Ian here again. Firstly, thank you for your engagement in the first of this occasional series of posts. I loved seeing the discussion and responding to the comments that were made.
I hadn’t planned on writing another such post so soon but the universe conspired (ie the power of 3 made me sit up and take notice) to bring some thoughts to bear that I thought might serve as a useful discussion. Firstly, I was chatting with a couple of wise men last week and we were particularly discussing how men communicate. Secondly, we’re all aware of the #metoo dialogue that has had significant airplay over the past few months. I recently read a fascinating article written by a bloke who explored how this predatory side of men had evolved and finally, one of my favourite authors, Tim Winton (an Aussie National Treasure) released his latest novel that explores the “toxic state of masculinity”.
I’m going to try to stick to the topic of communication but there are so many contributing factors that play a part in impacting how we communicate (both men and women) that I may touch on some of them.
Who Made Us
I’ve always found it fascinating that we often generalize between genders by saying women are more naturally better communicators. And in my experience I’d say that is a reasonable truism. But what is interesting is we all have been made in the image of a very relational Triune God. It’s inherent in His nature. And we’ve been made in His image: a God who passionately loves to communicate with His creation. So why do so many men, well perhaps, more significantly women, struggle with how we blokes communicate?
When I was in my twenties and married, my common response to the question “How was your day, dear?” was typically single worded: “Okay,” “Fine” or “Good.”
I’d head off to change and after doing that would be back and was now home and it was time to talk about something else. Sound familiar?
It frustrated my wife no end.
I was reminded of this when one of those wise men expressed the view that often men appear a little “numb” when it comes to expressing how they feel. And this drives our ladies crazy, as you want to get inside and understand the how and what your man thinks and feels.
Think with our Heads
Because of the way we’ve generally been raised we weren’t taught to share how we felt. Put aside all the bloke-ish ‘man up’, ‘boys don’t cry’ talk, we typically talked about what we saw, what we did, what we learnt, etc. Yes, we would often be asked “what we enjoyed” but once again we described it in terms of what we accomplished and such. So we may not have got to really discuss why we might be feeling happy or sad and what was behind those feelings.
Often our fathers had been raised through the same style of communicating. There has been a lack of good role modeling and mentoring for boys and young men, probably for generations, which has perpetrated the shaming language of boys don’t cry, don’t show fear and so on. So notions of gentleness, compassion and kindness (yes, yes, the fruits of the Spirit) have been labeled as soft traits that a strong man shouldn’t show.
This Winton novel I’m reading “The Shepherd’s Hut” provides a severe example of what happens to a young boy who is treated badly by an abusive father. He struggles to express himself well and as an escape has moments where he explodes because he isn’t sure how he should respond, doesn’t know what the right words are for how he is feeling and life for him is reflected by violence and ignorance.
Men mostly learnt to think with our heads. And emotions were something we experienced but would often struggle to understand why we were feeling a particular emotion at any point in time. It wasn’t important to us when we related with mates or work colleagues.
But it did become important when we started to get serious about a girl. However, we still would often lack the know how of how to express our feelings.
We get married and life goes on.
Interesting, I believe this cycle is changing as we see more and more younger men grappling with emotions a lot more these days for a variety of reasons, eg, more attentive fathers, family breakups.
Remember the mission
Our work or purpose dominates us and even though we might be starving for deeper connection we simply keep on keeping on. With life. With our purpose. And admitting that we might need that deeper connection can be terrifying too. But we still relegate relationships behind our mission.
As discussed last time often it’s when something goes awry with our purpose/job that all of a sudden we begin to sense those pesky emotions.
What’s the Answer?
Interestedly, a post a couple of months ago now by Lynn’s hubby, Mike, provided tremendous insights. This statement particularly grabbed me: “Also, be intentional to understand who he is and what is important to him.” Listening, more than talking. (you've probably all heard the old “we’ve been given 2 ears and 1 mouth and that should reflect how we communicate”)
Something I’ve found is invaluable to a good marriage (and I’ve learnt from hard experience) is for both husband and wife to be actively interested in each other’s vocation. If it is the enemy then there will always be tension. Get engaged in talking about the people your bloke works with, some of the decisions he has to make and how he arrived at it. Allowing each other to de-brief at the end of a day is both soothing and practically helpful. My wife is working overseas at present but we make sure we talk on FaceTime twice a day to allow each of us to de-brief each other’s days.
And pray. Pray some more. For great Christian men to come into your man’s life. We all need a Paul and a Timothy, a great mentor and someone we can take under our wing.
What about My Sons?
Allow them to hurt, to cry, to enjoy hugs from both mom and dad. Don’t shame them for expressing emotions. I heard Tim Winton speak two weeks ago and he said this beautiful thing about boys: they’re all born gentle and tender but somewhere along the way they lose that. Why?
One of the strongest impressions I have of Jesus is His gentleness. With Mary of Bethany, the woman caught in adultery, washing His disciples feet, allowing John to lounge on Him at the Last Supper. Jesus, is our Saviour and Lord but also our role model. He asks us everyday to “Come, follow Me.”
Sorry. I’ve gone on for too long even though there's so much more that could be said.
I do hope this has been of some use. I’m always a bit nervous about writing such posts as I can only share from my experience. And as always please do share what’s on your heart in the comments.
Grace and peace, dear friends.