“As soon as our son reached a particular age, we just stopped holding his hand as much and would discourage him from sitting on his mother’s lap. It’s funny, we never thought to do the same with our daughter…”
I remember listening to this particular podcast with interest, as the hosts were sharing their experience of parenting while talking to their guest who was a family therapist. The discussion was around the fact that many men struggle to understand their emotions, as they aren’t often encouraged to explore their emotions from an early age in the same way that young girls are. They shared how rather than allowing young boys to step back in their own time if they no longer feel comfortable to receive the reassurance of physical touch, such as hugs from their parents, the decision is usually made for them by parents and physical expressions of love may no longer be shared. This results in young boys seeking to find the same validation and support elsewhere, and often in the wrong places, while most girls continue to be allowed the space to freely receive this kind of emotional affirmation.
Of course there are homes where a healthy balance may exist, but it is common for this issue to be caused by the approach that many parents take based on subconscious thoughts or generational cycles.
If a boy is taught that his emotions are a weakness long before he becomes a man, then forming a solid connection with his spouse in marriage will end up being a very real challenge.
This is one of those areas of life where the issue usually isn’t considered until something significant happens to reveal it. Or maybe the weight of numerous confusing experiences has led to what feels like an emotional void within a marriage.
The difficulty remains that if you were never taught how to put words to your feelings to begin with, then this won’t just happen without a conscious effort to learn. Hitting an emotional wall in your marriage can throw your entire relationship off-balance, and it can be a very frustrating place for both spouses to be when one is still trying to connect emotionally, and the other has shut down without an understanding of how to respond in a way that builds an authentic connection.
According to statistics in the UK, men account for about three-quarters of suicide deaths. This source also states that male suicide rates have hit a two-decade high in England and Wales.
In a pandemic-ridden world, everyone is trying to find the best way to cope. With mental health being such a fragile reality now more than ever, it has never been more important to be able to express your emotions. Even without the relentless challenges that this year has raised, the ability to educate young boys about their emotions has long been underestimated.
If you believe that emotions have always been a grey area for you or your spouse, then the following questions will help you start to explore this in more detail. Even if you are a grown man, it is never too late to start learning about the parts of yourself that will help you to strengthen your connection to your spouse in deeper ways:
What kind of father figure did you grow up with, if at all?
The example that you grew up with in your home will have a huge impact on the way that you process your emotions today.
Often you will see direct similarities between a man and their father/father-figure. This can include freedom in expressing emotions, just as it can include the inability to show emotional vulnerability. Unpacking the similarities can help you to better understand yourself along with ways to potentially choose a different outcome while you still can.
When was the last time something made you cry?
Some men pride themselves in being able to say, “I never cry”, as though it is a strong marker of masculinity. Even though women are naturally more emotional, this doesn’t mean that men have less emotions.
Usually, women are better tuned into the freedom of emotional expression, whereas men struggle with emotional restriction.
This could be based on a variety of factors, from the things their parent/s told them, to engaging with other young boys, to the societal portrayal of a man – sometimes these messages can be relentless! The reality though, is that even if you ‘never cry’, your emotions still need to be expressed somehow in order to maintain a healthy mental clarity. If you are bottling these emotions, as countless men are, then the result can be far more destructive than we realise.
Who told you that your wife should be ‘the emotional one’?
Expectations before marriage often shape the kind of spouse that we choose to be in the early days. It takes a while to find your own rhythm and reach a healthy balance between who you think you should be and who you are today.
The sooner you can unlearn the narrative that your wife is the one who needs emotional freedom, and instead insert yourself into the picture right along with her, the sooner you can shift the dynamic in your marriage to one where you can support one another more authentically.
Of course you need to be compassionate towards your wife and her emotions, but you also need to learn how to be compassionate towards your own. Basically, everything that you are or should be doing for your wife to support her emotionally, needs to be equally applied to you too.
In the end, there is only so much emotional support that you can offer when your own emotions have shut down. It’s also important to mention that sometimes you will find it hard to do the work on your own, especially if your lack of emotional availability is rooted in more complex areas such as addiction or trauma. This is where counselling can be especially helpful, and as someone who has experienced counselling, I can say that ultimately the goal is to help you find the words to connect the thoughts that you have been unable to process.
The more words you can put to your emotions, the more tools you will have to teach others how to do exactly the same. We need men to connect with their emotions for healthy marriages, but we also need men to connect with their emotions for their own personal benefit. Boys who learn how to have a healthy relationship with their emotions will grow up to be men who have a healthy relationship with themselves and others, but a man needs to learn how to breathe emotionally in the first place if he is to make a generational impact.
It can be daunting to consider learning your emotions as a man if this is a completely unfamiliar area. Remember to be kind to yourself as you start this journey, and recognise that it won’t be an overnight change. If this blog post has resonated with you, the good news is that there is always room for change. Even if you are currently feeling stuck in your marriage, paying attention to these neglected parts of who you are can only be positive for your own growth and wellbeing. Take some time to ask yourself the following questions, and consider how your answers can become a proactive response:
- Do you believe that you are currently able to support your spouse emotionally? Why or why not?
- Do you feel emotional support from your spouse? Why or why not?
- When was the last time you spoke to your spouse about your emotions? How did that feel?
- How comfortable are you talking to your spouse about your emotions? What may be impacting this?
- What did your parents teach you about your emotions? How is this affecting you today?