Have you ever related to your spouse/partner in a totally non-defensive, emotionally open way?
If you have, in that moment you and your spouse/partner were vulnerable and receptive to each other’s emotional needs/experiences. To do this, you were able to free yourself from the emotional blocks that so many men struggle with—you were unencumbered by the stereotypes and preconceived notions about masculinity that stand in the way of an authentic emotional connection.
During moments of deep emotional intimacy there is no pretense or ego at work.
Unfortunately, these non-defensive moments of connection don’t last. Like so many couples, you may cycle from patterns of emotional connection with your spouse/partner, to periods of disconnection (not necessarily total disconnection—think of connection and disconnection as running along a continuum).
Why is emotional intimacy so difficult for men to achieve and maintain?
Are men trapped in an emotional straitjacket, unable to maintain a level of intimacy required by the marital and relationship standards of the twenty-first century?
There is no easy answer to these questions–parts of this complex puzzle include genetics, developmental influences, family and culture.
The kind of intimacy desired by women (wanting men to talk more, express themselves and share feelings) often conflict with our masculine ideals. Requests for greater intimacy require that men experiment with new ways of being and relating–in order to achieve this, we may need to rethink our definition of what it means to be a man (the strong, silent type is clearly outdated).
In my work as a psychologist and couples counselor, I’ve seen firsthand how men can steer the course of their relationship destiny in a positive way. To achieve this takes ongoing vigilance and work.
Relationship Help for Men: What’s Needed for Intimacy?
For intimacy to flourish, men need to learn how to experience (and tolerate) “softer” feelings, including feelings of helplessness.
Men often feel helpless when we see our wives/girlfriends upset about something and any feeling of helplessness tends to drive us into problem-solving mode, an approach that ends up frustrating our spouse/partner (in these instances problem-solving invalidates the other person’s emotional experience).
Experiencing a wider range of emotions (which includes feelings of sadness, longing, helplessness) means having the feeling without reacting in any way—without trying to immediately eradicate the feeling by fixing the situation through some form of action.
Often when men start to have these softer emotions, we react against them (because they conflict with and threaten our stoic sensibility) by becoming frustrated or angry. In order to learn how to tolerate and then fully experience these emotions, we need to literally sit with these feelings. The challenge is to become mindful of them (and how they affect our bodies), to relax our bodies (rather than tense up) and to breathe into these uncomfortable experiences.
And ultimately, we need to observe these feelings without judgment!
Today marriages and committed relationships require men to be emotionally available and supportive in ways that challenge what we’ve learned and internalized from our male role models. Many of the traits acquired in our childhoods (and our culture) are often restrictive and smothering and prevent meaningful intimacy. The challenge for men is to discover ways to hold onto the traits of masculinity that we value, while removing (or at least marginalizing) the traits that erode the intimacy we all desire.
To be in a healthy marriage/relationship you must work to understand how the traditional versions of masculinity prevent you from being a considerate, compassionate and emotionally available partner without it feeling like you are required to abandon your entire identity as a man. Let’s consider this a work in progress.