It was one of those days.
I’d just finished replying to a comment from a woman on YouTube.
She’d tried to help her boyfriend with his quest to buy a car, and he got angry at her. He started yelling, and she started crying. He said he was sorry for yelling at her but it was her fault he reacted like that.
Then I clicked over to another new comment.
This one was by a man who’d watched my video on “what to do when your boyfriend shouts at you.” He angrily pointed out that I hadn’t even mentioned what these women were doing to make their boyfriends shout at them.
I buried my head in my hands.
Why Men Get Angry and Women Get Sad
Some men get angry a lot.
I remember one relationship. He’d get angry, I’d get upset and start to cry, and he’d get even angrier. I asked him one time, “Why are you always mad and I’m always sad?” His face turned furious.
To him, a woman’s tears were always fake. Women cried to manipulate men. They exaggerated their feelings to make men feel bad.
It was only much, much later that I learned the origin of this belief…
A belief that prevented him from being able to empathize.
A belief that told him the appropriate course of action was to attack.
Biased Against Emotions
Why are we women so good at supporting other people’s emotions?
Because we’re trained from a young age to notice feelings in ourselves and other people.
We’re given language for those feelings. We’re rewarded with closeness and connection when we express our emotions.
Many boys receive the opposite education.
They’re discouraged from knowing or talking about their feelings.
They learn that “real men” don’t show emotion. Emotions are a weakness. If a boy cries, he deserves to be called a wimp. Real men are rational and in control of themselves at all times.
As they grow up, these boys learn to make fun of displays of emotions in others. They scoff at vulnerability. They mock tears. They bond with other guys by putting people down.
Unfortunately, these very same young men then want to get into relationships…
And girls are all about feelings.
Girls even want them to show their feelings and talk about their feelings.
But many of these guys have cut themselves off from that soft, squishy stuff. So what do they do?
They act romantic. They say what they know she wants them to say.
If that doesn’t match up with how they actually feel inside, well, she’ll never know.
But Men Are From Mars, Aren’t They?
Some experts say that this is just how men are.
Men aren’t comfortable with displays of emotion.
Men don’t like talking about their feelings.
But that isn’t, in fact, “how men are.”
It’s what some men have been become.
And those men can always become healthier, happier, and more emotionally self-aware.
Research shows that little boys are just as emotional and affectionate as little girls.
The capacity to feel emotion is innate. We all have the same circuitry. That circuitry is there for good reason. It evolved to drive our behavior.
Emotions teach us what to pay attention to. Emotions teach us what to stay away from. Emotions energize and motivate us. Emotions help us survive.
Men need emotions just as much as women do. Feelings like joy, pleasure, and contentment make life worth living.
Unfortunately, you can’t selectively choose to feel pleasant emotions and exclude the uncomfortable ones.
Either you’re aware of your emotional life, or you’ve shut that awareness down.
For some men, shutting down their emotional life helped them survive a difficult childhood.
(Watch this fantastic interview with therapist Rebecca Chapman on the impact of childhood emotional neglect.)
But it’s not serving them anymore.
They have a limited emotional range. They can feel anger. They can feel frustration. But they can’t access the complex feelings beneath, like disappointment, grief, or anxiety.
And the women in their lives want to know about what’s going on underneath. They want to understand.
But all they’re getting is his anger, and that anger feels like an unprovoked attack.
An Easy Target
Anger is a man’s “default emotion” when he’s unable or unwilling to explore his discomfort.
Every time he feels negative physiological arousal, he tells himself he’s angry.
Any time he feels discomfort in his relationship, he doesn’t ask himself why. Instead, he jumps to the conclusion that something is making him angry.
Often that “something” is his partner’s emotions.
Female emotions are an easy target for men.
What’s wrong with the relationship? It’s her feelings.
She’s always having feelings. So many of them! Is that even possible?
When she’s sad or upset, he feels guilty. He “knows” he didn’t do anything wrong, but he still feels responsible for her pain. Her pain makes him look bad.
So what does he do?
He falls back on the same prejudice against emotions he’s been indoctrinated in since childhood.
What a joke. She’s making it all up. She’s making a mountain out of a molehill. She’s embarrassing herself. She needs to get control of herself.
He’s sick of her dramatics. He’s not going to tolerate it any longer.
He lashes out, goes cold, walks away.
She’s left sobbing, sick at heart, feeling the shame of being absolutely alone.
What can she do?
Step 1. Define the Problem
It’s one thing if you’re with a man who doesn’t know how to support you emotionally. That can be learned.
It’s quite another if you’re with a man who feels that he has a right to lash out at you.
If he shames you for your feelings, if he considers himself superior because of his stone-cold self-control, if love is too squishy for a man of his caliber…
Then think about how those power dynamics are playing out in your relationship.
Are you okay being the woman he says you are?
Or do you know that your big heart—a heart that feels so intensely—is one of the best parts about you?
Step 2. Get Help
There’s only one school of therapy I recommend when you’re in this kind of relationship.
Relational Life Therapy, founded by Terry Real, tackles the problem of male grandiosity and emotional shut-down head on.
Relational Life therapists aren’t neutral. They take sides.
They always take the side of the disempowered partner. As Dr. Real explains, they “invite the weak to rise and the mighty to melt.”
As much as you may want to fix this problem on your own, in practice that can be almost impossible.
The man who was always angry at me stayed angry at me.
Vulnerable emotions stopped having a place in our relationship. I couldn’t be safely vulnerable with him, because he’d respond with sarcasm. He wouldn’t be vulnerable with me, because that showed weakness.
Step 3. Choose Your Future
What convinced me to take a stand, in the end, was envisioning this man as a father.
If he felt that way about female emotions, how would he deal with a daughter?
What if she was upset and crying? Would he tell her she was overreacting? Would he leave her to cry herself out and deal with her later when she was in a more reasonable frame of mind?
Men need emotional intelligence to be good husbands, good fathers, and good employees/employers.
Understanding emotions makes them more level-headed and less reactive.
Is your guy open to the challenge?