10 Ways Men Can Crack the Code of Their Feelings

6. Don't outsource your emotional intelligence to the woman in your life.

Posted Jun 06, 2016

Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Last month I published a post titled “Seven Lessons I Have Learned in Therapy With Men.” I can now add an eighth: Writing about men, particularly men in relationships, draws a lot of interest, and a lot of comments. What is it about this topic that generates so much engagement?

I have a few ideas, but I really don’t know. I strive to articulate a male point of view that recognizes the contribution of the feminine without losing the male voice. It is a man’s job to do for men what feminists have been doing for decades for women: Articulate an important reality that both men and women need to hear.

[Two caveats: One, I will speak in generalities, so there are exceptions to everything I say; and, two, my language is heterosexist but the principles apply to all who take on the more masculine role in a relationship.]

I have been thinking a lot lately about how therapy in general, and couple’s therapy in particular, is skewed toward the feminine. There is a premium on verbal expression, especially expression of tender and vulnerable feelings. I think this is the gift of the feminine—to teach us that we feel safest when we feel connected. One of the most reliable ways to feel connected is through being vulnerable together. It’s such a self-evident truism in the world of couples therapy that I can imagine many people nodding their heads in agreement and asking, “What’s wrong with that?”

Nothing is wrong with it. It’s beautiful and it’s wonderful, but it’s not the whole picture. If you want to get a man to talk easily about his feelings, ask him about his job, not his relationship. Ask him how it’s going at work, what he’s engaged in, what he hopes to achieve, where his ambitions lie. Hearing this, women might nod politely and wait patiently until their husband “really opens up.”

But he is opening up. Listen to him: There is an entire world of identity and self-expression embedded in those work stories, in those struggles for achievement, in the doubts that accompany the power struggles and strife of daily life on the job. It is true that many men don’t know how to articulate the nuances of their inner worlds, and they would be better people for learning how. But it is going to sound different than a woman’s inner world. We need to stop trying to get men to sound like women in order to get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval implicitly given to husbands who toe the therapy line.

One of the more touching responses to last month’s post came from a reader named Curtis:

I kind of understood, then I read through a lot of comments and then found myself completely lost. I am guessing that once a guy finds his inner world then he is a much better person for it. An article (in small words and short sentences) or website on helping guys find their inner world would be appreciated by guys like myself.

There is so much I love in this comment—the straightforwardness, the simplicity, the vulnerability, the truth. So, let me start to address this question with these 10 thoughts, presented in no particular order:

  1. Yes, the more you connect with your inner world, the better you will be for it. 
  2. One good way to get in touch with your inner world: Pay attention to what excites you and gives you pleasure in your external world, particularly your work.
  3. There is always a relationship between the outer and the inner: What you do influences how you feel, and how you feel influences how you do what you do.
  4. Most men are more practiced in paying attention to the external than the internal. Carl Jung said that the first half of life is for establishing oneself in the outer world. The second half of life is for exploring one's inner world. I would say it’s never too early to start paying attention to your inner world. 
  5. Feelings are amazing, once you learn how to pay attention to them. Most guys like control panels, whether on cars or computers, that display all kinds of information. Imagine that you have an internal control panel that captures an infinite amount of information with a sensitivity and reliability that can’t be managed by the most highly-developed software. Guess what? You already have such a system inside you.
  6. You cannot and should not outsource your emotional intelligence to the woman you’re with. It’s a cop out, and it's not fair to her. She needs you to figure out who you are and what you feel to help her with own development—just like you need her to be in charge of herself.
  7. You need to have close relationships with men. Stop being afraid to touch a man or be touched by one—not all physical touch need be sexual in intent. So many guys are so filled with homophobia that they miss the pleasure of physical contact with another man. It feels different than contact with a woman and it’s wonderful. 
  8. Learn how to ask another man for help. There are few things more healing than receiving help from a man or giving help to a man. It undoes all those horrible high-school experiences where you were made fun of in the locker room for not doing something right.
  9. You need to work and feel productive to feel whole. I don’t believe I have ever met a man who was able to feel good about himself without feeling good about what he did in the world.
  10. Expressing anger is overrated. Sure, it feels good in the moment, but like a bomb that destroys what had taken years to build, you should seldom (if ever) give in to that urge. Go to the gym instead.

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