Men and women love to complain about each other (in case you haven’t noticed). I work with a lot of men, and on the surface, their relationship issues seem to be an endless list of gripes and complaints about their women.
She’s always complaining, criticizing or nagging
She demands too much from me
She’s too emotional
She’s always changing her mind
She wants to control and change me
However, when you look a little closer you’ll notice that these complaints have a theme. A theme that says:
Women are too much.
Her frustration is too much. Her desires are too much. Her shame is too much. Her anger is too much. Her pain is too much.
This feedback encourages women to hide and repress their emotions, and in the process, they become someone they think men want them to be. This results in two people hiding within themselves and silently blaming each other for it.
What men are really complaining about are her emotions, because it’s really women’s emotions that are deemed “too much.” Most women learned to express their emotions with fewer controls and filters than men were taught. This is because these emotions came with different labels for women than for men. When growing up the emotions encouraged for girls were shamed for boys.
Studies have shown that up until the age of 4, boys and girls express emotions to a similar extent. Then, something happens after this age when boys start to change. They learn to withhold emotions and repress their true feelings based on the lessons they are taught, as they’re told: Don’t look sad, don’t cry, don’t be scared.
The repression of feelings acts like a pressure cooker whereby the emotions build and build with no healthy release valve. This leads men to either repress their emotions still further, which leads to passive aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, stress or they burst and instead express the one emotion that is acceptable, anger.
Boys become uncomfortable expressing all of their own emotions and because of this they also struggle to deal with the fullness of emotional expression in other people too. It’s hard to embrace something in another that we repress so much in ourselves. This is because when one person expresses a strong emotion it creates an emotional response in the other. If you aren’t comfortable expressing emotions then you aren’t going to like being put in a position where strong emotions are presented because of how uncomfortable they’ll make you feel.
Emotion = Energy
When women are in the flow and expressing their emotions, it is actually a powerful gift for men to receive. Especially if the majority of these emotions are ones that men have learned to repress. For those who are connected to their emotions and their body, feelings that flow through you will feel totally normal. But for someone who feels more connected to reason, logic and living inside their head, this will feel like armageddon has just descended.
When men experience strong emotions they revert to the childhood habits they learned in order to deal with difficult and powerful emotions. They either complain, run away, get angry or try and fix the problem that’s causing the emotional response. That’s because in all of these examples the woman’s emotions go away and he doesn’t have to deal with them anymore.
One useful framework to apply here to understand this is the masculine and feminine poles of relationship. In this framework, the feminine pole desires emotions, energy, and connection, whereas the masculine pole desires calmness, freedom, and completion. The feminine in you uses emotions to create the connection but the masculine wants it all to end so he can be still and rest. I want to stress these poles are not of men and women but masculine and feminine. Both poles are present in men and women but to different extents depending on the individual.
This is why men who identify more with the masculine pole will try and fix emotional problems in relationships or run away from them because this is how they reach the calmness, freedom, and completion they desire. They can’t control women’s emotional expression so they try and make it stop in whatever way they can because sitting in the difficult emotions and holding their partner in whatever they are experiencing is so difficult. Once men learn to be comfortable with the fullness of their own emotions they can then best hold their partner in their emotions.
Men complain about this the most, but here are two things you can do today to help with this:
1. Both of you can learn to embrace his emotions
In the martial art Aikido when someone pushes you, you pull them. When someone pulls you, you push them. You embrace and move with what comes instead of resisting and working against it.
You can use a similar approach in relationships because when you embrace each other’s emotions you are validating and accepting each other for who you are. This involves accepting and validating men for NOT showing emotion as well as for those emotions they do express. It’s in the space of acceptance and validation this creates that men feel more able to develop trust and open up.
It can be uncomfortable to embrace anything we deny in ourselves. The more we can embrace emotions the more we can learn to accept and embrace them in others. Many women say they want a man who is comfortable with emotions and is vulnerable enough to share them, but when he starts getting emotional what do you do? Do you embrace his emotions or do you secretly judge him for it? One of the reasons men withhold their true emotions in relationships is they fear being judged and shamed by their women for being so vulnerable.
Emotions are part of the feminine pole of our relationships. This fullness of feeling can feel scary and uncomfortable for many men because it feels so alien to them. The more you validate and accept men for their feelings, the more safety and trust will be developed for them to go deeper. That is what will take your relationship to a whole new level.
2. Set boundaries so you don’t take responsibility for each other’s emotions
Things get messy in relationships, and it can be hard to know what is yours and what is not. Our boundaries become weak and we take on other peoples stuff as if our own. To be clear, boundaries are your ability to understand, communicate and make a stand for how you want to be treated in your relationships. They help you to know where you end and someone else begins. They are incredibly important to ensure you both take responsibility for your experience.
Failure to have robust boundaries looks like:
- I’m responsible for how my partner feels
- I can’t be fully honest with my partner
- I need my partner to make me happy
- I feel persistent resentments towards my partner
- I need to anticipate my partner’s needs
- I never say ‘no’ to my partner or share my needs
- I don’t feel as if my partner respects me
In a relationship with anyone, there is 200% responsibility and it’s important that this is split equally between both people. The problem is when someone takes on too much (ie the co-dependent) or too little of the responsibility (ie the victim). Creating boundaries in a relationship helps you to ensure that both of you take 100% of what’s yours and no more.
When someone reacts a certain way, our ego loves to make it about us. Having boundaries helps us to notice the tendency we have to react in this way, and in that moment of awareness, we have more of a choice of how we want to respond.
Boundaries are huge in relationships because they say ‘if you want to be with me, this is how I want to be treated’ and that is something every man and woman needs.