DR. He SAID, SHE SAID: Men’s emotional makeover
By Hanalei Vierra, Ph.D. and M’Lissa Trent, Ph.D.
One of the patterns we notice on the Guy-side of the relationship equation is the lack of emotional development in men’s personalities. Women may have their own version of this, but men are socialized in so many more ways than women to avoid knowing their emotional world. More often than not, this gets in the way of true intimacy being created in a relationship. So our article today is an attempt to speak practically to men about how to take some first steps in opening up to the territory of their emotional landscape.
If you are currently married or in a relationship, do your eyes roll up into your head whenever your wife or girlfriend complains that you never talk to her about your feelings? Even if she explains to you what she means, are you confused about how to do what she is asking--much less wonder why it’s such an important thing to do in the first place? The “romantic stuff” of giving her flowers and cards is fine, but after awhile “the relationship” needs more.
Being an emotional partner to a woman — being emotionally honest with her — means showing her the authentic and genuine stuff that’s in your heart, not in your head. But that goes against the “training” men get from a culture that rewards them for being rationale, logical, and problem-solving. Emotional intimacy is a paradox for men and, therefore, very confusing. The paradox is this: in order to create emotional intimacy, you must risk your emotional safety by saying how you feel--by revealing what is in your heart. To further mystify this process, the above paradox creates a challenging irony for men: the one thing men work hard at being GREAT at--i.e., survival--is also the one thing that gets in the way of creating an emotional connection with a woman because it requires us to be VULNERABLE (which goes against our survival instinct). It’s no wonder why men are confused.
The gift that comes from this emotional type of vulnerability, however, is the building of trust and safety that all men really are looking for. Men need to become more emotionally independent and self-sufficient so that they don’t expect and depend so much on women to carry the responsibility for their emotional lives. That’s why women find it sexy and desirable to get and stay with a guy who can take care of himself emotionally, because it means a) he’s not looking for a “mother” figure to take care of him, and b) he has the guts to reveal his imperfections and vulnerabilities and still feel like a man.
The goal of an emotional makeover for men is getting to a comfort level with talking about a whole range of feelings, passions, and experiences that paint a true picture of what’s going on inside us-–warts and all. Risking the vulnerability of showing our emotions is at the very least a show of our humanity, and at the very best a show of our self-respect and inner strength.
In other words, being real means saying how you feel. And by the way, an emotional makeover is NOT about creating a bunch of wussie-boys who cowtow to their women or talk about their feelings the way women do. It’s about having the guts and courage to develop a part of ourselves that reveals the depths of who we really are. And it is crucial to find a GUY-way to express those feelings!
So what steps can a Guy take to get the ball rolling toward understanding his emotional world better that won’t defrock him of his masculinity? Here are six things you can do to start down this road:
1) In a journal, write down this question, “What are the moments in my life from my past that I remember feeling: anger, shame, fear, pain, sadness, joy.” Each one represents a part of who you are that you may or may not be aware of. Don’t start by making an assumption that you have no fears or have no pain or have no anger. Begin by assuming you DO have these feelings rattling around somewhere inside you, and that this exercise is for you to give yourself permission to feel and identify stuff that you normally would not allow yourself to admit to be true. Try to remember at least two experiences for each feeling. Talk to a parent or older sibling that could help you remember what you were like emotionally when you were young. Share this info with the woman you love.
2) Make a timeline in your journal for as far back as you can remember about the significant moments in your life that shaped your personality, as well as what you can remember feeling emotionally in those moments. Share this info with the woman you love.
3) In the journal, write down the circumstances in your life today that trigger those same feelings or experiences. Distinguish what goes on in your head from what goes on in your heart and gut. Again, give yourself permission to feel and identify experiences you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to feel. DEFINITELY share this info with the woman you love!
4) Ask the woman you love for some honest, constructive feedback. Ask her this very specific question: “What are the ways you notice that I express my sadness, my fear, my pain, my shame, my joy, and my anger?” Write down what she tells you in your journal for each of these six feelings. Compare her feedback with what your own experiences are that you have already written about. Share all this info with her.
5) If you realize that you don’t feel some or any of those feelings, ask yourself whether or not you’ve ordered some voice in your head to override, avoid, negate, downplay, dismiss, or criticize those experiences and minimize their existence because they are “negative” and feeling them would be a “waste of time”. If this is the case, then write in your journal about how you came to believe why it’s been important for you to protect yourself in this way from feeling these feelings. Share this info with the woman you love.
6) Read a book (like Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence), take a seminar, take an online emotional IQ test (Google: EIQ test), get into a men’s group, or talk to a therapist to get an idea of how to identify a whole range of feelings that are possible. Share this info with the woman you love.
Finally, notice how the woman you are sharing this info with is regarding you as you take this journey into your own heart. DO NOT do these exercises with the intention of impressing her or winning her favor. Do them simply because they will help you learn more about who you really are, which is the ultimate gift we can give to ourselves.
Best of luck,
Dr. He Said, Dr. She Said
Hanalei Vierra, Ph.D. (Dr. He) and M’Lissa Trent, Ph.D. (Dr. She) are a married couple who have worked together for over 14 years coaching troubled relationships to clearer communication, deeper intimacy, and healthier partnership. See their web site at www.sandiegotherapists.com/conjoint.html For more information on Relationship Advice for Men, go to www.HowToKeepHer.com on the web, where you will also be able to purchase Dr. He and Dr. She’s new eBook entitled “Making Relationships Work”. Please email any questions to: DrHanalei@aol.com.