Manning up isn’t toughening up – it’s about softening up.
I still have no idea what I was thinking. Who was that man who showed up during 10 years of my marriage? To be honest, I wasn’t a man, but an immature teenager both in behavior and attitude.
It’s not that we men don’t want to grow up – it’s just that we don’t know how.
I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what a responsible, mature and loving man looked like in a relationship.
I believe more men would “man up” if they knew how to do so. No one teaches us this stuff. If all we have is our parents’ relationship, we’re screwed. The non-communicative, unemotional, and practical relationship of my Indian parents’ marriage hardly applies today.
Women don’t want us to hide. They don’t want us to shut down. They don’t want one-word answers texted to them. They don’t want hostile temperaments, temper tantrums and the silent treatment.
While I did every one of these things in my marriage, the breakup was so chaotic in my life that it brought me to my senses.
Instead of dating immediately or jumping into the next relationship, I took the past few years of post-divorce life to understand myself better and to understand women better. Through friendships, listening to women and understanding myself better, here’s what I’ve learned.
Women want us to be the men we are capable of being. They want us to man up. “Manning up” means accepting our vulnerabilities, being comfortable with emotions, and learning to communicate with them in a healthy way.
You might feel that manning up in this way is losing your place in the world as a man. You might think of it as weakness. I’m going to argue that this side of manning up will make you more of the man you are.
Here are 9 ways women want you to man up in your relationships.
1) Listen to her. Women want to express themselves and their emotions. A woman wants her partner to hear her. For her, to be heard is to be seen. If you’ve never practiced the art of listening, now is the time. By listening, I mean not responding, not butting in and not cutting her off. Also, listening means active listening, asking questions to help her express her emotions better and to help her release what’s weighing her down. Listening means uninterrupted listening in which you’re focused only on what she’s saying. You’re not texting or reading a magazine at the same time. Listen when you’re looking at her and in her presence.
2) Open your heart to her feelings. Yes, go there. Go to the hard conversations and say yes to the “talk.” We tend to fear these conversations because we don’t want to face blame, accusations, or emotional investment. I’ve found this to be a mistake. Manning up is getting involved emotionally. Women want us to be receptive to their feelings. For women, having an emotionally supportive man is worth more than a year’s supply of roses and chocolates. (Well, still buy the chocolate!) Once again, listen without judging. Open your heart without resisting. Let her emotion speak to your heart.
3) Sit with the raw emotions you feel. Let emotions wash over you. Practice this in other areas of your life. It’s not something we are used to doing. We are used to running away from our emotions, suppressing our emotions, or denying our emotions. However you’re feeling with the woman in your life or in other parts of your life, acknowledge and embrace those emotions.
Being comfortable with our own emotions is the key to being comfortable with creating space for another person’s emotions. If your emotions are too much to bear, write them down, share them, talk them out with an emotionally supportive friend.
4) Be compassionate and understanding. Similar to how we should practice listening, be willing to extend compassion to your partner. While your mind may want to judge or condemn, try to see where your partner is coming from. Take her upbringing, her life experiences and her view of the world into account. Strive for understanding instead of division.
Even if the language she uses is harsh or accusatory, step past your emotional triggers and move towards understanding. What is she really saying? What is her message? What does she want to convey to you? Being compassionate takes regular practice. You have to be willing to use this skill in all parts of your life. Practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing the world from other people’s perspectives.
5) Don’t fix or cure anyone. Listening isn’t fixing or offering a solution. We are innate fixers, but strive to listen without fixing. Keep your solutions to yourself. Ask her what the solution is – she will always know the answer. Often, there is no solution. She is just expressing her emotions as a way of sharing an important part of herself. You are not the fixer-upper. You might have thought that throughout your life, but when it comes to relationships, listening and presence trump advice and solutions. Hold back the attempt to save the day. Ironically, you can save the day by not saying or doing anything.
6) Say sorry when you screw up. You might hate feelings and emotions. You feel weak. Ditto with apologies and saying sorry – whoever wants to be wrong and feel bad? Yet women are much better at forgiving others and they value forgiveness greatly. It’s not just empty forgiveness and flowers they want. True forgiveness is recognizing a hurt, apologizing for having caused it and doing your best not to repeat it. If you apologize and continue to blunder, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Not only say sorry but take the follow-up action to correct the situation and avoid doing it again. Saying sorry is taking responsibility, not appearing weak. Putting intention and action behind that apology is manning up.
7) Say what you feel. When you’re not in listening mode and it’s your time to communicate, say what you feel. Holding onto emotional pressures and difficult feelings isn’t going to do you any good. You’re not more of a man because you hide and suppress your feelings. If something is bothering you, give yourself time to process it and share it in the way you know how. Don’t hide the feelings, change the feelings, or lie about the feelings. If you’re going to be vulnerable, make sure you trust the person you’re being vulnerable with. But do share your feelings with the woman you trust and who will be emotionally supportive of you.
8) Avoid pettiness and always take the high road. In relationships and love, your partner will often push your buttons. It’s easy to get agitated and frustrated. It’s easy to yell. Fighting and harsh words are natural and something we all did as teenagers. Avoiding the harsh rhetoric, getting to the root of the problem and taking the high road, on the other hand, is a challenge. That’s manning up. When conversing, stay out of the small and petty. Avoid negativity and criticism. Don’t go there when you want to hurt or infuriate your partner. It’s always better to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, believe she is acting in the highest good and take the high road. Look to avoid conflict, try to reduce put-downs and look at how to resolve the conflict so that you both come out satisfied.
9) Know that gentleness and kindness will go a long way. Don’t get caught up in power struggles or showing domination when it comes to your partner. As young men, we grow up in competitive environments where we needed to prove ourselves and put ourselves ahead of other men. It’s not the same in relationships. Your partner doesn’t think much of you when you get your way, prove your point, or win the argument. Harsh words and criticism are a turn-off and a soul-crusher. Let’s look to uplifting the women in our lives. Let’s speak to them with gentleness and kindness. Use softer tones and deeper intentions behind your words. Don’t kill her with your words – kill her with kindness, generosity and love.
Manning up isn’t toughening up – it’s about softening up. You may not be the stereotypical image of a “man’s man” when you “man up” in these ways, but you will undoubtedly be your woman’s idea of a “real man.”