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

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151 Responses to “Men and Emotional Intimacy”

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Ian,
    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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