While sometimes it is true that some of these guys mean it when they say that they don’t really know how they feel, there are some who know how they feel all too well and are susceptible to felt-bouts of fragileness and emotional vulnerability. They don’t want to talk because right now they don’t want to stir the pot; they’re afraid to go there, wherever “there” may be at the moment. Sometimes the fear is they will only wind up feeling worse than they already do, or that they will wind up saying hurtful things they don’t want to say, or that talking will reignite long-buried wounds.
I see this fragility, especially when analyzing the male species, probably the most vulnerable and frightening of places for men like this. They keep people at arm’s length with mumbled one-liners about a “rough childhood” that’s “in the past and there’s no sense in going back there,” or guys who look visibly upset yet deny anything is wrong – “No, I’m fine, it’s just my allergies acting up.” I’ve learned not to push but to not ignore and gently say what I see – “You’re looking a bit sad,” – just so they know that I know, to send the message that we can talk about this when they are ready, even if they are not ready right now. The antidote to fragility and vulnerability is trust and safety. That’s the only way the once-kid who learned to protect himself by closing up like a turtle can eventually try to stick his head out of the shell.
What I do know is that men put up this rough and tough image, but that is just a shell covering their fragility. Broken species, trying to survive by any means necessary, and most likely hurting the ones they love or who love them back, all while thinking they doing what is best for them. A man will try a person to point of no return, not thinking of consequences, just buckled up and enjoying the ride. Yet, if they were responsible for managing the ride, they would not be able to manage half of what they put women through.
Now when it comes to bad childhoods and thinking they doing what is best for their child, because this is what they know. Instead of taking the advice of others, who know or may have insight into making the situation with their child and/or their child’s mother, they say what “I know!” or “I got it!” or “I hear you!” Truth is, do you really hear me though?
Whether it is a relationship with your mate and/or with your child, learn to listen, learn to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and learn
The challenge for all those frustrated partners and friends on the other side of the relational fence is the same – to be a steady presence and to make talking safe. Gently and periodically ask “How are you doing?” with a quiet sincere voice and touch on the back or knee. If you get the nondescript “Okay” ask one or two leading questions – “How did the conversation go with your boss?” “How are you feeling about your dad’s surgery?” but then back off. No pumping, no interrogations, let him know what is safe to talk about, and then give him room to stick his head out. And if he ever begins to talk, make it safe by being emotionally calm, and saying nothing more than grunts and shaking of the head – no opinions, no barrage of questions, no advice unless he asks for it — these will only close him up. Let him go as far as he can, and make sure you then thank him later for letting you in.
And pat yourself on the back for doing a good job.