Why aren't men better at opening up?Intimacy / Sep 19th 2017  at 05:37PM   /   0

Dear KC, My boyfriend is under a lot of stress at work and won't talk to me about it. He's always been this way, like if we've hit a rough patch in our relationship and I want to understand what's not working for him, he'll clam up and change the subject. Why don't men understand that it helps to talk about this stuff?

We don't raise men to believe it's safe, wise, or beneficial to be vulnerable. And often, when they do step out of the rigid roles we've assigned them, we (as women) don't embrace what they reveal. I'm not saying being closed-off is ideal. I'm saying there's a lot of history behind it.  

Since the dawn of time, never have men not had to be prepared for attack, including through war, invasion, or wild animals. Whether it's the threat of hungry bears, or coworkers in competition, men are conditioned to always be projecting strength and impenetrability. To provide, protect, create, and defend ... all day long. All life long.

Then a woman comes along and says, "Why don't you drop your guard and let me in?" Which seems perfectly natural to us. When it comes to genuine intimacy, after all, vulnerability is a requirement. You're not wrong about that. Still, you can see the opposing forces at work here. The cognitive dissonance can be intense.

Which is not to say building walls and staying guarded are in a man's best interest. He needs to know his partner is prepared to accept him for who he really is, before he risks revealing those deeper layers to her. He needs her to allow him to be vulnerable even if it looks different to her than she expected (because very often it will). He needs to be seen in full, without being made to feel shame or diminishment. Because as much as most women want emotionally "open" men, some are not ready for a partner who is also a scared, imperfect human.

We have to let even our strongest warriors off their horses, once in a while. Let them drop their armor in order to be soothed, nurtured, and refreshed for the next ride, the next hunt, the next battle around the corner. For men, there is always another challenge on the horizon. Always another dragon to slay. Women forget this.

Men need to be needed, which means they need to feel competent. Allowing himself to be vulnerable defies those deeply-ingrained instincts. And yet, an intimate emotional connection is as vital to a man's quality of life as a woman's. It's important to let him know it's safe to drop his guard, and that you'll respect, admire and approve of him.

Stated appreciation for his many struggles (whether you know all the details or not) is a good place to start. Men like compliments too! Reassure him you believe in him, even if he's hit a stumbling block. Even if he were to lose his job. Remind him of the many other ways he succeeds and/or impresses you. Create a safe container. Let him know his secrets are safe, his "weaknesses" don't turn you off, and that you accept him for who he is. That you want only to offer support and encouragement as he faces (and wins) life's many challenges (or most of them).

Only you know the true dynamics of your relationship. Only you can spot opportunities to prove your devotion. Be patient with him and honest with yourself. And little by little, he will open up more and more. (If not, I'd recommend counseling for you both.)

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