"Every time I try to express my feelings to my boyfriend, he thinks I’m trying to argue with him and that’s not the case at all. What can I do?"
In the modern world, men are generally taught that negative emotions are a “problem” and that they must be either suppressed or ignored.
For men, this causes all kind of problems like stress, depression and anxiety. It fosters irritability and moodiness.
Long-term, it can create major health issues, and in extreme cases- mental breakdowns or suicide risk.
This is such a significant problem that I've dedicated a separate article to emotional suppression here and I encourage that you read it to grasp this problem better.
Emotional suppression is a big problem- and not only men are affected...
The male perspective on negative emotions as "the enemy" creates problems for women too. It makes the men in their world emotionally unstable, emotionally unavailable, and unable to empathize.
Let's dig into why this happens.
Love & Empathy, in the Minds of Men
Men love deeply.
When a man feels deep love towards someone, there are two very distinctive characteristics I see in that oxytocin pair-bond.
- Protectiveness. Man feel deeply protective over people they care for. They will even put their own lives at risk if necessary.
- Empathy. Men directly feel the emotions of the people they care most about. As deeply and directly as if they themselves were having those emotions.
You see these dynamics between in every oxytocin-love relationship that a man has...
- His love for his wife or girlfriend.
- His love for his children.
- His love for his family- brothers, sisters, and parents.
- You can even see this between men and their closest male friends- entire war movies are based on the story of the man who goes to the ends of the earth to save his buddy.
Why this Creates a Challenge in Your Relationship
Let's assume that you are a wife or girlfriend - someone who is in a deep love relationship with a man.
If your man did not love you, he simply would not be affected by your emotions much at all. He might care, and be compassionate, but he wouldn't experience them as directly because they're not his to worry about.
But when that oxytocin-love-bond is present, the empathy effect is powerful...
He feels your emotions as deeply as though they were his own - and he will react to your emotions in the same way he reacts to his own.
This is where emotional suppression rears its ugly head...
When a man doesn’t know how to deal with his own emotions, and sees them as a problem - it means he doesn’t know how to deal with your emotions either, and see them as a problem too.
And... guess what?
Problems need to be solved.
The Deep Masculine Desire to Fix & Suppress Emotions
This situation is a recipe for frustration for men.
When you as a woman are trying to simply express your emotions to your man, and be heard, understood, and validated… the man who loves you feels intense pressure to fix things and improve the situation for you.
Exactly as if he was in that situation himself right now.
Your man deeply desires to protect you, and when you ask him to listen-but-not-help, he feels absolutely, agonizingly, trapped...
- He feels an intense need to help you solve these negative emotions, because he feels those emotions deeply and personally.
- He doesn't know how to react to those emotions, because he's used to suppressing his own emotions- but he can't help you to suppress yours - and therefore he can't switch them off.
- He doesn't feel allowed to help make things better, since his efforts and advice are shut down instantly, and he's told "don't fix anything, just listen."
As a result he feels trapped in an intensely uncomfortable situation with no way out.
Sometimes love sucks.
What you can do.
Hopefully this gives you better understanding on why the "listen but don't help" approach doesn't work. It's not your fault. It's not his fault. It's just that men and women relate to emotions differently.
Here are some things you can do...
Get more female friends.
If you’re looking for someone who can simply listen and understand you, your female friends may be a better choice.
They may understand their own emotions better, and see them as something that just needs expressing, but not fixing. Women also tend to be much more comfortable with their emotions... which means that they can better give you what you need, without feeling emotionally confronted and trapped.
Learn to journal.
Journaling gives you a powerful tool to understand, process and reflect on your emotions more effectively than talking to another human possibly can.
In the process of journaling, you’ll build a deep self-awareness and a great relationship with yourself.
Help your man to learn that his emotions are OK.
Regularly encourage him to express what he’s feeling, both positive and negative.
It will be uncomfortable for him at first, but when he understands that simply expressing his emotions helps to release them, he’ll begin to understand better why you need the same thing.
Don't expect changes overnight, but gradually, he'll start to get it.
If this is a long term relationship, invest in a relationship coach to help both of you with the communication aspects, and developing emotional intimacy.
You're both worth it.
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The protectiveness drive may be driven strongly by the combination of oxytocin + testosterone, or in mothers, oxytocin + oestrogen?