Big Boys Don’t Cry — and Other Myths About Men and Their Emotions

The truth about men, their emotions, and ways men can become more emotionally expressive.

By Dianne Hales from Reader's Digest | October 2005

Guys, Try These
In his Dirty Harry days, Clint Eastwood never flinched. Now as a husband, father and Oscar-winning director of movies that explore the depths of men’s souls, the tough guy has turned tender — but not talkative. “The men who hide their emotions the most may in fact be the most sensitive,” observes Christian. Yet men can become more emotionally expressive without tears or fears. Here are some ways to start:

Develop a creative outlet. Hobbies like painting or playing a musical instrument can tap into a man’s soul. Remember that much of the world’s greatest art, music and literature was created by the allegedly emotionally challenged sex.

Release stress and anger through exercise. “When you get to the breaking point where you just want to put your head through a wall, taking a ten-minute time-out isn’t enough to calm down,” says Westover, who in moments of extreme emotion finds a place to drop to the floor and do push-ups.

Try expressing “a little” emotion. “Start with feelings you can control, find a sympathetic ear and use the term ‘a little,'” suggests Coleman. Saying you feel “a little” sad or “a little” scared feels safer than a full declaration of vulnerability.

Lean into the discomfort. “Rather than avoiding a feeling that you’re not sure how to handle, move toward it,” says psychologist Travis Bradberry, PhD, co-author of The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. “Learning to handle emotions takes time and practice because you need to retrain your brain, but it does get easier.”

Women Be Aware
“A man is like a hermit crab,” says businessman Chris Schroder. “If we trot out our emotions and get burned, we’ll roll right back into that shell and may not come back out. We can’t be bullied or cajoled into sharing our emotions. We have to be seduced over a period of time until we feel safe.”

Here are some ways you can help your man become more comfortable with his emotions:

Talk side-by-side rather than face-to-face. “Getting in a man’s face makes him feel competitive or confrontational,” says psychologist David Powell. Rather than facing him across a table, sit next to your husband.

Do something physical together. When you hike or bike, a man’s defenses come down. Let topics bubble up naturally, but don’t force a man to walk and talk, or he may balk.

Watch a guy flick. “There’s a 95% tear factor when a group of men watch Field of Dreams,” says Powell. “Sports are the archetypal bond between men and their fathers, and for most men the most primitive and important relationship in their life is with their dads.” Don’t try to dissect the movie or analyze his childhood. Just be present.

Don’t press a man to talk about a bad day. “If he’s spent the day struggling, he may just want to get away from the pain,” says psychologist Ken Christian. “What’s the point of being miserable all evening when that won’t solve the problem?”

Show, don’t tell. Talk may be a woman’s favorite form of foreplay, but men view sex as a form of communication. “We men express so much of our emotions physically,” says psychologist Powell. “Sex is our way of expressing affection.” Rather than pressing a man to translate feelings into words, speak his language.

Let men know what emotional support you need. In her research, psychologist Lisa Neff, PhD, of the University of Toledo found that husbands can be as emotionally sensitive and supportive as wives, but often their timing is off. “Men aren’t oblivious, but wives need to let them know what they want and when they need it.”

Say what he means to you. “At a quiet moment, ask your husband, ‘Have I ever made you feel that I don’t admire and respect you more today than when we first met?’ ” suggests psychiatrist Mark Goulston. “Tell him that you feel blessed to have him in your life, and you’re sorry if you don’t let him know that often enough. Most men’s jaws will drop.”

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