Why men don’t share feelings (part 2)

  • Author’s note: This is the second in a series of blog posts on the inner lives of men. The following is adapted from my newest book, What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You.


    Angry WomanIn my previous post, I explained the many ways society forces men to remain silent about their true feelings. But here’s the shocking truth: wives silence their husbands as well.

    Most men do not tell their wives what they really feel because if they did, their wives would punish them for it. When men tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, their wives often become upset. Very upset.

    I’ve spoken to lots of men who decided early in their marriages to open up and speak the absolute truth. And their wives freaked out, withdrew, cried, threw tantrums and plugged their ears. These men learned very quickly that their wives didn’t want to hear the truth – and that the key to marital bliss was to carefully manage what they did and didn’t tell their beloveds.

    Men, imagine what might happen if you told your wife one of the following:

    • I disapprove of one of your friends
    • I’m thinking of quitting my steady job to open a restaurant
    • I’m unhappy in our church
    • I think you should dress differently
    • I want to be faithful, but I’m being tempted by another woman
    • I feel unsupported by you
    • I think you’re wearing too much makeup
    • I’m feeling a little bored by our sex life and I’d like to try some new things
    • There won’t be enough money for the vacation you’ve been planning
    • I want to buy a boat
    • I wish you’d lose weight
    • I feel you’re spending too much money
    • I’m struggling with pornography and I need your help and prayers

    Honestly, what would happen if you said these kinds of things to your wife? Would she remain calm? (maybe) Would she smile at you and thank you for being honest? (not likely) Would she haul you into the bedroom and make love to you? (not for at least a week)

    Most wives would descend into a funk upon hearing these kinds things. Many would blame themselves – “I’ve failed him again.” Some would cover their ears and go running from the room. Some would curse or even assault their husbands (it’s more common than you think).

    So what’s a man thinking after his wife reacts this way to his truth-telling? “I’ve made a colossal mistake. I told her how I really feel and she’s angry. So I’m never going to do that again. Instead I’m going to carefully manage what I say and what I don’t say. And I’m going to keep the deeply personal stuff locked inside.”

    Congratulations, women. You’ve just trained your husbands to keep secrets from you.

    Imagine you’re housebreaking a puppy. Every time he soils the rug he gets a swat. But if he does his business outside you lavish rewards on him. Eventually the puppy does what he’s trained to do—not because he wants to, but because it’s the only way to avoid punishment.

    Now, imagine you’re training a husband. Every time he tells you the absolute truth he gets a swat. But when he conceals his true feelings, you lavish rewards on him. Eventually he begins carefully managing what he tells you—not because he wants to, but because it’s the only way to avoid punishment.

    If you penalize your man each time he reveals his true feelings, here’s the message you are sending: “If you want your life to be hell, tell me the truth. But if you want things to go smoothly, lie to me.  Tell me only those things that won’t upset me.”

    Don’t misunderstand: I am not blaming women for every communication glitch in marriage. Husbands do the same things to wives. I know women who can’t tell their husbands the truth because they’re afraid their men will explode. Women suffer too. I get it.

    I’m simply asking women to open their eyes to the possibility that they are contributing to their husbands’ silence. And I’m asking men to be more courageous in telling their wives the truth – no matter the cost.

    Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

    A few years ago my wife and I entered an intense period of counseling to deal with this issue. I was deeply frustrated because she would not hear my true feelings on a number of issues. Whenever I brought them up, she instantly shut me down. Wouldn’t listen. Accused me of being controlling, suspicious or ungodly for even thinking such things.

    But now she’s learned to listen to what I have to say – no matter what it is. No topic is off limits. Instead of carefully managing what we say to one another, we simply speak it out. Our marriage has never been stronger. The truth has made us free.

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    February 13th, 2013 | David Murrow | 13 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.hunt.96 Jason Hunt

    I suppose a reasonable question is: Do women REALLY want honesty? As in, is it first and foremost? Or is the desire for safety so strong that they don’t want to have to deal with a potentially uncomfortable opinion, particularly from their husbands. Not that they CAN’T handle it, but just don’t WANT to.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    I think women want security first – at least most women do. They want to feel loved and cherished. It’s like the old Fleetwood Mac song, “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”

  • joel

    I think most women, and too many men, would rather hear a lie that makes them feel good rather than truth that makes them feel bad. Not just in marriage/relationships either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sprecie Sam Precie

    For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16.
    The world seeks comfort and security in that which is seen, but if Jesus is Lord wouldn’t men and woman be willing to live in the Truth and vulnerability that comes with dependence on God alone? As a divorced man and father of three girls I want to demonstrate what it means to feel deeply and fully about myself and people around me and I can’t do that without being vulnerable. Vulnerable means to risk rejection, risk real or perceived safety, and to risk the outcome and to do so we discover the Truth – God will never leave us or forsake us, we can find grace and mercy in time of need, and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. Vulnerability and Truth will lead us to a place where our actions will glorify God and I believe that every person is naturally attracted to glorifying God if they can get beyond being afraid of it.

  • Salmon Diego

    I showed these two articles to my wife and she could not make the connection between the info in part-1 and the info in part-2. Instead, she got a little defense. “Telling me I wear too much makeup or that I’m fat aren’t emotional items” was her reaction.

    My reaction was: “I’ve made a colossal mistake. I told her how I really feel and she’s angry. So I’m never going to do that again. Instead I’m going to carefully manage what I say and what I don’t say. And I’m going to keep the deeply personal stuff locked inside.”

    While this article rings true for me, I’m not sure it rings true for women (who are, after all, the target audience for the part-2 article).

  • pete

    I’ve told my wife almost all of those things and not only does it not cause a blow-up, sex is multiple times a week.

    When I look at the list it seems to me the issue isn’t one of communication but of headship. I am very much the head of my household yet in most marriages that is not true. Of course she doesn’t want to be challenged or told what to do when she’s ruling the roost.

    So men, does your wife control you through emotional outbursts or are you man enough to be a rock she can cling to, unmoved by her transient emotional whims?

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Yowza! Truth is a powerful aphrodisiac.

  • Emily Wierenga

    Wow David, I am guilty of silencing my husband… you’re right. We take these things personally instead of remembering that our husbands love us and they’re expressing themselves out of that love. I would like to invite you to guest post at my place sometime in August if you’re up to it? Message me on FB and let me know if you’re up to that. So appreciate what you’re doing. Not sure if you saw my controversial post on servanthood/submission that ran on Prodigal this spring? Here is the link: http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/the-lost-art-of-servant-hood-a-letter-to-my-feminist-sisters/. God has been teaching me so much about my relationship with him/men, thanks in part to our own Michelle Watson! Here is another post I wrote recently as a letter to my sons about gender roles: http://www.emilywierenga.com/2013/06/to-my-sons-on-gender-roles-and-what-it.html. Bless you David. e.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Thanks Emily, I’ll be touch. Keep up the good writing.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Good for you, Jane. Not all men would get this sort of reception from their beloveds.

  • Jane Williams

    Reading through other responses here, it probably helps that I have more than enough self-confidence that I don’t need to cling to him as a source of stabiility or security, any more than he needs to cling to me like that. Sure, we can, and it’s pleasant, but we support each other as needed, and can both stand alone when required.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Marriages are not treated with the respect that the legal forming of partnerships require. It is no wonder that the magical thinking that goes into religion and romance soon runs upon the rocks. Marriage is a business and should not be able to be civilly sanctioned by clergy. Only the religious aspects of marriage (domestic unions) should be handled be clergy.

    As long as both partners bring equal skills and take equal responsibility for all that happens within their partnership, nothing should be off base for discussion. Religions, for too many years, have promoted marriage as eternal childhood for women and false power bases for men.

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Thanks for your wildly off-topic response. I’ll let it through to see if we have any other opinions about marriage…