ERP 073: As A Man, How Do I Open Up More In My Relationship?
LISTENER’S QUESTION: “I feel like I have a huge problem with my assertiveness. I am recently married and my wife and I are great together but sometimes our communication falls a little short. I would describe her as being very assertive, not scared to speak her mind or ask for what she wants, which I admire. Me on the other hand I am passive, I keep a lot of my feelings and thoughts to myself, and have a hard time expressing how I feel. I listened to two of your podcasts ERP 45 and 46 and a lot hit home for me. I don’t want to be scared to rock the boat or be so overly concerned with how she is going to react if I tell her how I feel. But at the same time she isn’t very inviting when I do express myself. It’s like she can’t understand that it is hard for me and that it takes a lot for me to actually say what I have to say. So not only do I want to become more assertive but I want to be able to not need to be reassured. I don’t want to feel like I need to be congratulated for speaking up, I want to do it because I know it’s what I should do because it’s not fair to her or myself when I keep my feelings and thoughts to myself. And I want to get out of the mindset of thinking it’s weak to feel the way I feel. Because I start to resent her and it’s not fair. I recognize my weakness and know what I should do to correct the issue but it is hard to always do what I should. So I just need some tips to overcome the moments of weakness so that our relationship can be at its fullest potential.” MEN a EMOTIONAL INTIMACY Generally speaking, being emotionally revealing goes against what feels natural and comfortable to a man. Typically, guys have a lot of programming to not be emotionally vulnerable. Many men have learned from a very early age to not express their sensitive emotion, like sadness and fear. Also, a man’s brain structure is designed to accomplish, excel, and get ahead, which doesn’t always prioritize emotional sharing and bonding. Men typically bond through being physical. Whereas, women bond more through emotional intimacy, sharing, and empathy. Communicating your thoughts and feelings may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable, as if you are learning a new skill. In fact, you are learning a new skill – how to communicate your emotions more openly and honestly. In order to support your learning process, be kind, easy, and gentle with yourself. A man’s personal and emotional development is very different from a woman’s, as our biological makeup and social experiences are very different. (Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear my stories and examples to describe these points.) LISTENER’S QUESTION: Jay writes “I have been listening to your podcasts for the past couple weeks and it has helped me tremendously in opening up my mind to different views in my relationship and how I can communicate better with my partner. Currently we are going to couples therapy and we are each seeing our own therapist as well. This is the first month seeing my therapist and my fiancé and I have only gone to 2 sessions together so far. In these sessions I have learned a lot about my poor communication skills (I hold onto my feelings and don’t express them) and learn more about myself and the relationship but I don’t feel like it’s enough. I am still not able to talk with my partner openly about my feelings and through therapy I’ve discovered that I am scared of confrontation. I avoid it at all costs and it’s hurting my relationship tremendously. Normally it’s not till after my fiancé confronts me about my behavior do I realize my poor actions and apologize, but lately I have been able to recognize my behavior and confront her shortly after our argument to resolve the issue. The second and bigger problem is that my bad behavior is becoming repetitive and it’s getting hard for me to express myself to her after we have a 2-4 hour argument. I shut down, and start tuning her out because it’s the same arguments and the same things are being said. Our therapists have said that this process takes time and requires patience. I understand that change requires time, but her impatience with me and long drawn out explanations are exhausting her and me, both mentally and physically. The worst part is if our argument happens early in the day it ruins her entire day and she can’t focus on anything but the argument. We talk about it several times through the day ( because she feels I don’t understand her) and it keeps being brought up and aggravates me. I acknowledge her feelings and apologize and inform her what I will do differently next time. She also brings it up one more time right before bed, literally as we are falling asleep. This is aggravating to me because I wake up at 4am to go to work, and I need about 6 hrs of sleep minimum. I don’t know how to ask for more time and patience from her and still show her that I’m improving everyday. I need to materialize my thoughts into actions and most of all I need her to also understand that change takes time and doesn’t happen overnight and to let go of all the anger she is building inside. Is there an activity you recommend? Or maybe one of your episodes touch on this subject? Thank you for all your support!” 1. HOLD A NEW PARADIGM: Be easy with yourself. Watch the negative self-talk. Develop a positive and encouraging inner coach. Be patience with your learning process. It takes time to develop new habits. Notice and adjust…over and over again. You will get better at it. Get to know your preferred way of open up and sharing. What works best for you (i.e. going for a walk and talking, taking some time to reflect, etc.)? 2. TELL HER WHAT IS REAL: Examples: If you are overwhelmed, tell her, “I am overwhelmed.” If you are scared, tell her “I am scared of disappointing you.” Or tell her, “I am scared of doing it wrong.” If conflict is uncomfortable for you, tell her “Conflict is uncomfortable for me. In the past, my strategy has been to avoid.” If you are learning, tell her “I want to learn how to share with you, in a way that works for both of us.” 3. ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Examples: “I am working to gain comfortability with sharing my thoughts and feelings, and I need to go a little slower.” “I don’t always know what I am thinking or feeling in the moment. I need a day to reflect and get clear. Then, I will be ready to share more openly with you.” “Conflict has been uncomfortable for me in the past, and I am working on feeling more comfortable with conflict. It would help me if we could talk a little more calmly.” “When I get overwhelmed, I am worried you want me to be different, or I am not good enough. It would help me to know you believe I am good man and that you value me.” 4. WORK ON BUILDING SAFETY a TRUST: What do you need to feel to feel emotionally safe and that your partner has your back? What does your partner need to feel safe and emotionally supported? Learn about your and your partner’s attachment strategy. If you partner feels anxious when there is discord, she may have a bit of an anxious attachment style. Typically, when someone has an anxious attachment style, they are worried about being left, rejected, or abandoned. Can she tell you what she is needing to hear? If you are able to help her, you may try reassuring her that you love her and want to share with her. Let her know you are committed to working on things. Learn about your gender differences and learn how to see the value within each experience. MENTIONED: Save Your Relationship By Understanding Your Attachment Needs (podcast episode) TRANSCRIPT: Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 073: As a Man, How Do I Open Up More In My Relationship. If you have a topic you would like me to discuss or a situation you would like me to speak to, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here. Thank you so much for your interest in improving your relationship. Also, I would so appreciate your honest rating and review. Please leave a review by clicking here. Thank you! If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.