A man I knew rarely if ever shared his emotions with his wife. He would often feel unsure and insecure about their relationship; his coping mechanism would be to go into hyper pleasing mode to try and make her happy. His nice guy pleasing mode was a nasty habit of neediness that he fell into often (and didn’t like). He never felt brave enough to share this issue with her.
Another guy I knew went through a long period of money challenges and felt he wasn’t living up to his big ideal of what a “good and powerful man” should look like. The way he dealt with this was by being overly defensive to any criticism or feedback from his wife. He would get easily offended because he was judging himself as not being enough, not being successful.
In both cases the men were clear that there was “no way” they were going to be vulnerable and share these issues with their partners.
Not vulnerably sharing is death to emotional intimacy in relationship, which amounts to inauthentic relating. Not only does inauthenticity impair loving connection in relationship, but in sex, friendships, your relationship with yourself, and in all the little moments of time in your life.
The conundrum for men in being vulnerable: we want to be vulnerable, share our pain, our fears, even our darkness, but we also know that women (this is a generalization of course) find our confidence attractive.
Mistakenly, however, men think of confidence as excluding vulnerability, when in fact, the foundation of true confidence is our ability to be real and vulnerable.
Why is it so difficult to open up?
First off, most men are not trained in the delicate art of vulnerability, but another part of the challenge is how women respond to vulnerability. Women tell their men that they to want to know how they’re feeling and how they want them to be more vulnerable. But when men do share there can be a subtle shaming from the woman. The message many men receive is “Please share yourself with me, but don’t share too much or in a way that makes me feel like you’re not a strong confident man.”
I’ve even heard from some men that their partners want them to share and when they do, their women have responded with something like “man up.”
I think that some women are not used to men being emotionally vulnerable and when they are it can feel really unsettling for them.
So are women really okay with a man being so open as to allow tears to flow?
Most men err on the side of “I don’t want her to think I’m weak” so I won’t share in a real way. Men can share from anger, but from sadness or shame is a much more difficult task. Men’s inability to be vulnerable is really fear of shame, and criticism and if they are met with a shaming response they won’t soon return to vulnerable sharing.
As men, we need to be able to deeply share our pains and insecurities from an empowered place. We need to be mindful to avoid falling into the victim archetype. And this means that women (no matter if this is an intimate sexual relationship or a friendship) can receive him knowing that his ability to share is his ability to go deep as well and is a real testament to his confidence.
Being vulnerable is counter to our biological programming as men. We are programmed to hunt and to defend the tribe. Being vulnerable means “being open to be wounded,” and this doesn’t fit with being a hunter/soldier.
The trick is to navigate in the twenty-first century where we are not in hunting/fighting mode.
Even with all my vulnerability training, I have a tendency to wait until my stress levels or my fears build before I share what’s going on, and even then I may need some coaxing. Some part of me still believes that when I share, I will be perceived as weak or, worse, I will be seen as lacking in some way. Or that I “should” always have my shit together.
It’s particularly difficult to share when I am judging myself. What guy wants to look bad in front of his woman?
Luckily, I have a partner who can spot when I go into this pattern, and she invites me to open up. Creating a safe private place and having others who can hold a sacred space is incredibly important for us men to be able to move into vulnerability while being confident. For men to be vulnerable it is important for women to hold space without criticism or judgmental feedback, just honor his courage to share.
How can I be more open?
First thing to know is that being vulnerable is a warrior practice. It’s easy for men to go to war, hunt a ferocious beast, but vulnerably sharing with his wife or partner can stop most men dead in their tracks.
A great place to start practicing vulnerability is with yourself. Do a deeply vulnerable share in a journal. Get raw and real on paper, then it’s much easier to share with your partner.
If you want to share with your partner then it’s important to be able to stand in your own vulnerability, which means first feeling your own emotions—which may be a soft tenderness or perhaps even anger. Feeling emotions means getting out of your thoughts and out of your head so that you can be present, notice any sensations in your body, do slow deep breathing.
If I’m being real in a vulnerable share I preface my sharing by saying, this feels awkward for me. A couple other important things are to share without want of anything in return, and to be mindful not to share from a stance victimhood (Victimhood means that you are not taking responsibility for life and all that’s occurring.)
Sit upright, stay deep in your breath, openly share from your heart, and let the goal of your communication be to reveal more of yourself and create more intimacy.
Lastly, approach this as a “warrior of vulnerability” practice whose main quality is courage, which is powered by the heart.
One other personal note, our ability to be vulnerable is one of the most difficult endeavors we will encounter in our life. But, it is also the most rewarding and beneficial things to invest your time in.
Photo: Getty Images