I wonder how many men can’t spit out our true feelings to the person around whom we are supposed to feel most safe because we have been taught those emotions are undesirable.
The challenge before you is to break stereotype, and next time you feel fear or sadness in your relationship, look into your partner’s eyes and EXPRESS IT! Although frightening, you will be liberated from anger which always steps in and protects us from vulnerability.
Say these phrases over and over: “I AM AFRAID”, “I AM SAD.” It may sound as if you are teaching a child to use his words, but it’s really giving yourself FREEDOM to express emotions we have been taught to not express since we were boys.
If we cannot accept our emotions, we cannot expect our partners to embrace them.
In my experience as a therapist, men express two emotions:
HAPPINESS and ANGER.
Many try to tell me horny is an emotion, but I convince them otherwise.
I have come to terms with my own avoidance of fear and sadness, and although it was a hard climb, it was a mountain worth scaling. Women sometimes struggle to express emotions as well, but men are more likely to be shaped by stereotypes. Women are taught to let it out. Men are taught to store it away.
To be freed from the anger trap, we need to differentiate between two types of emotional responses.
Primary emotion refers to an initial emotional response; the one we are hardwired to feel in response to stimuli.
Secondary emotion is what steps in when we judge our emotions too harshly. We replace the primary response with an emotion deemed more congruent with our gender roles, and keep ourselves safe from vulnerability. Many of us risk discomfort linked to emotional limitations, but are willing to accept it it keeps us safe.
I worked with a client raised in an emotional climate in which his sadness was rejected or ignored. He was often told to be a man, or get over it. Anger soon took over whenever his emotions became threatened.
He lugged his learned temperament into marriage where his wife became exasperated with his abrasiveness. The result was minimal affection, and a marriage rife with dissatisfaction. I often heard about how angry he was about the state of his marriage, and eventually asked him a question during a session in which I saw him alone.
“Do you ever feel sad?”
After a tearful admission he was often overwhelmed with sadness, he described his father’s limited emotional range and the effect it had on him. The more my client revealed, the more his wife came to know her husband.
My client shamed himself for his sadness, and let anger bully it away. His example is indicative of difficulties imminent when two people bring different upbringings into a relationship. The result is similar to jamming a key in to the wrong lock.
Anger protects us from further emotional injury.
Because we fear our partner will attack our raw spots, we choose to not divulge them. Unfortunately, permitting anger to step in and protect us results in the undesirable consequence of emotional distance from our partner. We arch our backs and hiss rather than show emotion we believe portrays us as weak.
But real strength exists in expressing our fear and sadness. My client reached such a conclusion when he acknowledged how much effort he exerted to reveal his real emotions to his wife.
When we convey sadness and fear to our partners, it invites them to parts of us unseen by others. Exposing our deepest selves to one special person is the essence of intimacy.
We often confuse intimacy with sex, then behave in ways that not only deprive us of authentic intimacy, but also the sexual relationship we mistakenly use as an intimacy barometer.
It is not easy to change behaviors ingrained in us since childhood, but the benefits of change are immediate and long lasting. The best way to connect with our partners is to come clean.
Tell your spouse you are sad next time you fight, and feel the instant deescalation. So many fights are a result of defensiveness, and so much defensiveness is a result of anger shoving fear and sadness to the side and puffing out its chest in false bravado.
Take the risk. Lay your emotions in the lap of your partner, and enjoy the intimacy you deserve.