One summer, my wife and I were driving up the New England coast. To embrace the experience, I purchased some oysters, a lemon and some ice. The problem was that I didn’t have a tool to open the oysters with. Readers, men are like oysters, you need to use some tools to get them to open up – here are a few.
Be a good listener
Sometimes a man will open up, and because this doesn’t happen very often, a partner will be taken off guard (“Why are you telling me this?” “What did you do?”). While trying to build the habit of opening up, be your best listener – show patience, compassion and understanding. If you think he is opening up because something is wrong, ask, “Why have you chosen now to tell me this? I’m curious?”
Create a safe environment
Opening up can sometimes reveal surprises – let’s hope they’re happy ones. But if the environment is set for talking (TV off) and the company is intimate (just the two of you, or some close family or friends) then you’ve created fertile ground for openness.
Have an open mind
When a man begins freely expressing himself, it doesn’t come out quite the same way as that of a woman. Men are less emotional communicators. As a result, when they do open up, they end up releasing lots of suppressed emotion. They may get angry or upset – that’s not at you – they are struggling against their vulnerability. Therefore, it’s best to be ready for anything.
This is not a troubleshooting session
Be prepared to accept it for what it is. If he thinks he’s being diagnosed, or that you are going to try to fix or change him, he won’t feel safe. Try your best to withhold judgment, at least if only for the moment.
It’s a two-way street
You can help establish a safe space for sharing by sharing something in return. Preface your deep thoughts with a few words about how “this isn’t something I normally talk about” or “this isn’t easy for me to say but …” so that when you share this special level of self with your listener, he is ready to listen in a special way too. This establishes a ritual for safe sharing. About rituals …
Have a sacred space
Quiet. No interruptions. A neutral place. Do something to create a special atmosphere – light a candle or play some subtle music. Face each other. Talk. Maybe even preface your talk with mantras like “this is a non-judgmental place,” “open up safely” or “spirit to spirit, we talk.” Mantras can be powerful – look for—or create—whatever works best for the both of you.