RELATIONSHIP ADVICE Why You Don’t Need to Get Better at Expressing Your Emotions
Here’s a multiple choice personality quiz for you: Tonight, you can either be punched in the face by a random stranger. Or, you can have an emotional discussion about your feelings with your wife or girlfriend, which ends with you both having a good, long cry.
We’ll take a lucky guess here and say you probably picked the face-punching option, right?
Sure, you might end up with a broken nose, but at least you won’t have to field any questions like “When was the last time you told your father you loved him?”
But if talking about our feelings are so important to women, well . . . maybe we should try harder?
It’s this question that made us reach out to Michael and Sarah Bennett, the father and daughter authors of the new book with the best title in the history of published literature, F*ck Feelings.
Michael is a board-certified psychiatrist, who's been treating patients at his own private practice in Boston for almost thirty years. Sarah, his daughter, is a writer and comedian, and an alumni of the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York.
Would they have answers to this relationship conundrum? We weren’t sure. But there was something about them that made us hopeful; particularly the way they combined the words "fuck" and "feelings," which really spoke to us.
Men’s Health: You’ve compared sharing feelings with letting out a fart. It may feel kind of nice, but you’ve essentially poisoned the room. Does that apply to all feelings?
Sarah Bennett: Not feelings in general, no. But certainly with things like couples’ therapy.
MH: You shouldn’t tell your wife or girlfriend about your feelings?
SB: Telling someone how you really feel has that quality to it, where it feels like a relief. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, thank god I finally let that out and let them know.’ But it can have a toxic effect that probably isn't worth the catharsis. It can be hurtful.
MB: We think that the idea of releasing your feelings is oversold as something that's going to solve your problems or make you feel better. Oftentimes, when you share certain feelings, you can make things worse.
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MH: But when you don’t talk about feelings, you can get criticized for being closed off and unemotional.
MB: Well, there are other things that are more important. Your values. Your contributions.
Some guys don’t express feelings well through words, but they express them through actions. They show up. They take responsibility. Their way of expressing feelings and showing love is to ask you how your roof is doing, or how your septic system is working.
MH: When my in-laws show up, the first thing my mother-in-law does is hug and kiss everybody and tell them how much she loves them and missed them, and the first thing my father-in-law does is change all the lightbulbs and make sure we have enough batteries.
MB: See, that’s exactly it. That’s how men show their feelings. Women may sometimes believe that feelings should be expressed with words. It’s certainly more satisfying to them, and frustrating when they don’t get it.
MH: So what’s the solution?
MB: We urge women to look at the big picture. It can be frustrating if your guy doesn't express feelings in a way that’s familiar to you. So we tell them to look at the actions that have to do with commitment, caring, and contributing.
MH: What if we don’t have a psychologist at our disposal to explain that to her? Do we just need to come out and say, “Lightbulbs are an affection metaphor?”
MB: Declaring that each changed light bulb or unclogged drain is a declaration of love isn’t a bad idea, as long as it’s delivered in a loving, joking, way.
Something like, “I would charge you for this, except I love you too much,” not, “Remember this the next time you want to jump on my ass for being uncaring just because I didn’t ask you if your sister had apologized yet for calling you judgmental.”
MH: But that doesn’t necessarily let us off the hook. If she starts talking to us about her feelings, and her feelings are all about how we’re not being more expressive with our feelings, and in our heads we’re like, ‘Somebody please shoot me so I can get out of this conversation,’ what are our options?
SB: You may want to try what we call Customer Service Mode. You listen to what they have to say, but when you hit a wall, you politely let them know that there’s nothing you can do for them. You’ve assessed their statement, you disagree, you think your behavior was appropriate, or your words were appropriate, and there’s nothing else to discuss.
MH: And that won’t end with a glass of wine thrown in your face?
SB: I don’t think so, no. If you react with anger, anger is a feeling that will just create more friction and prolong the argument.
But you want to get out of it. You don’t want to keep talking to someone who is being overly sensitive. It’s up to you to determine, “Was I being a jerk, or is this person just being very humorless and impossible?”
MH: And if they’re being humorless and impossible?
SB: Well, then customer service mode it is. Listen to them, let them know there’s nothing you can do, and eventually, as with most customer service people, they’ll still be angry but they’ll storm away and be angry somewhere else.
MB: The point is, if words aren't your “thing” for expressing feelings, don’t be ashamed of that. The problem in this equation isn’t really you. You may need a woman who isn’t too needy about words, who can appreciate the commitments and contributions you do make.
Related: What To Do When a Woman Doesn’t Like You
MH: So we should just dump her and find somebody else? Isn’t there a way to find a middle ground?
MB: There’s definitely a middle ground. But if you’ve tried repeatedly to fix things and it just isn’t enough, there’s a point where you need to be able to say, “I care, and I want you to feel I’ve shared my feelings with you, but there’s a limit to what I can do.”
MH: Basically, men need to pull a Popeye? Tell the women in their life, “I yam what I yam?”
MB: Exactly. Tell them, “It’s not like I can, or wish to, share more with someone else. I care about you, and show that as best I can, so it’s up to you to decide whether you can accept me or not.”
After that, don’t apologize or hold yourself responsible for not being able to meet her needs. Despite the old saying about love, it’s doing a careful assessment of your own abilities and performance that really means never having to say you’re sorry.