open up to you more and to be more vulnerable.
3. Give him the space to open up.
In the heat of an argument, a man may feel attacked and may withdraw or become angry or defensive. If you can remain calm while expressing your negative feelings to him and directly express what you need from him to feel better, you start the real conversation.
Then give him the time to consider your request. It may mean 20 minutes, a couple hours, a week or a month or more, depending on what it is. But forcing a man to change or meet your needs will not leave a good, lasting result. The choice has to be his to move toward you.
4. Pick your battles and your battlefield.
Knowing when to let an annoyance be or bringing it to the forefront of your relationship can be key in building emotional openness in a relationship. And selecting an appropriate time and place to address the issue might determine how he feels about being safe enough to express his feelings too.
5. Talk about your feelings from a place of no blame.
Most good men truly want to make their women happy. If you are not happy, help him see how he could make you happy without feeling like he isn’t good enough or incapable of making you happy.
6. Show appreciation when he does make you happy.
Like sharing your feelings when you are upset with him, acknowledging when he pleases you is equally important. If he feels like he is appreciated and admired, he will feel better about his connection with you. If he’s feeling connected to you, he’s more likely to be vulnerable with you.
7. Don’t rush to help him.
If he expresses he is feeling down or powerless, don’t assume he wants you to help him do anything. Just be there as a support system, his teammate, his cheerleader. If he needs help to fix a problem, he will likely ask for it. Rushing to make things better for him might actually push him away.
Most men feel better when they feel they overcame an obstacle on their own. You rushing to fix it for him can be experienced as embarrassing or shameful that you didn’t trust he could fix it himself. If they can’t, they will normally ask for your help.
8. Ask a man what he thinks, not what he feels.
Most men can easily tell you their opinions, but accessing their feelings is much harder. It’s not their fault, society has discouraged it.
Asking a man what he thinks first and then using that later in the discussion to ask about his feelings on the matter might make identifying his feelings and verbalizing them out loud easier.
Jennifer Musselman, M.A., LMFT – www.jennifermusselman.com
You may not, except with express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.