Not knowing what to say in relationships

A common issue I hear in my client work with men is an expression of confusion, or a state of overwhelm in knowing how to act, or respond, within their relationships. This may be in relation to conflict or difficult scenarios or around establishing and maintaining emotional intimacy, connection and closeness.

Have you recently felt completely stuck, lost for words, or panicked in the immediate moment when someone close to you needs something emotional from you? Do you at times feel unable to act on your feelings or engage emotionally with close ones?

If you think about yourself within your relationships, at work or home, I wonder if any of this resonates with you:

  • You have found yourself feeling increasingly unable to cope
  • Your mood can swing with outbursts of anger
  • You can withdraw becoming a passive participant, or helpless observer, in social situations
  • When you feel a pressure to respond from others, you can behave more extremely than you would have liked to
  • When asked for your input or involvement you can freeze up and shut down
  • In general you feel more anxious than before
  • You have felt more closed and less open to spontaneous fun or intimate moments
  • Your sex life has reduced
  • You often go over recent situations imagining what you should have said or done and berate yourself for your imagined failings this can leave you feeling anger, guilt, lonely or sad
  • You come away from situations feeling misunderstood, not heard or taken account of which can leave you feeling bitter
  • Your stress and repetitive ruminations on previous scenarios, or upcoming issues or concerns, has started to affect your sleep
  • You are not spending as much quality time with family, friends or your closest ones as you used to
  • You don’t seem able to relax and enjoy social activities, or your usual hobbies or interests as much as you used to
  • You often find excuses, or reasons, to not take part in social activities

If some of this resonates with you, don’t feel alone. Many people express similar thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Not knowing or feeling able to appropriately respond to difficulty can create internal turmoil and a dialogue of criticism and negativity. Whether it be managing conflict or asserting authority at work, coping with the varied demands of fatherhood, maintaining intimacy and closeness with your partner, or wife or ‘keeping up’ with friends and colleagues. Things can often feel too much.

In my understanding the underlying issue can be an internal sense of confusion, or conflict around what role you feel you are in. What hat you feel you are being made, or expected, to wear in order to manage this situation. For example, when your partner comes to you with an issue at home, or with the children, are you dealing with this as their husband, lover, as their equal or as a father?

Influence of society on ‘traditional’ roles

We can agree that distinctions around gender and male and female roles do exist in most cultures. Family, peer groups, schools and other institutions treat male and female children differently. This leads male and female children to adopt ‘traditional’ behaviours and roles reinforcing existing social ideas around masculinity and femininity.

Some of the more ‘traditional’ tendencies in boys can include a lack of expression of emotion ‘big boys don’t cry’. Boys can be expected to express themselves in more physical ways, through sport or more aggressive acting out behaviours. This can all lead boys as they grow up to find it increasingly difficult to admit vulnerability or seek help when emotionally upset.

Many men can feel that the ‘traditional’ man of the household has to be the breadwinner, the fixer, the go to guy for solutions and fixes to any problem. Men have often told me how they naturally think back to their father, grandfather or another male role model in their life and imagine how they might have handled the issue at hand.

A changing modern world

However the pressures, expectations and demands placed on a man within our modern culture and society have moved along rapidly even in one generation. This can leave a man in a state of overwhelm as the things we learnt from our fathers about being men often don’t work for us today. There can be a real state of confusion around what is expected of them in any particular aspect, or assumed role, in their life. Whether it is an employee, employer, father, husband, lover or friend.

Its not surprising this confusion and state of overwhelm abounds as many men express their internal confusion around the various roles they feel drawn to occupy in their life and what it means to them.

For example take being a husband, or in a long-term relationship for example; men talk about their confusion or state of overwhelm around their idea of how they feel they should act and behave at home. This idea is influenced by what a man feels to be the expectations of their wife (or partner), children, his parents and siblings, close friends and society.

Within our wider culture and society there now exists a wide variety of conflicting advertising, social media and cultural depictions of men and masculinity. This can range from the ‘traditional’ role of the breadwinner and reliable authority figure to an emotionally attuned and sensitive family orientated care-giver and partner with celebrity culture adding further influences of maleness and masculinity.

In thinking of his partner, the expectations he feels from her may also fluctuate and change from feeling she wants him to assert his authority, to being more playful and emotionally intimate. Sometimes he finds himself in a situation where he is expected to demonstrate traditional masculine traits whilst simultaneously being soft and emotional. Such as asserting authority at home and managing situations whilst also understanding and responding to the emotional needs of all those involved.

My process

It can feel like there are so many expectations coming at him from outside, within the immediacy of a personal situation, that a man can lose any connection to how he himself truly feels at that moment.

All of this can get in the way of being able to be present and in touch with yourself. This can really impact on your ability to enjoy and take pleasure in your relationships as you would like to.

A main part of therapy can be to enable a man to separate out the unreasonable expectations or demands he feels he should be acting on. This is not a simple process as its multi-layered and there can be many different conflicting internal ideas, thoughts and expectations. However once this is more clearly seen you can develop your awareness of how you would like to be in your relationships. Or what you really feel about yourself within them. This can free you up from the restrictions of having to respond according to a particular ‘role’ and become more in touch with who you are and more freely able to honestly express yourself.

Therapy offers an opportunity to meet and discuss your concerns and relationship issues with a reliable, curious and non-judgemental person. In this reflective and experiential therapeutic relationship insight can emerge to enable personal growth, healing and change in your life and relationships.

Each person’s life experience is very different and we all relate to each other from this unique standpoint. However being able to pause and know how you feel in the moment can often feel difficult for many to achieve and to express. It can be helpful to become a little more mindful of your feelings and thoughts as they arise in the moment. This will enable you to begin to engage and respond within your relationships at a place of truth and clarity within yourself.

Mark Tonkinson



Category : Blog & CoupleStuff & Featured & Manhood & Men's Coaching and Counselling & Relationships & Stress Reduction

Comments are closed.