What’s the most common reason couples seek relationship counselling? You guessed it, poor communication and conflict skills.
Last week I raised the concept of the non-clinical condition, alexithymia, being unable to identify and express or describe your feelings. These individuals who have difficulty accessing their inner emotional word is said to feature in 10% of the population and yes, more likely, but not always men.
Stereotypically, men don't seem to express their emotions as easily, as well, or as much as women do. Interestingly, the unbridled emotion is commonly found at the footy or the cricket when it’s completely acceptable to passionately scream and wave your arms around. It is essential to note that not all blokes shall be tarnished by this same brush. I’ve also encountered many exasperated men struggling to extract the verbal complexities of their woman’s mind.
Unfortunately, the blokes characteristically leave the relationship stuff to the women however love and connection is more of a learned team approach. When it goes pear-shaped, the guy will just want to fix it and move on. Interestingly, there is “normative male alexithymia” which is said to be derived from socialisation that “everyone knows real men don’t cry”. Many Aussie boys are raised being emotionally undermined with the messages of stoicism throughout media that masculinity is all bravo and grunt. Talk emotions and you’re a weak sissy. Whilst I believe this is improving, it explains the alarming high male suicide rate.
Thankfully, I frequently encounter the effects of this social conditioning when blokes front up for marriage therapy when the relationship features loneliness, disconnection and repetitive conflict. How do we approach this?
As we move toward encouraging a generation of expressing instead of repressing, we also can’t label men as “feelingless gender”. Emotions are in there.
We collaboratively normalise the ideal that we are all built with emotions and we can all access them. Like any new task, it requires repetition, consistency, positive reinforcement then a wonderful transformation occurs. Not so say, reversing a strongly held socialisation pattern takes time. Men show up with the best intentions to be their woman’s hero, to take action and protect. When women can appreciate and display admiration for these inherent traits are men more likely to be vulnerable to sharing their inner world. Witnessing those magical moments are one of the greatest gifts for a marriage counsellor!
Joanne Wilson is a neuropsychotherapist, relationship specialist, radio co-host, workshop facilitator, guest speaker and weekly columnist for the Sunshine Coast Daily. Visit www.relationshiprejuvenator.com for your head start to reviving your relationship or contact Jo at www.theconfidantecounselling.com. Listen in to her podcast discussing these articles and more, "Is This Love?"
The Sunshine Coast boasts plenty of courageous champions.
Like our very own vivacious and larger than life Heidi Latcham. She bravely sought to learn as much as she could about herself and relationships on national television in the pursuit of love on reality show, Married At First Sight. Heidi exposed herself, put her heart on the line and in her words, subsequently “got smashed into a million pieces” and changed her whole perspective about life and how she perceives relationships.
You might not think so, but to me, that’s bold and audacious! While you might consider her motives were self-serving, this is where the new Heidi Complex unexpectedly came to fruition.
What does the Heidi Complex have to do with relationship therapy? It’s called complex for a reason because it involves relationships. To explain further, Heidi was paired with an aesthetically matched rather handsome Australia dude aptly named, “Mike”. Following the literal whirlwind flurry of “marrying” at first sight at the altar.
Excitedly, they were flown on their honeymoon to a gorgeous, enviable scenic tropical location befitting for television. While languishing and glistening together on the pristine white sand of a secluded beach, newlywed Heidi felt it was timely for a deeper connection. She plucked up the courage to discuss at length her challenging upbringing and subsequent journey to rising above adversity to where she is today. Mike responded along the lines of, “I’m not your therapist, it’s hot — can we go have a swim?”
As you could imagine, it's part of my research role as a relationship therapist to tune into what my couples are watching and talking about. Whilst I may not necessarily agree with the concept of such shows, not only did I spill my tea, turns out, the famous “beach scene’ had many scorned and lonely women of Australia, leaping from the couch exclaiming, “I get you, this happens to me!” This echoed on my couples counselling couch too. What exactly were they uniting about? That all too often scenario when a woman seeks to deepen her connection with her man, daringly reveals her innermost sanctum of thoughts for the day for it to be dismissed, rebuffed and cast aside like a rag doll by her seemingly uninterested man.
Men don’t seem to express their emotions as easily, as well, or as much as women do. Why is that — and what’s the impact? Is it normal gender differences or can we pathologize this “strong, silent” sex as a condition that requires extended therapy and medication?
I’m sure you’re not surprised there’s a label to describe people who have trouble expressing their inner emotional experience called Alexithymia. Before you diagnose and make that psychiatrist appointment for your parent, partner or child, let’s confirm it is not classified as a disorder in the psychology manuals. It’s considered more of a subclinical disorder and a personality trait. What is it exactly? It’s considered to feature in nearly 10% of people and can be primarily part of their personality or a secondary form following trauma. It is being unable to identify and express or describe your feelings. Understandably, these people are more logical, and not so in touch with the difference between their bodily sensations and their emotional inner orientation. They do have emotions but not such a wide range.
The tricky part in relationships is, they appear to lack empathy, may seem self-centred and seeming completely unaware of their partner’s deeper feelings. Initiate a conversation involving emotion and an alexithymic will be seemingly bored and distant. They will also deflect the presence of emotion and as an example, label it is as tired or having “something in their eye”.
How do we approach this in couple’s therapy? Watch this space next week.
Joanne Wilson is a neuropsychotherapist, relationship specialist, weekly columnist for the Sunshine Coast Daily, workshop facilitator and guest speaker. Don’t miss my fun interview on this with Heidi and BarRat from SeaFm on my Is This Love Podcast this week.
Visit www.relationshiprejuvenator.com.au/intro for your head start to reviving your relationship.
Can you imagine how fun this series is in attempting to walk in the shoes of a bloke for a month? It sure is mind boggling when you can’t see as many shades of colour, talk half as much, struggle to put feelings into words and often incredibly frustrated when your woman doesn’t seem to want to put out as much as you’d like her to.
I do hope however, you’ve benefitted from this series in realising our uniqueness. These stereotypical behaviours do not apply to everyone – you are you! Some women display more masculine behaviours than others and vice versa.
Meanwhile in the counselling room and as put forward on my social media, there certainly are some recurrent themes. Today, I contemplate, “Why do women always interpret the worst of what men are trying to say and not just assume the best one?”
“Trying to say” is the important phrase here. I can’t count the number of times brave blokes have turned up for counselling rather ill-equipped to reveal what’s really going on for them and even worse, attempt to talk about the “f” word – feelings.
I do wonder how much socialisation has created this stoicism and repression of feelings that contribute to men leaving the “relationship stuff” to the women. Men are not the “feelingless” gender – they’re in there. If many Australian blokes haven’t traditionally been encouraged to speak about matters of the heart coupled with their brain that tends to internalise, why would they expressively reveal their emotions to openly communicate the way women want and create that connection we all long for in our relationships.
We absolutely need to appreciate the differences in the emotional centre of our brains. Women have a stronger left amygdala that facilitates recall of emotional experiences in more detail. Men are stronger on the right side, providing them to focus on the big picture in a more practical and orderly way versus the emotional memories. Guys are fortunate to have a slightly smaller prefrontal cortex which allows them to get to the point a lot quicker with reason and logic.
A woman’s amygdala is more easily activated by emotions compared to their man’s action-orientated and practical approach more alert to danger and wired for protecting. You threaten them and then they’ll exhibit more emotion! This practical, external focus explains why he always wants to fix it without the need for long talks into the night as we may go in circles with no apparent point. Simply put, his brain circuits aren’t wired to retain information in the detailed and emotional way that a woman’s is. How on earth are they then expected to communicate in the same way we do?
It’s also worth noting if based on previous experience, do:
- some women could already have labelled their man with certain traits that then filter in the worst-case scenario?
- we also incorporate “catastrophic” thinking into our relationships that then translates to lack of trust and looking for the negative in all situations?
- we attempt to mind-read in making weird and wonderful assumptions instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt?
- we allow comparison to steal the joy from hearing the positives in our man’s communication as compared to what we hear other men say to their partner? Do we assume all other men say all the right things and forget the positive traits and words he does get right in a different way?
I whole-heartedly agree that many men could share the “relationship load” in facilitating emotional attentiveness. Could same ladies, however remove any high expectations and the “shoulds”. Could we shift the blame to a more collaborative approach in enjoying your incredible differences in how we communicate and play the catch them doing it well game for a change?
Next week, the most common question: Why don’t women desire sexual intimacy as much as we do?
Joanne Wilson is a neuropsychotherapist, relationship specialist, radio co-host, workshop facilitator, guest speaker and weekly columnist for the Sunshine Coast Daily.
Contact Jo at www.theconfidantecounselling.com or via email. Listen in to her podcast discussing these articles and more, "Is This Love?"
Throughout Audacious August, I’m bravely journeying the world of an aussie male.
Peruse the most recent articles on this blog for some of the mysteries I seek to unveil about men, particularly those in relationship with a woman. Today I investigate why we find men’s lack of communication so troubling?
Thank you for your overwhelming response to last week’s article. Here are more contemplations based on your contributions, Why:
Firstly, let’s point out the amazing similarity between men and women - we all long to be loved! Yes, we might look different, sound different and go about getting love in a different way however all the PHd’ers out there keep coming back to more similarities than differences.
Whilst I’ve covered fascinating facts about our variances in brain structure over previous articles, one important point is we are miraculously designed to complement each other. When you think about it, there isn’t one kind of man and one kind female – most of the stereotypes just don’t fit! You are unique.
I’ll now address the talking conundrum with a joke from the late American journalist, Helen Rowland, "Before marriage, a man declares that he would lay down his life to serve you; after marriage, he won't even lay down his newspaper to talk to you."
I mentioned last week that constructive emotional disclosure discussions support closeness. I get the impression that aside from the closeness part, this seems most unappealing to men. One helpful male wrote in this week with this helpful perspective, “The masculine in all of us, men and women is covert by nature and thus reluctant to open itself up to scrutiny. Many men, especially those who have yet to recognise the power of their own feminine essence, simply have not exercised this channel for connection with another human being.”
Furthermore, neuroscience reveals that females are extremely accomplished at detecting when they’re being listened to – or not. It influences our sense of self-worth. We will catch you out! Female brains have an amazing capacity to group sounds and analyse them versus the male brain which listens for a specific focussed purpose.
Here’s an exert from Dr Caroline Leaf’s book, “He said, she said”.
“A husband may find it a challenge to keep up with his wife as she zig-zags her way through all the various adventures of her day, constantly inserting random factoids and minutiae. There’s a reason she knows where she’s going even when he’s completely lost and beginning to lose interest. Her girlfriends love all the extra details she gives when she’s telling a story—her husband’s wondering, “What does this have to do with that?”
As I regularly highlight in couple’s therapy, ladies, save some of your words for your gal pals and reduce any extravagant body movements to minimise distraction! Fellas, hang in there with us. Keep eye-contact, reassure, ask questions and practise attentive listening for as long as you can. Start pondering the footy scores or other bouncy things – we see it all over your face!
Next week I’m supporting blokes for when she sees “puce” and you see brown. She sees “relaxed khaki” and you see green.
So fellas, email me your burning questions for support during Audacious August. Bewildered ladies, feel free to forward any contemplations you find unsettling for this series too! You can remain anonymous!
Joanne Wilson is a neuropsychotherapist, relationship specialist, radio co-host, workshop facilitator and guest speaker. Contact www.theconfidantecounselling.com or via email. Look out for my new podcast discussing these articles and more, "Is This Love?"
I’m sure every man on this planet would love to flip open the lids of women for a “heads up” on what is really going on in there. Craving that comprehensive guide to explain our curious behaviours? Seek to unlock the key to understanding our state of mind, temperament, endearing nuances and especially find that ON switch in the bedroom? Here’s your big chance - your new handy guide entitled, The Women’s Brain.
I’ve just had the honour of interviewing Oxford-educated neuroscientist and TEDx presenter, Dr Sarah McKay. Her first book on the neuroscience of women’s health, hormones and happiness turns out to be quit the myth buster!
It seems even Dr McKay was surprised by the evidence she unveiled. More incredibly the humungous gaps in women’s health neuroscience research around a bunch of sensitive female topics of magnitude including the neurobiology of orgasms.
What about these other questions of substance?
Dr McKay also provides some wonderful insight to the functioning of the brain around matters of:
Whilst Dr McKay didn’t seek to write about the difference between male and female brains, they’re a lot more similar than different. You just can’t separate two groups of male and female people based on the anatomy of their genitals. Instead we should consider our amazing brains as “unique mosaics of different features, some male-like, some female-like, with plenty features best described as androgynous.”
Now that’s sorted, who will last the distance? Dr McKay states “teenagers and young men are three times more likely than women to die by accidents (usually in a car), suicide, drowning and violence.” This provides women with quite a head start to the statistics that result in our longevity. Men then contribute to this further as they age with poor health choices. Women are more likely than men to die of dementia, lung disease cerebrovascular disease, influenza and pneumonia.
How do we live longer? Centenarians studied in history provide us these fabulous tips based on their key characteristics. Stay lean, avoid smoking, become an expert stress buster, be optimistic, find purpose and avoid neurotic tendencies. Lastly, women have your children over the age of thirty-five. Go figure! Speaking of which, after producing three boys after thirty-five, where is my figure?
Watch this space next week when I seek to unveil answers to some of the fascinating questions such as how to nurture your amazing noggin as outlined by Dr McKay next week. In the meantime, head to www.yourbrainhealth.com.au for your copy of The Women’s Brain and more.
Joanne Wilson is a neuro psychotherapist, relationship specialist, radio co-host, workshop facilitator and guest speaker. Contact www.theconfidantecounselling.com or via email. Look out for my new podcast discussing these articles and more, "Is This Love?"
Joanne will be your Confidante, enabling you to speak freely in complete confidence and serenity. An integrated approach tailored to your specific needs will be utilised.
Relationship Specialist for Individuals and Couples servicing areas including Caloundra, Noosa, Noosaville, Buderim, Mountain Creek, Gympie.