Men and women share the same desire for connection physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Would you agree?
However, in defining their own masculinity some men can, over their lifetime, lose emotional connection with themselves and others.
Men’s role models
Men’s relationships with other male role models, particularly their own fathers, tends to shape their experience of male intimacy.
I meet many men who describe really limited interactions with their father as children and as adults. Their father may have shown little interest in playing with them, or if they did were too aggressive and overly competitive. Their fathers rarely demonstrated or talked about their feelings.
When there is a scarcity of emotional connection between father and son it can leave boys:
- Feeling rejected, unimportant, and unwanted.
- Expecting that others will not want to be with them.
- Giving up seeking connection and eventually deny their need for connection completely.
When boys/men shut off or shut down their emotions this can lead to great resentment towards their intimate partner. This can manifest itself as open aggression or anger.
Boys can grow into men and learn to cope with their needs for emotional connection defensively and often develop a clumsy, awkward pattern of relating to closeness or intimacy.
In this limited way, it’s also common for young adult boys and men to see intimacy first and foremost as a physical priority.
The way forward – Defining intimacy
Men commonly see intimacy from their physical needs. Women often see intimacy from their emotional and physical needs.
This classic relationship juxtaposition naturally leads to some confusion and sadly leads to significant unmet needs over time. I do like the word ‘juxtaposition’ I don’t use it often enough!
Finding new comfort in expressing emotional needs with their partner forms a significant foundation of change for some men.
In The Dance of Intimacy, Harriet Goldhors provides a useful starting point in defining intimacy.
‘ …intimacy means that we can be who we are in a relationship, and allow the other person to do the same. An intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way’
Reacting negatively to vulnerable feelings creates conflict within individual partners, particularly men.
It creates distance and conflict because this reaction usually taps into thoughts and feelings of rejection, abandonment and dismissal of the very thing we all need when we struggle. Love, care and attention.
It’s all in the mind
Being who we are and allowing the other to do the same is indeed a state of mind not merely a physical action. It means allowing for our partner’s and our own imperfections to be present.
Physical affection and sexuality are important aspects of intimacy, however, without emotional expression of vulnerability, committed relationships can feel remote and grow apart.
Being close to someone will require the strength to give air time to our vulnerabilities.
The couples’ catch cry
In my conversations with couples, the dilemma facing both partners tends to focus on the difficulty to communicate when either one or both are distressed or stressed.
It’s the struggle to see vulnerability as an acceptable act of intimacy that is often one of the missing pieces of the relationship puzzle.
I believe as men, our view of our vulnerability needs some radical acceptance and value.