Not all men are emotionally distant, but according to psychologist Seth Meyers, one study has shown that men rate higher than women on the fear of intimacy scale. One overriding theory is that women are socialized to be more communicative and emotionally open than men, who are often socialized to be competitive and physically active. Emotional barriers can also arise from previous relationship traumas, poor mental health or hidden addictions. Whatever the cause, you can take steps to try to break through your loved one's emotional walls.
Get Him Talking, But Not About His Feelings
For men who either aren't used to communicating their emotions or are reluctant to do so, asking them how they feel just won't work, according to psychologist Suzanne Lachmann. What you need to do is get them talking with the hope that the emotions will follow. Ask them to talk about their past experiences, but in a way that lets them use language such as "I think, I saw, I did, I have," instead of "I feel." Whether you want to know about his childhood, his past relationships, his family or otherwise, ask the man in your life for a simple narrative. Once he begins recounting his experiences it's likely that emotion will flow all on its own. It's impossible to make him feel his feelings, but it's definitely within your ability to give him the chance to do so by letting him talk freely.
Ask Him Directly
If you believe that your loved one has serious emotional walls, it's okay to talk to him about it. What's important is to present your opinion in as non-judgmental a manner as possible. Keep things casual, not super-charged with emotion, or he'll treat your conversation like a confrontation. For example, say, "I've noticed that sometimes when we talk about difficult or emotional subjects you shut down. I have a hard time talking about these subjects, too. I just want you to know that you can trust me, and if there's anything I can do to help or if you ever want to talk, I'm here." Be prepared to listen or back off as necessary. Keep your reactions in check -- you need to establish yourself as an ally, not a judge. On the flip side, if he wants to make your relationship work, it's up to him to be honest about his issues and committed to changing his previous patterns.
Go to Couples Counseling
You're not a therapist, and if his emotional walls are steep and high, you both may need an expert. Go to couples counseling together to give him the best shot at tackling his issues. Counseling won't just be for him, though -- you'll need help relating to him and also to look at any issues you might have. Attending counseling is an excellent way for both of you to be honest and to work productively towards strengthening your relationship in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Any good therapist will create an environment of trust where your man feels safe enough to talk, which might be what you need if the two of you can't yet reach that alone.
If the man in your life has emotional barriers due to emotional trauma, he may need individual counseling. Be aware that often things will get worse before they get better -- talking about his unhappy past will bring up plenty of anxiety and may be a very painful experience indeed. A therapist will help comfort him and work to develop self-soothing strategies that will enable their healing work. Once his emotions are aired, the therapist can help him redefine what these emotions mean to him. She can also help him be more intimate with the people in his life, including you. If he's truly committed to you, this kind of individual healing will be essential.
- Psychology Today: Fear of Intimacy in Men: Cause, Relationship Problems, Tips
- Psychology Today: How (and How Not) to Communicate With Stoic Men
- Psychology Today: Mad Men, Don Draper on the Couch
- The Independent: What They're Really Thinking
- Mind Body Green: How to Get Your Man to Open Up (Without Making Him Run)
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