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Ken Solin

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How to Engage Men in Emotional Dialogue

Posted: 10/04/11 11:51 AM ET

You would like your Boomer husband or boyfriend to open up more and talk about his emotions. He's probably aware of his feelings; he just hasn't said them out loud very often. He may be fearful about getting into this emotional dialogue arena with you because he knows you're far more skilled. He needs to feel absolute trust with you before he attempts what he probably considers a death-defying act. Opening his heart with you may be a first for him in a relationship. His feeling safe is important. You already knew that an authentic relationship requires emotional dialogue, so your patience while he tries to speak from his heart is critical towards achieving this goal.

He's likely going to have to overcome lifelong, negative feelings that trace back to his boyhood. His lesson was simple; acting like a man meant never showing or talking about physical or emotional pain. Need proof regarding how difficult talking about feelings is for men? Ask any ten men how they feel about something, and nine will respond by telling you what they think, instead. Getting him to engage in this conversation with you is a high bar for him to hurdle. His senses of safety and trust are tantamount for his success.

The point you want to share is that he can only get what he wants or needs from you if he knows how to ask for it, based on his feelings. If you and your partner follow these simple guidelines, you can deepen the intimacy in your relationship, and move it to the next level. While helping him in this endeavor isn't your responsibility, your relationship will benefit exponentially, so consider helping him as an act of love instead of a thankless task.

1. Explain to your partner that you're willing to abide by specific conditions if he's willing to share what's in his heart. Assure him in no uncertain terms that he won't receive any judgment, opinions, or criticism from you when he's finished, because you recognize that his feelings, like yours, are his absolute truth. Everything spoken from his heart is his truth, and as such, is not open for debate. Alternatively, his thoughts are simply his opinions, and are always open for debate. It may take a while before he's able to separate the two and handle each as different entities.

2. Suggest that he take a few moments before speaking to connect with how he's feeling, in his body. Is he anxious or nervous? Let him know that you'll wait while those feelings dissipate before he shares, and that pausing might help him to more easily convey the appropriate emotions. It's important that you wait until he's completely finished sharing his feelings with you before responding. He may stumble a bit and need your patience while he tries to make his point. Feeling that he has control of his end of the emotional dialogue will afford him a sense of autonomy.

3. Remember, the point of asking him to share his feelings with you wasn't to please you, but rather, to have him speak from his heart to you, without fear. You wanted to discover how he feels about you and your relationship, and now he's told you. Whatever follows, he's learned a critical relationship communication skill, and you've gotten a better sense of what direction your relationship is headed. That's invaluable information towards building a better working relationship. He's your equal partner now in an arena few men dare enter with a woman. Thanking him for what was probably a Herculean effort, will encourage additional emotional dialogue in the future. This is a win/win, by anyone's standards.