It's no secret that women get frustrated when men won't get emotional. You know, the old:
"My boyfriend has such a guard up."
"My husband refuses to talk about his feelings."
"Why won't he talk to me? Doesn't he feel safe?"
It must be a front to protect his masculinity, some speculate. He doesn't want to look weak.
But, new research from the University of Missouri says this is not the case. Men don't need to feel safe to talk; they don't find talking to be a "particularly useful activity," under any circumstances at all. And while a man's unwillingness to talk can be frustrating to chatty women, it seems the gender difference in how we address problems starts during childhood.
Four different studies, involving nearly 2,000 kids and teens, found that boys and men believe that when it comes to their issues: talking is not a solution.
According to the MU News Bureau Amanda J. Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri and her colleagues found that:
Girls had positive expectations for how talking about problems would make them feel, such as expecting to feel cared for, understood and less alone. On the other hand, boys did not endorse some negative expectations more than girls, such as expecting to feel embarrassed, worried about being teased, or bad about not taking care of the problems themselves. Instead, boys reported that talking about problems would make them feel “weird” and like they were “wasting time.”
Rose points out that although it's important to explain to boys that talking about issues can be helpful, "parents also should realize that they may be ‘barking up the wrong tree’ if they think that making boys feel safer will make them confide."
To the other extreme, the study also found that, "Many girls are at risk for excessive problem talk, which is linked with depression and anxiety."
The takeaway for parents: Encourage boys to realize that sometimes talking is helpful and remind girls not to dwell obsessively over their problems.
The paper, “How Girls and Boys Expect Disclosure About Problems Will Make Them Feel: Implications for Friendships,” will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Child Development. The study was funded by the National Institute for Mental Health and was co-authored by current and former MU psychology graduate students Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, Rhiannon Smith, Lance Swenson, Wendy Carlson, and Erika Waller and Rose’s colleague Steven Asher.