Men are much more emotional than women (or men) can understand. - Mary Jo Rapini
I just got back from a trip to Brazil. It was a work/pleasure vacation for my husband and me. We spent the majority of our time in Florianopolis. A beautiful Island connected to the mainland by a bridge. One morning my husband and I had just gotten back to the hotel room and we were both standing side by side looking out the window at the incredible beauty. My husband, without turning toward me, said aloud, “I feel so close to you right now.” We weren’t holding hands or each other. The comment came out of nowhere. The woman part of me wanted to pry deeper, get even more emotional but then I remembered something that I knew to be true. Men are very emotional, and when they tell you something like this, appreciate it and don’t take it deeper.
I tell you this because a common misunderstanding is that men are not emotional, that they don’t feel things like women do, and aren’t as likely to be affected by emotions and situations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peggy Drexler PhD, who is the author of “Our Fathers Ourselves,” has talked about this for some time. Men are different from women when they are in love, but they are far from unemotional. Dr. Drexler in one of her recent articles mentions Dr. Ruben Gur PhD, who is a Neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He reports that emotions go way beyond estrogen or testosterone. Men are wired to act during times of high emotion. If the emotion becomes too intense or he perceives it as dangerous he learns to shut off, quit talking and to withdraw. Often, this happens to be the time women want to turn on and talk more.
More and more research validates that men are actually more affected by emotion than women. For example, it takes longer for a man’s blood pressure and immune system to return to normal after intense emotion than it does for a woman. Studies have shown that boys will turn off a tape of crying babies quicker than a girl will. Boys also react with more stress hormone release with the sounds of a crying baby than girls do. Boys are more fragile than girls medically and emotionally. As children, they are more easily stressed which means they cry more when they are upset and have a more difficult time calming down. Early childhood development suggests that boys are more emotionally vulnerable to the ill effects of extreme lack of affection than girls. Men are more likely to die quicker after the death of a spouse than women.
When couples come into my office it may appear as if the woman is the one who is more emotional and affected by stress than the man. If I continue to observe as she tells how she feels, that he is “cold, distant and unemotional,” I can see that he is actually very emotional but has flipped the switch to protect himself just as Dr. Gur suggests. What seems most effective is if the couple communicates more frequently and is allowed to communicate in the way they are most comfortable. This takes time and effort, because women want men to communicate love in women’s language (verbalizing) and men want women to be more accepting of communicating in men’s language (physical). Both are great forms of communication and work together well when agreed upon.
Below are three suggestions to help you communicate love so your partner will feel loved by you:
1. Allow yourself to be curious and ask your partner how they feel closest to you. Most of the time when you do this, you will be surprised, as this is an area where lots of magical thinking and mind reading are assumed.
2. With intense emotion never assume your partner doesn’t want to discuss something because they don’t care. Many times (especially with men) they care too much and it upsets them to think about it. Take a time out the minute either partner flips the switch to retreat.
3. We all have an easier time being emotional if we know we are safe. The middle of a fight, during the work day, or in the evening when you are trying to get kids to bed is not good times. Choosing when to be emotional and vulnerable will help you both feel supported by one another.
There are many myths about men and women, and most of the time they are myths for a good reason: that reason being they aren’t true. Before you tell any of your girlfriends that your husband/boyfriend is not emotional or shuts down when you want to talk “deep” it would be wise to re-think your statement. Your believing he isn’t emotional may be why he is shutting down. –Mary Jo Rapini
Important to remember, the more stressful childhood your husband or boyfriend grew up in the quicker his off switch may be. This is a survival instinct for him. Understanding this up front will help you communicate more effectively.
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