Sharing your feelings
I come from a family of five boys, and I have three boys of my own. I’ve played and coached sports all my life. I’ve also worked a fair amount in “macho” settings like factories and construction. All of which is to say that I’m pretty familiar with how guys operate, and it may be stereotypical to say so, but most male interaction doesn’t involve deep sharing of personal feeling, not in this culture at this time.
For example, I love my brothers. We always have each other’s back. We can even get to that emotional level with each other if the need arises, but our interaction is most often far more comradely (hanging out over pints), intellectual (because of my family make-up), and physical (playing sports or helping each other with work projects). It makes my wife crazy (and some of my sisters-in-law even crazier) that we never call each other on birthdays or anniversaries (in fact, we may never call for months at a time), but then just pick up our connection the next time we see each other as if we’ve never been apart.
I think most guys can understand this. For whatever reason, whether genetic or cultural or both, we don’t seem as reliant on verbal and emotional communication in order to maintain relational connection. I know who my friends are, and unless something crazy happens, I don’t need deep conversation to know that they’re still my friends.
The trouble is, of course, that communicating emotions is actually necessary sometimes, whether because there are big issues that need addressing, or because you’re trying to maintain a relationship with someone (male or female) who does require that kind of communication. And while I think men of the last few decades are perhaps better at speaking about their emotions than generations previous, there’s still a great deal of work needed to be done.
I still hear too often from frustrated women about how their partners aren’t able to talk about work stress, or aging, or mid-life crisis, or lowered sex drive, or any of the other issues that they face. I still hear too often from frustrated parents about how their young sons aren’t able to talk about being bullied, or going through puberty, or relationships, or any of the other things that young men go through.
This is why I think it’s so important to teach our kids (and especially our sons) to verbalize their emotions. They need to be able to recognize, understand, and express what they feel, not because they’ll do that all the time (or even all that often), but so that they’ll have those tools when they need them.
It can be hard, I know, especially if they haven’t had any practise. You may need to sit them down and do some of that practise in very deliberate way. You might try having them formulate a few “I feel” statements. Start by explaining the difference between “I think” and “I feel” statements. You may also need to distinguish (particularly with little ones) the difference between physical and emotional feelings. Then give an example or two of your own – “I feel disconnected from you when we don’t talk about important things together.”
Hopefully, when it gets to their turn, they’ll be able to formulate an “I feel” statement of their own. It might not be vey deep or profound, but don’t comment or critique it. You can correct them if what they offer isn’t actually a feeling statement, but once they’ve managed to say something about their emotions, however small, don’t judge. It may seem like a baby step, but it’s a step toward learning how to express their feelings, and it’s a skill they really do need to learn.