The technical term for when a guy has a hard time talking about how he feels is “Normative Male Alexithymia.” That’s a ridiculously complicated way of saying that many men think they’ll appear weak if they share.[i]
Men are taught from a young age that anything they say that makes them sound needy, dependent, or vulnerable translates to failure as a man.
This reality is what prompted Dr. Michael Kimmel to observe, “If I was to say what is the major emotion of American masculinity, it is anxiety. Why? Because you have to prove your masculinity all the time.”
Sounds pretty horrible, right?
And it’s a double whammy. If your guy won’t share with you, it keeps you from being close. But it also means he’s under pressure ALL THE TIME to prove himself.
So how do you help him get over that major hurdle? What can you do to help him open up without making him feel like he’s not a real man?
The single biggest thing you can do is show him that he can trust you not to shame him. If he truly believes there’s no shame in being vulnerable with you, he’ll share.
Building trust is an epic relationship task, but it’s really not that hard to pull off. If you do just two things, his trust will grow and he’ll be far more likely to open up to you.
For years, researchers thought the key to building trust was body language. Newer studies have proven that’s just not the case.[ii]
Instead, the two keys to building trust are to exchange information and ask questions.[iii]
- Exchange Information
If you want him to share with you, share with him.
I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Sometimes when one partner shuts down, the other partner is tempted to do the same.
“If he won’t share, fine,” you might think. “Then I won’t, either.”
That won’t get you anywhere.
Instead, be the trail blazer. Share your emotions with him. Especially the stuff that makes you vulnerable. Tell him when something scares you, or makes you sad, or leaves you feeling insecure.
That paves the way for him to respond in kind.
- Ask Questions
This one can be tricky.
Don’t charge in, asking super-probing questions about his deepest, most well-guarded emotions. He’ll shut down faster than your hair betrays you in humidity.
Instead, steer clear of questions designed to get him to share specific things. Stick to general, open-ended questions about his experiences.
For example, when he tells you about a disappointing meeting with his boss, say, “Wow. That sounds like it wasn’t fun. What do you make of all that?”
Then he has the opportunity to share without feeling forced. That’s way better than, “How did that make you feel?”
If you want the kind of relationship where your guy shares his feelings openly, you’re going to have to lay the foundation. You do that by showing him he can trust you.
Share your feelings with him, and ask plenty of non-threatening, open-ended questions. Those are the proven ways to build trust and open up communication.
[i] Henriques, Gregg, Ph.D. “Why Is It So Hard for Some Men to Share Their Feelings?” Psychology Today. HealthProfs.com, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
[ii] Ta, V. P., M. J. Babcock, and W. Ickes. “Developing Latent Semantic Similarity in Initial, Unstructured Interactions: The Words May Be All You Need.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology (2016).
[iii] Dean, Jeremy. “The Real Secret To Gaining Understand And Trust From Others.” PsyBlog. 14 June 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.