It's not because he doesn't love you, but because he loves you too much. Men are much more emotional than women (or men) can understand.
I recently got back from a trip to Brazil. It was a work/pleasure vacation for my husband and myself. We spent most of our time in Florianopolis - a beautiful island connected to the mainland by a bridge. One morning, my husband and I came back to the hotel room, and we were both standing side-by-side looking out the window at the incredible beauty. My husband, without turning toward me, said, “I feel so close to you right now.” We weren’t holding hands or each other. The comment came out of nowhere. The female part of me wanted to pry deeper, get even more emotional, but then I remembered something that I knew to be true. Men are very emotional; when they tell you something like this, appreciate it and don’t take it deeper.
I tell you this because a common myth is that men are not emotional – that they don’t feel things like women do and aren’t as likely to be affected by emotions and situations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Peggy Drexler, who is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves,” has talked about this for some time. Men are different from women when they are in love, but they are far from unemotional. In one of her recent articles, Dr. Drexler quoted Dr. Ruben Gur, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, who reported that emotions go way beyond estrogen or testosterone. Men are wired to act during times of high emotion. If the emotion becomes too intense or he perceives it as dangerous, he learns to shut down, quit talking, and withdraw. Often, this happens to be the time women want to turn on and talk more.
Research validates that men are scientifically more impacted by emotion than women. For example, it takes longer for a man’s blood pressure and immune system to return to normal after intense emotion than for a woman. Studies have shown that boys will turn off a tape of crying babies quicker than a girl will. Boys also release more stress hormones to the sound of a crying baby than girls do. As children, boys are more easily stressed, which means they cry more when they are upset and have a more difficult time calming down. Early childhood development suggests that boys are more emotionally vulnerable to the ill effects of a lack of affection. Men are also more likely to die quicker after the death of a spouse.
When couples come into my office, it may appear that the woman is more emotional and affected by stress. However, when the woman tells how she feels (that he is cold, distant and unemotional) I can see that he is actually very emotional but has flipped the switch to protect himself just as Dr. Gur suggests. The session is much more productive if the couple communicates more frequently and can communicate in the way they are most comfortable. This takes time and effort, because women want men to communicate love in women’s language (verbalizing) and men want to communicate in men’s language (physical). Both are great forms of communication and work together well when agreed upon.
Below are three suggestions to help you communicate love:
Allow yourself to be curious. Ask your partner when they feel closest to you. I guarantee that you will be surprised; many people discover they made false assumptions.
Never assume your partner doesn’t want to discuss something because they don’t care. Many times – especially with men – they care too much and it upsets them to think about it. Take a time out the minute either partner flips the switch to retreat. Keep in mind that if your spouse had a more stressful childhood, the “shutdown switch” may be easily triggered. This is a survival instinct.
We all have an easier time being emotional if we know we are safe. Choose a good time to have an intimate conversation, and don’t start it during a fight, the work day, or when you are trying to get the kids to bed. Choosing when to be emotional and vulnerable will help you both feel supported by one another.
There are many myths about men and women. Before you tell any of your girlfriends that your husband/boyfriend is not emotional or shuts down when you want to talk, rethink your assumptions. Your assumption that he isn’t emotional may be why he is shutting down.