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Marriage 911 05/08/17

When Women Model Empathy

Wife comforting husband

Men are often criticized for not feeling or displaying empathy—the ability to feel what other's feel. It's a valid complaint.

It is common knowledge that men struggle in sharing deep, earnest feelings. Additionally, they struggle with feeling and sharing in their mate's deep emotions.

Studies have suggested that young boys and girls display emotions equally. Little boys, as well as little girls, get their feelings hurt and aren't afraid to show it. If you've been around little boys and girls, you know what I mean.

Little boys express their emotions just like little girls until they realize the world expects them to act tough — and then they do. Whether the pressure originates from within the home or outside the family, boys learn "to act like a man", which means keeping emotions in check. They are taught not to cry and to restrain their emotions.

This is not natural and often causes undue problems later in life. As boys grow into men and ready themselves for long-lasting relationships, emotions are an integral part of connecting to their mate. Now, the problem of restrained emotions becomes a much bigger issue.

The sharing of emotions on both sides of the relationship is the main vehicle for true connection. We connect from our most vulnerable self and connect on a deep level by sharing our feelings on specific issues. When men refuse to share sensitive emotions and fail to empathize with their mate when they share feelings, problems occur.

Unfortunately, not only are many men emotionally underdeveloped, but they are more likely to be more comfortable sharing anger and hence that becomes the emotion shared, creating undue problems. Feeling threatened with "too much emotion", men shut down intimate conversations. They lack the ability to sit with their mate's emotional pain. They refuse to tolerate her distress and become angry, again causing chaos and additional problems.

What are some things that can be done about this problem? While it is a man's responsibility to reverse the socialization to suppress emotions, there are also steps women can take to help their mate develop emotional intimacy:

1. Model emotions.

Women have much to teach men. Women tend to read books on relationships, encourage participation in counseling, and value friendships and deep sharing. This modeling of emotion and sharing, when done carefully, can be great for men. Model emotions for them.

2. Empathize with their mate.

Men need to have emotions named for them and have their emotions reflected to them. It can be very helpful when wives empathize with challenges men are facing or emotional struggles men have experienced. Empathize with his joys and sorrows.

3. Encourage the expression of emotion in their mate.

Men need to be gently encouraged, again and again, to share their thoughts and feelings. They need to see it is safe and rewarding to share on a deeper level. Show him it is OK to share on a deeper level.

4. Create opportunities for sharing emotion.

The family can be a great emotion incubator. There are few places as rich with opportunities to experience and share feelings as the family. Sit down as a family and discuss the day. Pay close attention to the emotional life of each family member.

5. Notice emotion in the Bible.

Biblical stories are replete with examples of human suffering, conflict, and relationship struggles with accompanying emotion. Sharing together these stories is an excellent way to weave emotion and empathy into our hearts. Sit together and find yourselves in these powerful stories.

6. Encourage opportunities in the church/community for emotional growth.

Men need to be encouraged to participate in groups such as Celebrate Recovery where it is expected that men will share emotionally. Encourage your man to find opportunities to meet with other men where he can be transparent and vulnerable. Soon he will learn to do the same with you.   

Does your man struggle to share emotionally? Have you considered modeling vulnerability with him? We are here to help. Share your feedback below or visit my bio page to find out how to contact me directly.

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