You just had the worst day.
You can’t wait to get home. To sit down, decompress, and tell your guy what happened. To bask in his sympathy. To be taken care of.
You unlock the front door. Gratefully, you see he’s home. Your knight in shining armor. Watching television, doing nothing, with all the time in the world for you.
You rush into his arms. “I need a hug,” you say. He makes room for you on the sofa.
You begin your story. “You won’t believe what happened to me today….”
A few minutes later, you notice his gaze has strayed back to the television.
“Hey!” You grab the remote and press the mute button. “I need your attention here. I just had a major crisis. I need some support.”
He rolls his eyes. He’s got that look on his face.
You burst into tears.
For most women, it’s a privilege to be someone else’s emotional support.
Sharing our struggles brings us closer together. Empathy, compassion, and active listening are the hallmark of good friendships.
With men, it’s another story.
For them, going out with friends is a way to get a break from their problems. They’ll deal with stuff on their own before saddling friends with all the gory details. Even the sensitive modern male treads a fine line between getting his friends’ opinions and too much information.
So, when a guy and a girl fall in love, and she eagerly reaches out for the kind of emotional support she’s used to, he’s helpless. He has no idea what to do. Pat her on the back and suggest a drink?
Masculinity expert David Deida argues that the real test of a man’s courage is how well he deals with his partner’s moods. A woman’s emotions are like the weather, he says, sunny one minute and stormy the next. A man must learn to ride them out, like a ship rides the sea.
That analogy can help us see why so many men fumble right when we need them most.
You come home from work. Your mood has whipped up a tempest. You’re like the sea, crashing and wild, lit up with lightning bolts.
He’s the captain of a ship that just a minute ago was sailing gently on blue seas. He’s freaking out, certain his ship is going to capsize, trying to get you to calm you down and be reasonable. He doesn’t realize that the fastest way to ride out a storm is to let the winds blow their course.
Intense female emotions make many guys panic.
Their brain switches into problem-solving mode, in the hope that a logical solution will satisfy all parties. If that doesn’t work, they search for the nearest exit. Maybe she just needs some space.
You don’t want to be alone right now. You don’t need your problems fixed, either. You just need some support. You need him to listen, wrap his arm around you, and offer you a Kleenex. Is that so hard?
Some men decide they can’t handle it. Too many storms. Too dangerous. They don’t have the stomach for all that female emotion. They end their relationships and go back to being bachelors.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Dealing with each other’s emotions is one of the biggest challenges of relationships.
And it’s not just your emotions. It’s his, too.
Everyone has bad days. Everyone experiences strong feelings. It’s just that we all deal with our feelings in different ways.
Some men keep their feelings inside. “Nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine.” You only realize something is up when you see the empty whisky bottle in the recycling the next morning.
Similarly, some women try to keep a lid on their emotions. They paste on a cheery face and grow increasingly numb inside. One day, they’re taking out the trash when suddenly it hits them. The tears start and don’t stop.
Other men dump their negative emotions on their family by picking fights. If he’s not happy, then no one is going to be happy. Asserting his control makes him feel better—at least, temporarily.
Some women do the same. They channel their pain into ordering their family around, finding fault, and expressing bursts of rage over trivial things. Tears are weakness, but anger is power.
Still other women become drama queens, thriving on the attention their problems give them. They find ways to make every day a crisis. They hold their friends hostage for sympathy.
All these emotional strategies fail for the same reason:
You can’t fix your negative feelings by making someone else responsible for them (or denying they exist).
If you try to give your emotions to another person, you’re emotionally dumping.
You’re giving them your garbage. You’re trying to feel relief by transferring your yucky stuff onto someone else, and it doesn’t work.
No one else is the caretaker of your moods. No one else is responsible for making you feel better when you feel bad.
You’re 100% responsible for your feelings and what you do with them.
So take a deep breath and take ownership of your feelings before talking to someone else. Get clear in your mind how you want them to help you. You may even want to explain that you don’t need them to do anything; you’d just like a sounding board.
It’s wonderful when we ask for and get support in working through our feelings. But sometimes our partners and friends aren’t up to the task. Luckily, there are tons of trained professionals who know exactly how to help. In the 21st century, everyone should have a therapist on speed dial.
It’s really tough when you have an immediate need for emotional support, and the man you love is useless.
But what you do next is up to you … not him.
Do you work with him, training him in how to support you better?
Do you take a few minutes to meditate in the car, so you’re calmer by the time you come home?
Do you pick up your phone and call a girlfriend, relying on her to tell you exactly what you need to hear to feel better?
Or do you end the relationship, concluding he won’t ever be able to meet your emotional needs?
It can take a lifetime to learn how to be your own best emotional support, giving yourself exactly what you need to get through rough spots, but it’s worth it.
You’re the only one who’ll never let yourself down.