Men and Emotional Intimacy

Written by Dr. Gary Smalley

sexlove_menintimacyA man who can cry is a man who has learned some secrets about intimacy. But sadly, for many men it takes something tragic or life-changing before they understand this truth.

Here are a few ways you can tell if the man you love has trouble with intimacy or struggles to open up:

  • He’s unable to discuss his feelings.
  • He’s determined to avoid his feelings.
  • He’s unable to express love, sorrow, or pain.
  • He’s unable or unwilling to cry.
  • He’s determined to make all situations into a joke.
  • He’s determined to lighten the mood or change the topic when emotional issues are discussed.
  • He physically leaves the room when emotional issues are discussed.
  • He’s insensitive to the emotions of those around him.

Most men–unfortunately–do not undergo such traumatic experiences as the one described above. Yet many boys emerge from adolescence with a strong sense that being strong and unfeeling is the “masculine” thing to do. When a male brain is saturated in testosterone, it doesn’t take much, even from well-meaning family members, to give a boy the message that emotions and feelings are only for girls.

Here are some things your husband may have heard when growing up–things that may have shaped him into a seemingly uncaring person:

  • “Don’t cry unless you’re hurt.”
  • “Tough it out.”
  • “Boys don’t cry.”
  • “Only sissies get hurt feelings.”
  • “It’s a sign of weakness to let people know you’re hurting.”

If you love a man who doesn’t seem to be able to express his feelings, you might want to consider using word pictures to help him identify what’s going on inside. A word picture uses a story or object to simultaneously activate the emotions and intellect of the hearer. As a result, he experiences your words rather than just hearing them.

It’s important to realize that helping your husband learn to express his feelings will take time. You might have to use several examples or try for several days, weeks, or even months before he is able to feel and share with you what’s in his heart. And until he reaches that point, he won’t be able to connect with you on an emotional intimate level.

Based on what I’ve learned in my many years of counseling, I’ve found that a woman’s definition of intimacy is very different from a man’s. Consider the following lists:

What women mean by intimacy

  • Deep emotional connection
  • Daily time sharing your heart
  • Daily time hearing the heart of the one you love
  • Ability to cry easily and together at emotional moments
  • A sensitivity to know immediately when feelings are hurt
  • Understanding each other’s dreams and goals
  • Closeness of the heart and soul

What men mean by intimacy

  • Deep physical connection
  • Foreplay
  • Hand-holding, hugging, kissing
  • Understanding each other’s physical needs
  • An ability to communicate physical needs
  • Physical time alone together
  • A sensitivity to know when physical needs are present

One of the reasons men may be more focused on physical closeness is that men aren’t as sensitive to physical touch as women are. In other words, it takes more physical touch to meet a man’s physical needs. In the same way that a woman has twice the daily word count, a man has twice the need for physical stimulation.

The point is this: Women often feel unloved because their emotional needs aren’t being met, and in the same way, men often feel ignored because their physical needs aren’t being met.

I think the problem is clear at this point: Guys have trouble with true emotional intimacy.

Read Gary Smalley’s book, Connecting With Your Husband, to learn more about your relationship.

© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center


160 Responses to “Men and Emotional Intimacy”

  • Estherisa says:

    l also came from a background where men are not allowed to express their feelings publicly.l was glad when my husband told our son one day that its okay to cry and express your feelings as a man.

  • Ellen says:

    Too bad most pastors don’t understand the problems of marriage. Instead of helping church members who are struggling with serious marital and family issues, most set up straw men and shoot them down on Sunday mornings. The rest push their own biblical views and expect unquestioning compliance. I am married to a narcissist and found that 95% of pastors don’t even know what this is! They’ve heard of the term but don’t understand it and sure as heck don’t know how to deal with it! There is so much that could be done if pastors didn’t have their heads in the sand!

  • Mary Lynn says:

    I have spent five years being rejected by my husband who I am finally divorcing. The one who withholds sex controls the relationship. It is all about control and punishment. I had most of the money, but all I did was spend it on him and his daughter. I did mention at times how much I “invested” in the marriage and didn’t understand why he couldn’t just invest hugs, kisses and intimacy. He had issues with women from day one. When I met him it was the mother of his child (who is a narcissist) but he will become a victim of a woman no matter how good she is to him. Me, being the “good Christian” just thought he needed to be loved unconditionally and he would come around. Don’t teach that crap, all it does is teach someone that you don’t value yourself and therefore they don’t have to either. He is being horrible and not even allowing me to see the child I loved and helped raised and fought in court and father’s rights for him against her psycho mother. He is exactly like the women that he hates and he has no sight for a good woman. Someone who cares knows how to do the right thing. The man who withholds intimacy does not love his wife, nor himself – that is Scripture. If he is not willing to go to counseling and be held accountable for his laziness, rejection and punishment of the woman who loves him – then a woman/wife/girlfriend should get the heck away from him. He is a hater and he only loves whilst he is trying to trap a woman. If he’s a victim of women before you – he will make you into the victim no matter how much you love him or how much you give to him. Look up Karpman triangle. Peace! LEAVE THE SELF-CENTERED JERK!!!

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    You are quite right, physical intimacy is no substitute for being able to connect on an emotional level with your spouse. Couples can be physically intimate with little or not emotional connection and vice versa. Which is why it is such a challenge to develop our relationships as couples.

  • Ruth says:

    Physical intimacy is no substitute for being able to connect on an emotional level with your spouse.

  • Shelley says:

    You welcome and may the Lord bless you in Jesus Name Amen

  • johannes says:


  • Kate says:

    Hi Tiffany, yes intimacy is a dance in which both partners take part!

  • Tiffany says:

    What about the book “becoming emotionally available and connecting to your wife!”

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Interesting points that you make about men not knowing how to articulate what they are trying to say! I think you are right on about that. Sometimes my husband needs time to think through what he is actually thinking or struggling with before he is able to share it with me.

    Finding a good time to communicate is important in any relationship and that’s not usually at bedtime when both partners are tired from their day. Finding another time either daily or weekly to just talk is always a good time, either a date night, Saturday morning coffee or maybe a long walk on Sunday afternoon.

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