Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Man's Guide to Talking About His Feelings

The old stereotype that men really don't want to talk about their feelings exists for a reason.  It isn't that men don't have feelings, in fact I think in many cases men have far more powerful emotions than women do.  Powerful enough to lead a man into self defeating or even destructive behaviour under some circumstances.  The problem doesn't lie in feeling feelings, the challenge for many of us men is in translating feelings into words, and biology is not on our side.

The human mind is divided into two hemisphere's, left and right.  Each hemisphere has it's own area of specialty.  For example, the left side is used for logic, math, language, calculating.  If you are thinking in words, that is your left brain at work.  Conversely, the right brain is used for imagination, creativity, intuition, emotions and non-verbal communications.

So, emotions arise in the right brain, but to fashion them into words is the job of the left brain.  Now this is the same for both men and women, but the difference is that women are highly connected across the left and right brain compared to men.  They are able to transfer data between each side much faster and that enables them to talk about their feelings with much greater ease.  For men it is easier to keep all that on the right side, express our emotions in actions and other non-verbal communications.

There is also some cultural pressure on men to keep their feelings to themselves.  Many men subconsciously feel they are in constant state of competition.  We are uncomfortable exposing any weakness fearing others will use them against us, or feel it will make us less masculine.  We shun making ourselves vulnerable but that is exactly what is required of us in order to talk about our feelings.

None of means that that men can't talk about their feelings, but it does mean it is a skill that needs to be deliberately acquired. Here are suggestions that may help.

Take Time
Imagine you are driving along, and some really great song you never heard before comes on the radio.  After the song was over, would you be able to write out the sheet music for it?  Probably not.  If you wanted to do that you would have to go over it multiple times, in small parts, listening again and again to the same stanzas before moving on to the next.  In the end you likely would have a close but imperfect version of the song.

This is a lot like the process of turning feelings into words.  It takes time, we need to go over in our heads multiple times what we feel (several emotions can arise all together) what caused those feelings, and perhaps hardest of all: why those particular emotions were provoked by whatever stimulated them.  Introspection is a skill gained by doing it, and it is a skill that is needed to overcome the natural man.  While we may not perfectly convey our feelings in words, we can get close.

Negative emotions often push us to act rashly, and many an unkind word or deed has resulted from that (followed by hurt and regret).  It is better to remain quiet and work out how to talk about whatever happened than to lash out.  If we feel it may take us a while to master our emotions and distill them into words, we may want to tell our spouse that this is something we'll need to have a conversation about later.  It is also a bad thing for a relationship to never talk about it, bury the feelings and allow resentment and hurt and anger to fester in the dark.

Positive emotions are easier to deal with since your spouse likely will react very favorably.  There is still a lot of value in taking time to look inward and examine the source of those feelings and find a way to express them verbally.

Use The Written Word
There are some real advantages to using the written word to express feelings.  First, it forces you to take your time and gives you the chance to go over what you say and get it as right as you can before your wife reads any of it.  Second, if you are expressing something that will bring positive emotions in your spouse, they have it to keep and read again.  Third, you are not going to be thrown off topic by some question or comment.

Break it up
You don't have to cover everything in one conversion.  Often it is easier to break it up into smaller topics and discuss each one of them individually, in separate conversations.  If a conversation is increasing anger and hurt rather than healing it, take a break and continue it the next day.

Choose The Time and Place Carefully
The nature and topic of the conversation should define the setting the conversation takes place in.  Compliments and expressions of love are acceptable in many circumstances, but resolving conflicts and discussing less than positive emotions often require a high degree of privacy.  Physical intimacy such as being held can help promote a feeling of safety and acceptance that makes it easier to open up emotionally.

Embrace Vulnerability
This is you wife you are talking with.  If you don't feel safe dropping all the walls of emotional self defense with her, then something needs to change.  If there are things happening in the marriage that create a reluctance to make yourself emotionally vulnerable, perhaps those are the first things you need to discuss.  If that is not the case then you are going to have do the brave thing and take a risk, let your soft spots show and trust that she won't knowingly go after them.  This is not going to make you any less of a man in her eyes.  It will increase your emotional intimacy, and that will likely lead to greater spiritual and physical intimacy in the relationship as well.

Ladies, be sure to cut your man some slack.  Don't expect him to instantly be like you in this area.  Give him the time he needs and be encouraging and grateful for his effort.  Don't overlook the non-verbal expressions of his feelings either.

Men, if you can master the ability to look inside at your emotions and find the words to discuss your feelings with your spouse, it will greatly bless your marriage.  On top of that you will be able to do the same in your relationship with God.  You will be able to pray like you never have before.  God gave us weaknesses so that we can overcome them and become strong in those very areas.  It is never too late to rise to the challenge.

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