Feminine socialization emphasizes personal communication, and, consequently, the oft-termed "fairer sex" is generally perceived as being more emotional. However, that does not mean that men are incapable of being emotionally hurt. Because masculine communication tendencies are different, communicating with an emotionally hurt man requires different tactics than communicating with an emotionally hurt woman. These tactics, rarely covered in mainstream conversation as a result of stereotypical perceptions of masculine strength, can help break through the barriers built in the wake of emotional pain.
Give the man some space. Men in pain often need time alone to process their pain. Attempting to broach a painful subject before the man is ready may cause him to retreat even further into his shell, making communicative progress difficult to achieve.
Lead into the conversation with a pleasant, light topic. If you can make the man smile or laugh, you will have put him at ease. This makes it easier for him to discuss his pain with you. When tense or immersed in his pain, his guard will be up. This defensiveness is a learned defense mechanism. In masculine communication, men are taught to conceal emotions unless in the presence of a trusted confidante, as emotions are construed as a sign of weakness.
Indicate that you are concerned because you have noticed he has seemed distracted. Do not convey that you think he has seemed sad or upset, as this may be perceived as a poor reflection of his manhood, causing him to become defensive and shut down.
Emphasize how strong he is in your eyes, playing to his need to feel manly, and tie that perception into your concern. Your perception of him as strong should be the reason that the otherwise insignificant behavioral changes caused you to worry about him.
Listen emphatically to anything he may be willing to share. If he opens up, what you say verbally is far less important than what you say with your nonverbal actions. Lean in, maintain eye contact and give him your undivided attention.
- "Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance"; Tian Dayton; 2007
- "Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters"; Julia T. Wood; 2009
- "Encyclopedia of Human Relationships: Volume 1"; Harry T. Reis, et al.; 2009
- "Sex Differences and Similarities in Communication"; Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary; 2006
- "Gender and Communication at Work"; Mary Barrett and Marilyn Davidson; 2006
- "An International Psychology of Men"; Chris Blazina and David S. Shen-Miller; 2010
- "Healing Together"; S. Phillips and D. Kane; 2008
- "Interpersonal Communication: Evolving Interpersonal Relationships"; Pamela J. Kalbfleisch; 1993
- This approach is a general one based on years of interpersonal communication research and may not work for every man who has been emotionally hurt. Every man is different, and it may require slightly different approaches to get the results you desire.
- Some emotional trauma may be too severe for the average individual to handle alone. If the man you are trying to communicate with is dealing with severe emotional pain, you may need to seek professional help in getting him to open up.
- If the man you are trying to talk to is refusing to open up, don't push it. You may end up doing more damage.
Lauren Nelson was a nationally recognized public speaker and debater for eight years and has three years of contracted technical writing under her belt. Nelson is a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Arts in corporate and organizational communication and is currently serving as Director of Communications for Attain Capital Management.
Andrea Morini/Photodisc/Getty Images