Clint Eastwood. John Wayne. Marlon Brando. James Dean. Symbols of the quintessential American Man, these men (and others like them) collectively portrayed hundreds of heros in movies over the past century. Strong, silent, not to be messed with; they were men of action, not words. They rarely showed strong emotions. They have been role models for men in modern America and beyond.
It turns out that they were protecting themselves from emotional upset to prevent physical disease. Not consciously, of course, but men have learned over the centuries to suppress strong emotion in order to keep themselves healthier.
Women need to understand this if they want to have satisfying long term relationships with men. We can't reasonably expect men to emote the way we do, or to respond the way we do to disharmony. I'm not letting men off the hook for being present in the relationship; I'll explain how they can stay present and protect themselves from the effects of emotions.
A report by Mark Tyrrell for the website Uncommon Knowledge (you can read it here) states that, while women have been considered the weaker sex, in some ways men are more vulnerable. At every stage of life, even in the womb, men die more than women. More miscarriages are male, more premature babies who die are male, and men are more susceptible to most diseases than women. Elderly men are more likely to die than elderly women soon after losing their partners.
One of the ways in which men are weaker than women is in their ability to withstand strong emotion. It's not just about how they're raised and conditioned; there are biological differences in how men and women respond to emotions. Men are wired to act when they experience emotion; women are wired to talk about it. For men, acting on a strong emotion often has consequences. The potential for violence is always present, so they have a shut off valve to prevent them from experiencing emotions as deeply as women feel them. This shut off valve prevents things like domestic violence and breaking household items. It also makes women think that men have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but I think if women understood how men process emotions, they'd be more sympathetic.
Men, when faced with strong emotions, go into problem-solving mode. Most men are internal processors, so they become quiet when they're in problem-solving mode. Women are the opposite: when faced with strong emotions, we want to talk about it. Most women are external processors; we want to lay everything out on the table and hash it out with words. That is a dangerous proposition for most men.
When men are exposed to strong emotions, their blood pressure increases. It takes longer for their blood pressure and immune system to return to normal than it does for women. In other words, men are actually more sensitive to emotions than women.
Men are more sensitive to emotions, and their instinct is to act rather than talk when faced with strong emotions. Women are more comfortable navigating emotions and we want to talk about them. Women also tend to be more emotionally intelligent than men (I know this is a generalization). That means that it's up to the woman in a relationship to sensitively manage the process of navigating emotional territory.
When faced with an emotionally charged situation, resist the urge to ask your silent man what he's thinking. He'll feel like he's being backed into a corner if you ask that; he'll either clam up further or respond violently (fight or flight syndrome). Give him time to cool off and calm down. Then ask what he'd like to do about the situation. Rather than tell him how you're feeling, tell him what you want to do about it.
Men can learn how to safely navigate strong emotions, but it takes time. It's not natural for them, and delving into emotional waters does have physical ramifications. Let him take it slowly. Think about letting him do it his own way. Just because he doesn't emote like you do doesn't mean he doesn't love you. Still waters run deep.