Show Transcript for Episode 271: Vulnerability—Why Do Men Have a Hard Time Expressing Emotions?

Listen to Episode 271: Vulnerability—Why Do Men Have a Hard Time Expressing Emotions?

Announcer:
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Laurie Watson:
Love talking about this. Today, we’re going to talk about how to help men open up, especially emotionally and about their sexual feelings too. Welcome to foreplay radio, couples in sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller:
And I’m George Faller, a couples therapist,

Laurie Watson:
And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller: Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body

Laurie Watson:
For a great personal lubricant, please check out fuberlubec.om and use the coupon foreplay to support us at the podcast. Thanks. We had a great class.

George Faller:
That was pretty fun.

Laurie Watson:
It was such a good time. I saw people cry and hug and kiss each other afterwards. It was lovely. Great sex. Great love. Great love. Great sex.

George Faller:
Yes. So cool. Just seeing people have conversations they’ve never had before getting information, they didn’t have to have new conversations, you have to have new material for new conversations. So it was really fun seeing couples invest in take that time and, and have that success. And for couples that didn’t have immediate breakthroughs it revealed what was blocking some of these conversations. So everyone left, a bit enriched.

Laurie Watson:
And we’ve had people already contact us about when we’re going to do it next. So we wanted to let you all know, we’re doing it in October, which will be October 1, a Friday, and it will go from 10:00 to 5:00 Eastern Standard Time. You can sign up now, certainly. But we’ll kind of keep you informed as to when we’re doing it next. And if we’re going to do one in between if if you all write us and say hey, we’d rather do it sooner than later. Let us know. We’ll open that up.

George Faller:
Absolutely. We’re also going to try today ,Laurie, to turn the podcast into three segments instead of the two we’ve been doing. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback if people wanted a little bit longer, a little bit more information. So this is our chance to just play with that. And we welcome feedback and let us know if this seems to work better or not work so well. Yes. The end of the day, what you want matters most.

Laurie Watson:
Exactly. So tell me why, how do we help men open up George? Partners, we we so desperately want our male partners to talk to us about their feelings and what’s bothering them and what they’re thinking about what their plans are just, you know, from little to big, we would love them to open up. What do you think?

George Faller:
Well I think a lot and this is a rich topic. I began a few emails I wrote an article a couple years ago, in the psychotherapy, networker magazine, case study on helping men to open up. And it’s funny how an article every couple of months, I still get emails of people talking about that article. And we really want to, I think most people just don’t pace men emotionally well. Right therapist, partners are often just out in front pushing too fast, trying to get these big emotions, these vulnerability and don’t recognize that that’s often a setup for defensiveness and a wall. So I guess that’s where I’d want to start. How do we how do we not push too fast? How do we appreciate this training to not be emotional to not be vulnerable? That often is like a default setting. And if you cut, it works well in a lot of settings, to be calm under pressure, to not get too emotional to be rational, like our culture loves this ability. So just appreciate and I think it is a necessary starting point to not pathologize and see these people is broken and robotic that you know, this disability serves a purpose. So we’re going to start off with how do we connect with that?

Laurie Watson:
Mm hmm. And just as you say that one of the thoughts that comes to my mind is as a woman too, we kind of want our male partners to be calm under pressure, you know, to to offer focus, and those things so that ability that they have to do that. Then when we’re asking them to be vulnerable and open up are kind of at odds about you know, when when do we want what?

George Faller:
Exactly and we love this in all humans right mom to be calm under pressure. I have a neighbor that you know anytime one of her kids falls down. She like screams at me and everybody gets anxious from just hearing that response. So just recognizing that this is, we wouldn’t be as a species, if we didn’t know how to kind of be able to turn down our emotions, but we get so used to turning it down, it gets hard to see the value in going into it. So I think the next step is to honor the how it does work, and not get tunnel vision and just focus on how it does not work, then you really want to get these, what we call what yours, or these men we’re talking about here, I don’t want to open up to buy into the, what’s the value of it, help them understand so many people just push them to do it like, and they want to make their partner happy. So they go along with you with a ride or people just coach and you don’t get that buy in.

Laurie Watson:
Mm hmm.

George Faller:
So give them some what is the benefits of vulnerability?

Laurie Watson:
So first is we want to pace we don’t want to push too fast. Second, is we want to get their buy in and to get our partners buy in are you saying we need to somehow another communicate to him what we’re looking for what would be good? How do we do that?

George Faller:
Yeah, we’re trying to help them understand that their lives can be healthier, their body is just managing stress by trying to turn it off. And the problem with chronically turning it off is you also won’t get what you need. It’s a short term strategy that works well. But there are some long term costs to that. Right. So when you intellectually engage that, let’s say, this works really well in this setting, but then it sets you up to fail in that setting. Does that make sense? And if they start to understand that they can learn to become more flexible, that they don’t lose the ability to turn it off, but they can gain ability to become more flexible, like it’s in their own best interest to want to do it for themselves. Most people are trying to get them to do emotions for their partner, because their partner is frustrated with a lack of it, right. But that’s we’re really try to help them to see this is something that actually they need to do for themselves, their partner will benefit from that. But they this this will enrich their lives to be able to do that. So be able to quote research statistics, you know, all these psycho Ed things are really important to kind of give them a clearer target. I mean, it’s scary. If you don’t want to do emotions, you get thrown right into the deep end into emotions, like we want to slowly with the pace and get them to understand what are we aiming for? What’s the value in doing this? Does this make sense? Right, the more they’re invested in the in the process, the easier we’re going to be able to hit those targets. Mm hmm.

Laurie Watson:
So if I, as a partner, want to help my husband or my boyfriend, open up, how might I ask him about that? How might I say, help him understand the benefit? I mean, it is a benefit to me. Because I feel like I’ll know him more, I’ll feel more connected, feel deeper connection. I mean, I think as therapists we have a responsibility too to pace people, but just for a couple. How do we do that?

George Faller:
Not easy. At the end of the day you are trying to gauge is your partner hearing your your statement as an invitation or an accusation? So often, these withdrawlers are sensitive to message, they’re doing something wrong. So if I immediately say I want to talk, it’s so quick for their brain and say, oh, that means there’s something you’re not happy with. So the more that that pursuer can use language that hey, listen, and I’m not trying to tell you to do anything wrong. I’m really just trying to kind of engage and explore and be curious and invites, I mean, it’s the approach is important to kind of start to reduce the threat level.

Laurie Watson:
I think you’re really good at that. In our class, you you did that as an example and I loved it. Let’s come back and talk further about how to help them open up. So this pandemic, you know, it’s been rough for all of us things might have gotten out of control in the garden. Manscape is suggesting that their their products work on women too. So you know, if you don’t want to knick yourself and you can’t get to the little shop around the corner, you might want to think about this women as well but they have so many cool things. Their skincare products are great, I love their aftershave. But they have the crop reviver, the crop cleanser which is like a moisturizer product in the shower and school stuff here. Manscape.com, with the coupon “Foreplay” for 20% off, gentlemen, girlfriends.

George Faller:
We’re so thankful to partner with Manscape. Because they are committed to what we’re doing, which is changing a culture, really making it more acceptable for men to be present and to kind of enjoy their sexual being and what they look about and to be more intentional. So please rally behind this great mission and help us to change our culture.

Laurie Watson:
So in class, you were really trying to demonstrate that soft invitation. And I want you to really help us, especially as pursuers. Get that in our brains so that we can help men open up that we can do our part to create the safety that’s necessary.

George Faller:
I don’t remember what I said, Laurie. So remind me.

Laurie Watson:
Well, the way you frame things in terms of reducing the threat for somebody and inviting curiosity and helping them feel safe, so that they don’t shut down or feel like they’re failing that that kind of thing is how we help men open up. And that language, I think, is important. And I think you’re you have also talked about kind of how we help their nervous system feels safe and calm. What we need to do with their brain, how do we how do we help?

George Faller:
Sure. Let’s simple concept of connecting first, before we try to fix or stretch or give advice, right? I think that is so important when you’re working with withdrawlers that most of us have great intentions, but we just start off pushing a little bit too fast. Now you meet them where they’re at, really connect. I like Steven Porges work, polyvagal theory, I think it’s so helpful because it’s letting us know what’s happening in the nervous system live. And technology is so great today because we can actually look at an fMRI machine. And we can see what’s happening in the brain. Yeah. So in polyvagal theory and over simplifying, they talk about their three different states of the mind that we can call a green zone, a yellow zone or red zone. Right in the green zone, where the ventral dorsal nerve is running the show is when people are open and curious, they’re empathetic, they want to connect, they can explore when couples are doing well, it’s because their brains are in this green, open place. Right so that’s the goal. If you want your relationship to be safe, we actually need the brain to be in a green zone. When stress happens, the brain shifts, the dorsal ventral nerve kind of goes online. And when the that yellow zone is online, it’s a sympathetic fight or flight response. Right a body wants wants to move and kind of reduce the threat by attacking it or getting away from it. It’s meant to be a temporary state. The problem we’re in the yellow zone is we get tunnel vision. And our empathy goes offline. It’s hard to kind of connect and focus on other people when your brain is in a threat response. If the fight or flight response doesn’t work, this is the really vicious stuff happens. We go into a red zone, right in a red zone is when our, it’s a parasympathetic response, where we freeze, we kind of get stuck in hopelessness. It’s where trauma happens helplessness, shame, these really bigger emotional states. This is where people will literally dissociate from their body. So..

Laurie Watson:
Can I just say I love it when you geek out on us, George. And show us how much do you know you do know so much. But let me get it straight. The green part of the MRI shows on the brain as that open, curious, safe place. The yellow is the beginning of escalation, frustration, maybe some anger, that kind of thing. And then the red is really when we our survival mechanism is activated. We feel kind of primary fear, fight-flight and fear perhaps or

George Faller:
Yes. And what what’s most relevant when we’re talking about with withdrawlers and with couples is when your brain is in a yellow place – you’re not the best person, you’re not the best partner. So if we were in a relationship, and I say, hey, Laurie, I want to talk and your brain already is yellow because it’s hearing that I’m gonna bring up something critical. And you’re gonna defend yourself and be like, well, why do we need to talk now? My brain already starting off is yellow when you have two yellow brains trying to talk, they don’t have a lot of success. So we’re saying with with withdrawlers is they’re in a yellow state state soon as you say, hey, I want to talk to you, right? It’s hard for them to have success with emotions when their brain is, is feeling that threat of that emotion. So what you see me try to do connect is I’ve actually tried to pull their brain green. I’m trying to meet them where they’re at, kind of give them good reasons for being defensive.

Laurie Watson:
I’ve heard that the four most dreaded words from men are I want to talk. Maybe we should start with I want to have sex.

George Faller:
That’s a whole nother podcast. And I get why partners. It’s It’s beautiful that they they’re trying to initiate a conversation they know in talking about it. That’s how change happens. Right? Silence for the pursuers is horrible. So there’s hope in in the words. But how do we get these withdrawlers? When the very question those four words I want to talk already triggers their brain into a yellow fight or flight response. We really want to so that soft startup is trying to say, hey, listen, I know oftentimes, my questions get you defensive that I’m really not trying to get you defensive. I’m not trying to get tell you, you’re doing anything wrong. I’m really trying to kind of explore because I don’t know, either, right. And I want to have a conversation to get closer. If we don’t get anywhere at the end of this conversation. That’s totally cool, right? I just want to connect with you. I’m trying to get that withdrawlers brain, to see the opportunity here, not to just see the possible damage. I mean, that shift towards opportunity is what starts the pole app ring green. And once it’s green, it’s capable of beautiful things.

Laurie Watson:
It’s capable of flexibility and problem solving when it’s green. But when we’re yellow, we’re kind of shut down, we’re not thinking we’re not creative.

George Faller:
And that’s it’s not a choice. It has nothing to do with loving your partner, your brain has just shifted to a different gear. And it’s in defense mode. So I think couples have a bunch. I encourage my couples all time like if you notice your yellow put up your head and say, hey, i’m yellow here. Like let’s give clear feedback to each other. Right, because when we’re in a green zone, I know couples are doing beautiful things. And you’re going to see a lot of these moves from withdrawlers they’re going to be these defenses that they employ, they might laugh, they might minimize, they might deflect, they might say, I don’t know, they’re gonna have lots of moves that are real time moves on, their part of just trying to kind of turn down emotion. But why are they doing that? Because a part of them, that yellow brain is starting to recognize if I don’t do this, a threats gonna happen, things could get worse. And oftentimes, nobody helps them put words to, they’re actually so much better at emotions than most people realize.

Laurie Watson:
What do you mean when you say that?

George Faller:
Well, if, if you bring up something heavy, and I make a joke, I’m making a joke, because I’m perfectly reading inside you that if we continue to go down this road, the emotion is going to actually rise. So let me try to kind of diffuse the situation and make a joke, or change the topic or focus on something positive. All of these moves are because my body is noticing something real time emotionally. And most people think they don’t notice emotion at all no, they’re actually really good at it. They’re just they’re not good at articulating these emotions or the awareness.

Laurie Watson:
They’re really good at detecting, they’re good at detecting that something emotional is up. And those strategies that you just mentioned are the way they’re gonna keep their partner calm, hopefully the conversation calmer. They’re trying to stay in the green zone with that.

George Faller:
Yes, and that the tech thing is all about emotions, right? Detecting the increases in emotion. I love that word detecting because they are often scanning for non-verbals, tone all of these things, to notice how quickly they’re going to have to intervene to stop these things from escalating.

Laurie Watson:
Okay. Let’s come back and maybe roleplay or talk further either about how we get men to open up about their emotions or about their sexual feelings. When we come right back. George, when you’re having sex feeling is just everything. It’s excitement and intimacy and anticipation and UberLube. Makes feeling much better. I love too that, you know, the world is opening up people are getting vaccines, we’re gonna travel and you can get personal pocket sizes of Uber Lube. It’s great. One of the lovely things about it is it’s simple, it dissipates when you don’t need it so there’s no residue, and it’s recommended by doctors. Scent free and color free. And actually, I’m you I have it on my hair right now it like, tames the frizzies. Do you see how shiny my hair is George?

George Faller:
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Laurie Watson:
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George Faller:
Okay, Laurie. So let’s let’s get focused here on how we’re going to help men open up. So for me, we talked about, the first part is just honoring the good reasons, they want to turn down emotion and how healthy that is, and really see the value. And the positive elements. If we connect with that, first, we make their brain feel less threatened, pulls them into this green zone, two we really want to get that buy in to want to do it differently. Not to just make their partner happy, but give them this research talk about Polyvagal Theory, get them excited about a new move

Laurie Watson:
Yeah, okay.

George Faller:
Because that that buy in is going to go a long way towards them being able to take risks. Then the third thing I really want them to do is and this is the most important is I want them to have success with their emotions. At the end of the day, the reasons they want to turn down emotion and not do vulnerability is they have not had a lot of success.

Laurie Watson:
It’s either blown up, it’s their partner still says they’re unhappy with what they’re saying. There’s some way that they’re not rewarded for that vulnerability.

George Faller:
Exactly. They’re told they’re doing it wrong. It’s not enough. That is their sensitivity, that raw spot they’re very sensitive to that message. And yet every time they try, that’s the message they get, they want to just go back, it trains them to retreat. So we really want to be intentional of saying, give them success with their emotions. Notice its success for them. Most people try to coach them how to be more emotional for their partner. That’s the last step that’s going to come naturally, when their brain is open and curious and in a green zone. But to do that, they have to experience some of it themselves. So when they laugh, instead of getting mad at their laughter, be able to say you’re so good, the timing of your laughter, that’s usually a sign to be that you’re trying to kind of diffuse the situation, you try to reset and regroup. That’s just your way of, of regulating it. You’re doing a good job. Thank you for that. Like if you tell her what’s wrong, that they look at you like you have three heads on, everybody telling them their laughter is wrong, their attempts to whatever they’re doing is wrong. And it just further entrenches those defensive walls. To lower those walls, we want to be able to tell them, you’re doing something right. You got good timing.

Laurie Watson:
One of the things I think is so important about what you’re saying the tell them that they’re doing something right is with any withdrawler, right, even a sexual withdrawer or an emotional withdrawaler, we want to shape their response to become more and more open. And that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like if they give you a little crumb, you kind of have to celebrate that crumb versus saying, hey, you didn’t feed me, you didn’t give me a meal. You know, we we have to see the little bit be grateful for it, because that creates that green zone safety that allows them to open up maybe not in this conversation, but the next time.

George Faller:
Right? And that what feels like a crumb to the partner to the pursuer is actually a pretty big deal. It’s a big emotion for the withdrawer. And when it doesn’t work. It’s just it’s a lifetime of it not working. It just it numbs their heart. And it leads to all this resignation that we see in withdrawers. So that third step in them having successes, I want them to start allowing their longings to come out that say life could be different for me, it could be better, because in that moment, right before they shut down, they’re actually scared. They’re actually feeling like they’re failing. And nobody sees it. Nobody helps them with it. They just deal with it on their own. And every time they deal with it on their own, it strengthens that muscle it thinks this is the best way to do it. And I know that’s a lie. There’s no baby born that’s looking to do that. Learn to do that, right. So I need to help these withdrawers tap into a part of them and they need to be in that green zone to do that. That that starts to long for something different but when they want it for themselves, not as something they just want to give their partner when they want it and then they have success, expressing it, it changes the game.

Laurie Watson:
And being vulnerable has its own reward, we are more fully ourselves when we share our inner world. When we share what we really think we we’re representing ourselves, we come into the world sort of in in color, instead of in a more guarded way. And most people get more of what they want when they’re vulnerable in life.

George Faller:
Research is really clear that people that have the most access to the most parts of themselves, especially a vulnerability, have the most enriched lives. People that have to compartmentalizing loose parts of themselves, they have less to work with less to engage with and have less than rich lives.

Laurie Watson:
If you’re hiding parts of yourself, then you’re not experiencing everything that you could have in the world or in your relationship.

George Faller:
That’s the tragedy of the wall, to keep out the bad, it also keeps out the good, right to not be exposed and to be seen as a failure and to retreat, means maybe your fears won’t be confirmed in that moment. But what you don’t realize is the cost is that you’re never going to receive comfort when you need it the most.

Laurie Watson:
Right? You’ll never be able to ask for what you need, when you’re hurting or, or I think there’s also vulnerability sometimes in sharing your pride and your joy and all of that you won’t be celebrated.

George Faller:
And some of the withdrawers listening, and now we’ve just lost them. Right? We had them the whole time. But we just pushed a little bit too hard at the edge here. But that’s okay. Laurie Watson: I push too hard? George Faller: No, me when I’m like, I can feel my passionate saying to tap into loggings is really scary for somebody that’s been numbing them out for a long time. Right. So if you’re listening, you’re saying, well, you know, George is getting a little pushy here. Yeah, because, you know, at the end of the day, I’ve I fight for withdrawlers, because I know they could have more. And I’ve seen them have success 1000s upon 1000s withof times, so I’m very confident that if I can pace and get them to this place where they want it for themselves, things really changed in a relationship.

Laurie Watson:
Love that. So shall we do it?

George Faller:
Yeah, well, what are we doing?

Laurie Watson:
A roleplay.

George Faller:
Okay.

Laurie Watson:
Okay so, i’ll be Jane, you be Joe. And I just, you know, I noticed the other day honey, that you came home and your face kind of told me you were a little preoccupied and I just want you to know, that’s totally fine with me. I, I know, you struggle with stress, and you’ve got so many thoughts, and you support our families so well. And I certainly don’t want to be intrusive and add to your burden in any way. But I just, I would be so honored if sometimes I can just kind of be your dumping ground. And you can come and share with me what’s going on in your world. And I know in the past, I’ve blown it. And I’ve given you advice about how to handle something at work. And I’m really learning and I don’t want to do that. I just want to be there for you. And so I would love to offer you that. I don’t know whenever something’s going on. I’d love to be here for you. Maybe just as your friend.

George Faller:
Hey, listen, you had me at hello there. I was, that was a nice soft startup. I couldn’t find my my brain didn’t get defensive. Laurie Watson: Really? George Faller: That was a really nice way of, of helping my brain see the invitation that you’re you’re trying to let me make the call. And you’re trying to really let me know that you just don’t want me to be alone that if I choose to be alone, that’s going to be okay, too. But that you’re just wanting to face some of this stress with me. So I felt the the invitation there.

Laurie Watson:
Oh, this makes me so happy. I did it right. I got a gold star from George. Love it. Love it.

George Faller:
The proof is in the emotions, huh?

Laurie Watson:
Your body feels all relaxed.

George Faller:
It I’m looking for as a withdrawer I’m looking for something to latch on to that could be a threat. Right? So and we’re never going to get this stuff perfectly. But the more that you’re trying to notice that in me. And notice that little yellow brain starting to percolate. Right, you can speak to that and just say hey, listen, I am not trying to tell you’re doing anything wrong. I’m here to help if the time is not right, that’s cool, too. Right and and that invitation is so important because there is a part of me deep down that doesn’t want to be alone with all this. I just would rather do that and take on more stress, which is often what it feels like when you say you want to talk I got to worry about you and they both for you to just in the front end say hey, listen, I don’t want to add more stress. I just want to help you with your stress, that’s a really nice message huh?

Laurie Watson:
Okay, yay, both of us. Yeah, it was good. Before we go today, I just want to touch base and say you have your next module available in success and vulnerability for therapists, right? Isn’t it five?

George Faller:
Module five. We noticed that title success and vulnerability, we are going to train therapists on how to hit this target with their clients. Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to be vulnerable if we’re only going to be dropped and let down that strengthens our defenses. We really need people to fight effectively for both withdrawers and pursuers so that the math, the numbers can change, and they can get that relationship that they deserve.

Laurie Watson:
Yes. And we would also like to invite all of you to join us on social media, we are on Instagram, and that’s foreplay_radiosextherapy. And I think we’ve, we’ve got about 6000 followers, which isn’t a whole lot compared to some people, but for us, we’re growing. Please join us there. I actually check it every day and make a few comments or so. So that would be lovely. So thanks for listening.

George Faller:
Keep it hot y’all!

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