and Feelings (emotional
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).