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Men and Feelings

Men and Feelings (emotional safety)

Q. My partner is always talking about wanting more of my emotions. As I look into it I realize that I don't feel there is a lot of emotional safety for me in our relationship. I've learned that many times it is better to just stay quiet. Any tips?

A. The way it is said varies considerably but the sentiment behind your words is something I (Doug speaking this column) often hear from men. I could talk about your partner -what she needs to learn about receiving you and what she needs to learn about expressing her own emotions cleanly. That would likely cover part of the truth in your situation, but let's take the tougher route and look at your side of it.

Like most men you likely feel somewhat at a disadvantage when it comes to sharing feelings with your partner. The connections between thoughts and feelings seem to be slower inside the male brain and after a lifetime of training to be out of our feelings, it's not so easy to come into them.

But when I hear a man talking about his need for emotional safety (or some such wording) I feel sad. We choose to be with women because of their capacity for feelings. Feelings are vulnerable and we love that part of it. We want her passions and the juiciness that comes from that. And then we want emotional safety too?? It's like telling your partner 'give me your passion but only kind and loving passion, or only when I want it, or only when I am ready to take it (and the rest of the time I want it my way -with plenty of calm and peace!').

Really when you stand back and look at it a 'safety seeking man' who wants to be with a feeling woman has a limited range of options. He can put up walls and engage in some kind of avoidance behaviour when difficult feelings come up. Many of us do that one. He can attempt to dampen her down emotionally (to become more like him). And lots of us try out that strategy too over the course of our relationships. Or, he can work at strengthening himself emotionally so that he can meet her in that arena without feeling so 'unsafe'.

The man who won't do what it takes to develop some emotional skills typically gives out a message that goes something like 'be gentle with me'. Take it a little further and it goes something like 'be a good girl'. Take it all the way down (and this is how a lot of women hear it) it goes something 'be a good mommy and make everything smooth and loving for me like I wanted my mommy to do.'

In other words it is the child part of a man that hides in silence and seeks 'emotional safety'. The adult man part realizes there is no guaranteed safety in a committed intimate relationship. In fact it is probably one of the most unsafe places to be when the more difficult truths about ourselves come out (as inevitably happens when we live in close intimacy). The child inside wants to be guaranteed that when it shares vulnerability everything will be safe and total acceptance will be the order of the day. That's looking for a mommy again.

The problem is that bringing yourself up to meet her emotionally does not just happen by a wish and a hope as your child inside might like to believe. It will take concentrated effort. It takes a real effort to speak up. It takes a risk that the child inside would prefer to avoid. And I have to say that from my experience, men are lazy in this area. If a problem is immediately apparent, they'll deal with it but if the pressure isn't directly on them, it's back to the mental life where everything seems more comfortable and controllable.

In short it is not up to her (or anybody) to make it safe for you. It is up to you to strengthen yourself, mature yourself emotionally, and develop the skills of locating and expressing your emotions, just as you have developed the skills of your mind -if you want to be with a woman (as opposed to a little girl or a mommy).