Why He Can’t Tell You How He Feels

terry parks

Terry L. Parks, Ed.D.

Valentine’s Day is near! In the next few days, women all over the world will be inundated with gifts of love and affirmation. Flowers, cards, poems and songs are sure to melt hearts, bring smiles, and tears of joy. Oh, the emotions! Over the years, men have expressed their feelings/emotions to women through many different mediums. Men have written poems: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.”

They have sent flowers, candy and cards and even written songs. In 1994, the R&B group H-Town came out with a hit song called “Emotions.” In the song, the hook stated that “emotions make you cry sometime, emotions make you smile sometime, but most of all they make you fall in love.” It was a nice cut. Three (men) singing about what emotions do. I am not sure if that is exactly what emotions do but I get it.

 Ladies, ever have a guy sing a song to you or recite the lyrics from a particular love song to you? Corny right? I’m guilty!

What’s fascinating about this is that most (men) have difficulty expressing emotions appropriately outside of a song or a Hallmark card. Rage and anger are easy but when it comes to love, affirmation, sadness or pain, it becomes somewhat difficult. Even Jay Z says, “I can’t see them (tears) coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the Song Cry.”

During my couples’ therapy sessions, women are always saying, “He won’t talk to me, he won’t tell me how he feels, I don’t know what he’s feeling; he doesn’t share. So, what is this strange male phenomena that seems to plague most men? What is it that makes men so unwilling or incapable to discuss their emotions/feelings verbally after February 14? What are emotions? What do they do? Why are they important? So many questions! To find the answers, we must first find out what emotions are.

Webster’s defines an emotion as a strong feeling such as love, anger, joy, hate or fear. So, why are emotions important?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) suggests that there are three reasons why emotions are important and why we should take charge of them. First, emotions communicate to ourselves information that something is happening (e.g. I feel very nervous asking her out on a date). Second, emotions communicate to and influence others (e.g. your sad facial expression may cause the other person to come close to you, ask if you are “OK,” and give you some support). Third, emotions prepare us for action (e.g. if you step off the sidewalk without looking and hear a horn, you automatically step back).

So we know what emotions are, what they do and why they are important. Sounds simple enough right? But, why can’t men share or express them appropriately?

Check out this statistic from Atlanta Black Star. “A staggering number of African-American children are raised in single parent homes, compared to the rest of America, and the rest of the world. A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 25.8 percent of American children are raised by a single parent, a number high above the 14.9 percent average seen in the other 26 countries surveyed. Among African-Americans the rate nearly tripled, with 72 percent of black children relying on a single parent.” The article focused mainly on African American males being raised by women only and that number is staggering.

So, since this is the case, picture this: a woman has a male child. For whatever reason, the father is not around. Now, she has to be mother and father. I ask in my classes all the time when we get to the chapter on Regulating Emotions, “How many of you grew up in a single parent (woman) household?”  Many hands go up. “How many of you have ever heard this by your mother, grandmother or woman that raised you:  you have to be a man, don’t cry; you’re a big boy and big boys don’t cry; if someone puts their hands on you, knock them out; don’t let anybody push you around; and finally, if you let someone beat you up, I am going to beat your butt for letting them beat you up!”

This same behavior is then reinforced by the peer group. “Man, you gonna cry? Man you acting like a girl/sissy; you alright man, walk it off.  Then, even girlfriends or other female friends contribute to the holding back of emotions. “You gonna cry because I don’t want to go out tonight? You acting like a woman; why you always complaining?”  Now you have grown into manhood, you bring a nice young lady home to meet your mother. Mom ask, “how you all doing?” “I don’t know, Mrs. Johnson.  He won’t talk to me. He won’t express his feelings. ” Then mama says, “Girl, you know how it is.  A man ain’t going to tell you how he feels!”

Well, wait a minute. If you consider that 72 percent of men grow up in single parent homes being raised by a woman or women, doesn’t that sort of explain where this behavior comes from?

Could it be that single moms in their quest to “raise a man” be a contributing factor?

Well no. I am quite sure there are other factors: trying to teach him to be a man, want him to be tough, he has to know how to treat a woman; he has to know how to take care of his family, so he can’t be soft. Boys are indoctrinated into “manhood” at a very young age. For whatever reasons, they are simply taught that withholding emotions is what men do.  If they do share, they are considered weak or soft.  I am not saying that this doesn’t go on in dual parent households, but there needs to be a balance in the message that is being sent to young men.

Sharing emotions is not a bad thing.  It’s needed; it’s healthy.  Men need to know this. They need to be told its ok to discuss how you feel, especially with your partner. Perhaps, the key is knowing when, what, how and with whom to share.

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Terry L. Parks, Ed.D.

Terry L. Parks, Ed.D., LPC, CFVIP brings over 25 years of experience in behavioral counseling, mental health treatment, and social services training. Dr. Parks works with clients to facilitate change through teaching effective skill building techniques to help regulate deficits in emotion regulation through individual, family and group counseling.

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