It’s time to uncover our assumptions about men and emotions. As human beings, we experience a wide range of feelings that typically fit in one of the following categories: anger, fear, sadness, hurt, and joy.
Although most of us have been taught that men don’t experience the same emotions that women do, that’s just not true. However, men express those emotions quite differently than women do.
When a woman feels overwhelmed, she might say she feels abandoned, afraid, controlled, discounted, dismissed or “blown off,” flooded with emotion, hopeless, hurt, ignored, invalidated, like she doesn’t know what she’s done, or that she doesn’t matter.
Does this sound familiar to you? What feelings do you have when you’re not getting along?
On the other hand, a man is more likely to say he feels analyzed, angry, attacked, blank, confused, disconnected, depressed, empty, frustrated, inadequate, misunderstood, numb, or smothered. Although not all men have the same emotional expressions, a man will often tell me he feels criticized, like he’s failed, or like it’s always his fault.
Have you ever heard your mate say anything like this when you’re not getting along? What words does he use?
Chances are he is feeling emotionally flooded, just like you are.
However, there are very few socially-acceptable responses men can use when they’re feeling vulnerable. First, it’s considered “okay” for men to express anger. So many of their feelings are translated into angry expressions.
But if he doesn’t want to say mean things to you, he only has one other socially-acceptable option: to withdraw and avoid the conflict.
Yes, that’s right! When he’s refusing to talk about something, he’s probably either feeling overwhelmed by your conversation or trying to prevent himself from feeling overwhelmed.
Remember, he really does love to please you. Your arguments are a sign that he is displeasing you. Even though he may desperately want connection with you, he may inadvertently sabotage his own goal by “withdrawing, striking out, tuning out, changing the subject, joking, being nice, falling silent” (Bergman, 1995).
Observe which stance your mate takes when you’re not getting along. It’s a clue to the negative cycle the two of you have created. (Please notice that I didn’t say it’s all your fault. The two of you created it together.)
Negative cycles usually go something like this: Most men withdraw for as long as they can “take it.” Women believe the silence means he doesn’t care, and keep after him trying to get him to respond. He hangs on as long as he can, then comes back with something mean to say. This is the “pursuer-distancer” and the “blame-defend” patterns that are so common among couples.