You’ve heard the stereotypes:
• Real men don’t cry, but women are allowed to shed a few tears.
Men and women are up against big time typecasts.
Society tells men it’s not okay to cry. If a man shows his emotion, he’s also showing he’s less of a man; he doesn’t fit into traditional masculine roles. The only acceptable emotion in a man? Anger.
It’s different for women. Society tells women that it’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to cry sometimes. But anger? When a woman is angry she should “simmer down” and “relax.” She should let it go, already.
How do these different communication styles and societal expectations manifest in relationships?
Jan, a long time subscriber, asked that very question after she had a few concerns about her boyfriend of one year.
In the past, Jan was hurt many times by people she dated. She’s protective of herself now. Even though she is head-over-heels in love and thinks her boyfriend is wonderful, she’s worried. Her boyfriend doesn’t express himself.
Jan went on to describe their relationship. Her boyfriend is affectionate and loving physically, but try to get him to talk about his emotions and he shuts down. When they have a heated argument, he becomes stoic. When he’s angry, he curses and then withdraws.
What’s bigger cause for concern is that she is “very emotional” making her worry he doesn’t love her because he has a hard time putting his feelings into words. It’s easy for her. Why can’t it be easy for him too?
She wrote with concern that her boyfriend would hurt her like she’s been hurt in the past. She says, “do men have the same emotions as women? How do I know how he feels about me if he doesn’t express it in words?”
My advice: Men have the same emotions and needs as women. The difference? They don’t have the same experience in showing these emotions because of society’s stereotypes.
Men have feelings too. They run just as deep. Still, many men have been discouraged from expressing their emotions because of our cultural stereotypes.
I have worked with clients from different parts of the world with a variety of cultures and have seen a vast difference in the way men express themselves.
For example, Latino men are passionate. They have no problem crying in front of others. In other cultures, men are mocked and belittled when showing emotion.
“Big boys don’t cry” is a slogan many men hear when growing up. Chances are, her boyfriend heard this too. When faced with an emotionally charged situation, he doesn’t know how to react because he’s inexperienced.
Men feel the exact same emotions as women. They’re grief-stricken, shameful, sad, and anxious just like women. The difference is they don’t feel they are not “allowed” to show it. Women are.
To overcome this, I told Jan to feel secure with her emotions and not take her boyfriend withdrawing as a threat. Men have a full range of emotions. He’s just not able to express it in the same way.
It’s tough for men to fight programmed beliefs and social expectations. To demand a man to master his emotions is unfair. Many men have already mastered how to suppress and hide their emotions.
Another way to overcome this emotional roadblock is for Jan to lead by example. Setting the emotional tone will make her boyfriend feel safer so he can express himself to her. If she gives him gratitude, honors his spirit, and thanks him for opening up, she’ll encourage more emotional expression and move their relationship to a deeper level.
Finally, it’s important she learns his love language. We all receive love and express love a little differently. When he initiates physical contact, it could be him expressing his love for her with actions instead of words.
Seeing a counselor could help Jan and her boyfriend learn how to express emotions and improve communication in their relationship. Men are confronting new demands in the 21st century and they are now more likely to see a counselor than they were ten years ago. If both people are willing to work on how they express emotions, their relationship could evolve into a deeper connection.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your experience with the men in your life? How do they show emotion? Whether it’s cultural or social expectations, the way we are wired, or the norm in your household, I’m curious what affects their emotional communication styles.
Check out this free audio lesson for further actionable steps on how to get your partner listen to you without yelling.
To find out more about my services click here: Couples Counseling