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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178 Responses to “Men and Emotional Intimacy”

  • Chris says:

    Belinda…i regret to hear of your struggles…as long as your husband is a healthy person, he should be willing to fulfill your sexual needs. for him to say that snuggling is the same, we all it isnt so he isnt being honest with you about why he has changed. sometimes men do have affairs and get their sexual needs fulfilled elsewhere for many different reasons although i am not accusing your husband of that, it does happen. is he out and about at night or alone when he shouldnt be? is he texting other women? those are signs of wrong doing going on. if not, then he simply needs to face up to the fact he is failing you sexually. even the bible teaches on that subject in 1 corinthians 7. i would suggest that you be sure your relationship with God is a healthy one so that you can work this situation out with your husband through Gods wisdom and understanding. if you dont have a personal relationship with christ, you can log onto knowingjesuspersonally.com or click talk to a mentor above to find out how. praying now that you find the answers you need through the help of jesus who wants to be lord and savior over all we are and do. praying the same for your husband too in his name amen

  • Belinda says:

    I am a woman that does not consider talking and sharing feelings intimate. I get all my emotional and physical needs met through sex only. This is causing a huge problem in my marriage. My husband has gone from being physical (sex) to mostly only desiring talking, holding hands and the dreaded snuggling. I think I am wired all wrong. I love him very much, but honestly I get nothing from cuddling or hand holding. It is comforting but does not meet my need to feel wanted, loved or desired. I don’t even want to snuggle anymore at night because it seems that’s all he cares about. We have talked about it and he says he feels like he ha to have sex with me to be with me? We have been together 6 years and married two. I don’t understand what I did so wrong that he would rather not have sex with me. But he gets angry and hurt if I don’t want him snuggling up to me. I’m not getting my intimacy needs met. He insists that snuggling is the same intimacy as sex but I don’t agree. To me it feels like rejection. Listening to women complain that their spouse won’t cuddle them really turns my stomach. I’m capable of comforting myself in many ways that don’t require a person holding me. What’s wrong with me??? And what point in our relationship did my guy turn into a “snuggle buddy?” ?

  • Alfred says:

    Dear RMT1976, I’ve heard that men will not open up to share their feelings till they know they will be listened to without being criticized or laughed at. That is, they need to feel they can trust that person unconditionally!
    Maybe this boils down to basic communication with one’s spouse. Each one of us has a preferred way of receiving and of showing love/affection. That brings me to mentioning a book that really helped me: “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. These 5 languages are: Words of affection, Quality time, Gifts, Acts of service, and Physical touch. It behooves us to find out what pleases our spouse; and then to use that (language) to express our affection.
    When a man knows he’s being appreciated, even if he’s not fully understood, he will respond in a positive way!
    I think we need to encourage one-another to communicate, using the language that speaks to this person we love.

  • Many people have very little knowledge about love, yet its everyone’s experience in life. However much you can try to avoid acquire some knowledge about love, it will come ur way inevitably no matter how little you know about it. I think its high time we start teaching and equipping people before they commit themselves towards love. Lack of knowledge leads to unavoidable scandles in many relationships coz no one knows exactly wat to do to put things right. Lets use any possible means to extend all the necessary information about How to Love and How to be loved. And which role should each one play to enjoy this life experience.

  • RMT1976 says:

    Has nobody noticed the high male suicide rate? We’re socialised to think showing emotion is a weakness and discussing them is “sissy”. So guys resort to killing themselves. Nice to know society has allowed men to express themselves.

  • Aldo says:

    Mary Lynn, I sympathize with what you are going through, but I do not think you should give up. Continue to pray and trust God to bring about a resolution, whatever it might be. Also, get all the prayer support you can get from where ever you can get it- prayer circles, church, Radio/TV ministries, prayer warrior friends, etc. God answers prayer. Let’s pray:

    Heavenly Father, You have heard and know what Mary Lynn is going through. Lord, be a comfort to her. Give her the peace which passes all understanding. Grant her the strength and stamina to hang in there ’til you bring about a resolution, in Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

    Mary Lynn, maybe you should try the mentor thing again. You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” May God richly bless you.

  • Liz says:

    MaryLynn,
    Thankyou for replying. I admire your strength and your faith.I understand how you feel when in talking about your husband you feel you are judging him. I often felt frustrated and exasperated when I couldn’t understand my father or make myself understood. I also felt very sad for him as he was a child of the depression years and would get up at 4am and go to work on a horse and sulky to deliver milk. He would fall asleep in class. I cry for him and what he must have gone through. The wars have hurt all of us and continue to through the generations. I don’t really understand your blindness for you husband, as when we become christians, God removes the scales from our eyes so we can see with spiritual eyes.I want to encourage you with Isaiah 42 verse 16.Trust in God and keep your eyes on Jesus. He loves you, he died for you. Keep faith MaryLynn.

  • Mary Lynn says:

    Thanks Liz for sharing. Some things we will never know for sure. What we do know is that everyone who hurts us, is hurting also. Is it not true of us when we have fought back, defending ourselves or our position? I know I have hurt others ONLY when I have been in so much of my own pain that I couldn’t even see straight. This experience has caused me the most pain which I hope means that the most awakening will come from it.

    The blindness is what is driving me most crazy!!! I know he was blind about seeing me; and I from this now, know that I was blind in seeing him. The blindness that we have is nothing short of amazing, perplexing, and downright confounding! It’s almost like humanity is still at a point of sleeping and dreaming and has no clue what we are doing most of the time. We live in an illusion that we do know and I think the first step in waking up is knowing that we don’t know. And, there are many layers to this Truth. We wake up and fall asleep again, just as we do literally every day. But, if we stay there – in the reality that we know nothing, then what point is there in life? So, we have to believe that whilst it is true that we think we see and we are blind; that there is a possibility of being able to see.

    I have set my heart to reflect on this Truth and no other…
    Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” John 9:39
    The blindness is in me and this is what He says about that…
    “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Matt 13:15
    I withdraw everything I said about my husband – I AM BLIND how could I see and judge him???
    Perhaps He will anoint my eyes with His salve and heal my blindness so that I may see myself after He takes the beam out of it! (Note: I am not saying my husband is innocent or free of any charge; he has his, but that is between him and God and I had no right to focus or judge that except for myself and that is what I am doing now but before I was trying to find answers with sight and that can’t be done when I am blind.)

  • Liz says:

    Dear Mary Lyn,
    My father was very controlling and I later learned that these people control because they need the person they are controlling. i never nderstood why he was so awful to my mother who was a “proverbs 31 wife of noble character.”
    They had no intimate connection, my mother refused all his attempts because he assaulted her once when she was pregnant.He was verbally abusive to her and her four children and now all we do as his children is criticise each other and put each other down. My mother died of a heart attack and my father died 6 yrs later.
    I felt guilty for being relieved that all the tension and fighting had finally stopped. My mother was a christian when she married him, and i asked why she stopped going to church and she said he would “take over” and embarrass her.
    My first boyfriend when i was 17 was gay.(by the way my father remained faithfuil to my,other and wasn’t gay by any means). I met this man at work, and he was trying to deny his gayness. He bought me diamond earings and lots of flowers and took me out to dinner. One night he invited me to his friends house where he was having dinner and he and his friend were clearly gay. I felt so stupid, confused and hurt. Above all, i felt inadequate as a woman, wondering why on earth would a man want a man when he could have a woman?
    Not sure why i am telling you these things, just to say I stand with you in your grief only to say grief is a very enriching experience and you will come out at the other side as a stronger and more beautiful person. Be glad of you freedom now, especially knowing you are free in Jesus, and I pray you will have the peace you so desire. Bless!

  • Mary Lynn says:

    Thank you Aldo. I am still submitted. Since he hasn’t talked to me about why he left or why he quit being intimate, I am going by what others say. I give up trying to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. My step-daughter wrote horrible things to me. I am undone and I am done. I am still submitted, but there is nothing I can do. God will do it or He won’t. I can’t handle any more pain or hurt. I just can’t. He has even gotten between me and my family. I feel like the devil’s toy. I do trust that in the worst times there can be great lessons and I will really try to walk by faith and not sight. I tried the mentor thing – just canned stuff, nothing real or personal

  • Aldo says:

    Mary Lynn, as I have said before, there is nothing impossible for God. Let’s continue to pray.

    Heavenly Father, You have heard Mary Lynn say that she is 100% submitted to Your Will for her life. Lord, thank You for bringing her to that place. Father God, let Your richest blessings be poured out upon Mary Lynn. We know Lord, that You hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). I agree with my sister in prayer. Hedge up the way of her husband with thorns, and wall him in, so that he cannot find his paths- Hosea 2:6. Rebuke the enemy on their behalf, and restore that which he has stolen, in Jesus Name we pray and agree, Amen.

    Mary Lynn, if you want to chat with a person one on one, click on the Talk to a mentor button at the top right of this page. The person will be happy to discuss any issues you may have, or just to pray with you. God bless.

  • Mary Lynn says:

    He’s gay and all of these problems and rejection that he is putting on me as a woman is all punishment and projection for his denial and inner fight about being gay. He has a spiritual conflict with it so he suppresses it, especially since his former spiritual partner came out of the closet and was kicked out – that probably made him suppress it more and he has really tried to become “normal” but he’s not. He knows he hates women, but he’s not sure he loves men either. There is NO MARRIAGE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE. THE END!

  • Isn’t that a contradiction in terms, “men and emotional intimacy”…

  • Sharon says:

    to Mary Lynn– I am happy for you submitting to God and wanting his will be done in your life I am still praying for you that God will do a miracle for you before may 14. know that God loves you its ok to be mad at God. I am praying for you all from Sharon

  • Mary Lynn says:

    Dear Sharon (and Aldo), I am submitted and open to God’s movement and He has been encouraging me and making me brave and helping me overcome my fears which I see got me in this mess to begin with. I have the same fears as my husband did – that I am not enough and someone won’t love me anyway. We have BOTH operated out of fear and made these rifts between each other. The more he withdrew, the more I chased. The more aloof he got, the more controlling I got. The more he despised me, the more angry I became. Until there was nothing left except anger and negative memories.

    I have repented and he is still not talking to me and I haven’t tried – God has made it clear to me that HE will do this. I obviously failed and I see now that I didn’t even pray FOR him; I prayed AGAINST him because I felt rejected and angry. I don’t understand how no one else said what Aldo said? My husband did alienate everyone from me and so they just thought the same thing as I did – let it be over and move on. I was angry with God too. The counselor had said that if he wanted a divorce, I had no choice, it only takes one legally, but then I did all that he asked and filed it and paid for half, because why would I want to fight any more??? And, I don’t want to fight any more.

    I want to submit to God and know that I am following His Will for reconciliation; listen to His Voice and receive my own conviction and die to the nature that has created, if not at least participated, in this “death” and receive His Resurrection. I also understand that my husband may continue to hate, reject and blame and that divorce may be his only resolution at this point in his life. I felt that way just days ago myself and God changed my heart from a strangers post!!!

    Please keep praying for us. May 14th is only 18 days away. Thank you.

  • Sharon says:

    to Mary Lynn– prayer–father God I pray for this relationship for Mary Lynn for your healing hand over her and for this husband open his eyes I pray that he will somehow st5ill for counseling that he will change his mind and go for counseling god your will be done in this relationship God you created marriages I pray for a miracle before may 14 before the divorce is done and for healing too for this son of theirs. I feel for you tough I am sure I can’t imagine on what you are going through with a husband not talking to you. I am praying for you all. from Sharon

  • Mary Lynn says:

    Aldo, I think you have misunderstood. I begged for 7 years for consciously facing these things, but he refused. He is the one who wants the divorce. I begged for counseling and he said “I don’t talk to you, why would I talk to anyone else” and he said “I know how to be alone, not with someone”. I have suffered at his hand enough and for you to say that I need to do ANYTHING FURTHER is just ridiculous and hurtful. THERE IS NOTHING I COULD DO FOR 7 YEARS AND THERE IS NOTHING THAT I CAN DO NOW! I prayed, I begged, I went without and now all I have is to be free of him, because he has made a FREE WILL CHOICE NOT TO CHANGE, NOT TO FACE IT, AND NOT TO LOVE ME OR HIMSELF!!! The divorce – all done on his terms as was everything else – is final on May 14th. If God cared He would have moved long before now. God doesn’t do anything we don’t invite or allow Him to do and my husband has free will and he has made his choice. I don’t have a church because he doesn’t like church and I haven’t even begun looking yet. I have no support system, part of his agenda is to separate everyone from me. pray for me to heal, to love myself and someone who will love me back; and pray for him to just stop hurting me and the child. Yes, pray for him as I have for so long whilst going without anything for myself which just made him a thief and feel worse about himself. I am in counseling. I chose the Truth. He chooses hatred, denial, running, avoiding, etc. like he always did. I love him and even if I was in some kind of “role” I did also genuinely love him. I desire to have love returned to me and I’m sure that is God’s desire as well. I will pray and wait on God to change things ONE MORE TIME if you will agree with me that God’s Will be done in this situation – I will 100% submit to that. It hurts like hell to open myself up again, but for the sake of the Will of God, I will submit 100% to His Miraculous Power should He desire to reconcile this marriage. I have learned new skills in counseling – Gottman style with Scripture. So…if there are people out there who will pray and agree, let’s see what God would like to do. If He doesn’t or can’t reach my husband, then let me be free to love and be loved by someone who wants it. I submit 100% to the Perfect Will of God in my marriage/divorce. Amen!

  • Aldo says:

    Mary Lynn, I’m sorry to hear of the situation you are in. From what I gather many spouses, men as well as women, find themselves in that same situation. There are numerous reasons why this happens in a marriage, but none give license to going against God’s Word.

    Below I have included a few websites which you can go to that may help you find another solution other than the one you shared. Please allow me to pray for you.

    Heavenly Father, You know that Mary Lynn is in a difficult situation- one that seems impossible to be reconciled, but with You all things are possible- Mt.19:26. Lord, I ask You to touch Mary Lynn with Your precious Holy Spirit, and fill her to overflowing. Grant her the wisdom she needs to find the ways and opportunities to minister life and truth to her husband. Cause him to once again show the love, devotion, and respect to Mary Lynn that he originally had for her, in Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

    Here are the websites you can go to:
    http://marriagemissions.com/emotional-abandonment-my-spouse-is-emotionally-distant/
    http://powertochange.com/experience/sex-love/disengagedspouse/

    Mary Lynn, if you would like to talk to a mentor on a one to one basis, please click on Talk to a mentor at the top right of this page. She would be happy to discuss your predicament, or just to pray with you.

  • 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:

    Ruth,
    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:

    thanks

  • 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:

    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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