Developing intimacy in your relationship is all about getting to know each other's thoughts and feelings. It can often be challenging to get your boyfriend to open up and start talking about his feelings or to talk about them as much as you'd like him to. If you understand the challenges men face in expressing themselves and seeking emotional intimacy, you can help your boyfriend build better, healthier habits.
Understand why it's harder for some men to be aware of their feelings in the first place. According to Terrence Real, author of “I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy Of Male Depression,” men are usually so strongly socialized to avoid expressing their feelings that they repress awareness of what they're feeling in order to conform to the pressure.
Examine what you know about your boyfriend's upbringing. Ask yourself how likely it is that he would have grown up with a role model who encouraged him to express his feelings versus a role model who would have encouraged him to “suck it up,” “be tough,” or even shamed him for expressions of vulnerability. Try to imagine the kinds of messages he might have received from parents so that you can counteract them.
Appeal to logic when you discuss the importance of knowing and expressing feelings together. Have a conversation with your boyfriend in which you help him understand that feelings are not illogical but are a natural reaction to our environment over which we have no control.
Set a good example. Express your feelings clearly on a regular basis. Use simple and clear language as much as you can. Look for examples of feelings you can express that you think may mirror your boyfriend's feelings and experiences about important issues.
Create an emotionally safe environment where he can express himself. Check yourself for any habits you may have that put pressure on him to be strong or masculine. Avoid expressing disdain for any expressions of weakness he may show.
Discourage any emotionally invalidating comments he makes about himself, you or others. Call him out, gently, if he says things such as, “That's a stupid way to feel,” or “I shouldn't be so mad about this.” Remind him that feelings need to be dealt with as they are.
Ask questions about his feelings in an indirect manner. Use questions such as, “How was your day?” or “Did that seem unfair to you?” that seem like a discussion of situations rather than questions that put him on the spot about the issue of feelings.
Learn to listen for expressions of feelings that are different from what you might expect or different from the ways that you express your feelings. For example, if he wants to spend hours talking about a project, understand that this could be an expression of his excitement about it and his feelings of hope and pride connected to it. Help him to name these kinds of feelings in association with what he's talking about.
Practice positive reinforcement whenever he does express himself. Tell him how happy you are that he's opening up and how glad you are to know the things he tells you about himself.
Be patient. Allow your boyfriend to make progress gradually, and understand that building new habits and personal awareness can take a very long time.
- "I Don't Want To Talk About It; Overcoming The Secret Legacy Of Male Depression"; Terrence Real
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