Many men pretend to be vulnerable so that we women don’t kick the emotional shit out of them, according to research by Brene Brown.
I brought this topic up in my last women’s group.
Men repeatedly told Brene in interviews that their women couldn’t handle their true, deep vulnerability. So they pretend to be vulnerable and only tell us what they think we can handle. My first thought was: how masculine of them—how very chivalrous and protective.
My second thought was the same one Brene had: Oh my gawd, I am the patriarchy, the oppressor.
We ask, even beg, men to tell us what’s going on inside, what they’re feeling, what emotions they are experiencing. “Please let me in,” we demand of them. We get upset when they won’t share with us.
But according to her research, when men do share the real emotions, the real pain, doubts and fears, we women very often can’t handle it—and men know this.
I related to my group the story of how it showed up in Brene’s life. She came home and saw that her husband was upset about some extended family issues. She immediately got angry and wanted to pick a fight with him.
Instead, and because she had done so much research about this very thing, she pretended she was in a movie taking direction, playing a character that knew how to handle that sort of situation without anger.
As a woman, I value safety over almost everything else. When a man admits to me that he is hurting, he’s sad and afraid, it scares me; I begin to lose my sense of safety in the relationship.
Because who’s in charge if he isn’t? He is the Masculine, the directed, focused, goal-oriented part of the relationship that normally keeps us on track.
I am not much of a picker of fights anymore, myself. I have learned to remember, and stick to, my third rule: when angry, don’t say anything. Tell the other person I am angry but need to cool down. Excuse myself. Wait until the anger subsides. Really think about what I want to say. Write it down—even practice saying it out loud.
Then, and only bloody then, do I confront the other person. It might take minutes. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months; it depends on the issue.
Anger is very often fueled by fear.
I do experience the anger Brene spoke of, though. It shows up for me as a kind of irritated impatience. Instead of hearing my man, I find myself listening to the questions in my own mind, “Why can’t you just man up and deal with this? Why are you telling me this?”
I try and drown out not only what he is saying, but also the fear it brings up in me.
I suggested to the group that they take a serious look at their own reaction in that type of situation. Do they close off? Do they go into anger, impatience and fear? How do they talk to their men at that point? Or, like me, do they run from it?
I know I want the men in my life to keep their hearts and ears open when I am expressing those vulnerable secrets I carry in here bumping around and bruising me from the inside—those very real-to-me, scary thoughts that I’m not enough, that there’s something so flawed in me that if anyone knew about that, they couldn’t possibly love me.
So it has become important for me to make sure I am doing the same for him—for all the men in my life—even if I must, like Brene, pretend I know what I’m doing until, hopefully, one day I really will.
That’s when one of the women asked me, “But what if all he ever expresses is vulnerability? I feel like I am always supporting him by listening to his fear and uncertainty. I don’t want to always be in that role. I feel like I always have to be the strong one in the relationship. Sometimes I really need him to Masculine-up and support me in my vulnerability.”
I admitted I didn’t know the complete answer to that question. The first and way-too-obvious answer is for her to pay attention to her own energy. If she wants him to be in his masculine energy, then she will need to cultivate and stay in her feminine energy.
I probably told her to call Steve Horsmon, my go-to relationship coach to whom I send clients. That is usually my answer to questions of this ilk.
And seeing as how I want (and need!) the answer also, I contacted Steve and asked him if he would be so kind as to answer that question right here in this post.
Many of the men I work with are working hard to step-up and provide a more positive, supportive and leading role in their relationships. One of their biggest complaints when they begin providing this energy is that their partner pushes back immediately.
They will say, “I want to be stronger and to support her, but she won’t let me. It’s like she wants it but doesn’t trust me when I try, so I just give up.”
Some women make the mistake of adopting the “strong one” role just because he isn’t doing it. They value their persona of the competent caretaker above all else. Their M.O. is to give, guide, organize, and lead their way to feeling in control of their life.
And they quietly stew in resentment for not getting more leadership and support from their partner. Receiving, accepting, allowing and following are very scary for these women.
But the only way to inspire a man to step into a stronger role is to consciously make room for him to do so.
Making room for him is very different than trying to change him. Making room for him and inspiring him to move into a stronger, more masculine role means you must outwardly and deliberately appreciate his masculinity.
The best way to do this is to get out of your own masculine energy. When you give a man sincere, feminine approval and praise for his unique strengths and ability to make you feel cared for and protected, you can inspire his confidence and willingness to do just that.
Affectionately invite him to listen to your feelings. Ask him to hold you tight. Tell him how his arms make you feel. Intentionally “soften” into his masculine energy and consistently help him feel safe in giving you this gift.
When a woman consciously allows her man to be more assertive and to be a source of comfort for her, he can more confidently ease into his masculine energy and will find out how much he likes being there for—himself and for her.
A woman’s power to inspire this in a man through her words and her touch is phenomenal.
This legendary form of feminine leadership is a critical component of a healthy relationship and a key skill in all aspects of a woman’s life.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Brian Henry Thompson/Flickr