I remember all too well that NEED to always be there for my partner. I had this girlfriend years ago who every day without fail would come home from work and offload every minute detail of her day. Every disagreement she had and every complaint about her day. She would come home and as any good boyfriend I would ask “how was your day honey?” I would immediately prepare myself. I knew this drill. It was my role to hear her, to hold space for her, to be that man at the end of her day to make all her problems dissapear. That was DUTY as a MAN and to do any less would make me an inadequate partner, a failure as a boyfriend and thus a failure as a man. By the time it came for her to ask how my day was I was exhausted and so my response reflected my now changed mood, “oh you know standard day, nothing special. It was fine.” It was not the job description we as men signed up for to share how we feel or how our days really are. Our job is to listen and be “the rock” for our partners.
I was having this exact conversation with one of my mates the other day around our need to always be the rock in the relationship, something I am sure the majority of men have been programmed to believe. It is inherently one of THE roles men MUST take on, otherwise you aren’t a ‘real’ man. It is something that I believe a lot of men have grasped well, and it is with good intentions that we take this role on. The key, however, that is missing from this philosophy is: I can be there for you when you need me to, but that does not mean that I never lean on you when I require support.
Men it is ok to have your partner hold space for you, and allow you to feel. It is ok to have your partner be a rock that you can rely on. WE ARE NOT SUPERHEROES, so stop pretending that you are. There is no nobility in suffering in silence. There is no strength to be found in walling yourself up from your partner. In fact, if you are currently doing this, if you refuse to let your partner in, it will lead to a fractured relationship, a lack of trust and inevitably resentment. You absolutely can allow your partner to be the rock when you need it.
...And to all the women saying “hallelujah” to this statement, please stop. Ask yourself this, why does your partner feel that your relationship isn't a safe container for him to open himself up fully to you? What actions, behaviours, patterns or words do you tell your partner that hinders his ability to be vulnerable with you?
Men I have the utmost empathy for OUR experience. We have been programmed to believe that this is solely our burden to bear and no one else’s. We have been told to shove our feelings into a box in the corner and to never, ever open that box. We have been told that ‘real men’ don't cry, that men are stronger as a result of this indifference to our emotions. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this couldn't be further from the truth. Your strength directly correlates with your ability to grab that box from the corner, open that f*ck!r up and face head on whatever rears its head. To embrace vulnerability with open arms and welcome in our emotions with compassion and a curiosity that allows us to explore deeper, without shame, what is causing this discomfort.
So men, how can we drop our shields and allow for our partners to ‘be the rock’ when we need that extra support?
- Start small: if this is a completely new concept to you, start small. What has been stressing you out at work or what is on your mind in that current moment.
- Don't worry about getting it right: it's going to be messy, it's going to be uncomfortable, the important thing is you just start.
- Choose the right partner: this may sound obvious right? How can we open up to our partners if they won't allow us to? Find someone who values vulnerability and holds space for you to experience the full range of emotions.
- Start with your mates first: I have found over the last 3 years of working with men that we absolutely will open up in a safe environment to our fellow brothers. This can be a great stepping stone to allowing your partner to see behind the mask.
Women, don't worry, I have not forgotten about you either. How can you best support the men in your life to open up and allow you to hold space?
- DO NOT SOLVE! Listen, listen, listen. Then when you are done listening, listen some more. We do not want the problem solved, oftentimes we have already figured it out or we are suffering from overthinking. Allow us to feel and get back into our bodies and out of our heads. A great question to ask is “how does ____ make you feel”
- Refrain from asking “what are you thinking”: as a continuation from the above point. Men overthink, when really we need to feel more and be heard.
- Ask permission first before offloading onto them: A common theme from my work with men over the last three years has been this. The man gets home from work and before he has the opportunity to take his shoes off his partner is overloading him with how her day was, what happened and in extreme detail. Your partner wants to hear all these things, but give him time and space to get home and then ask “do you mind if I share with you how my day was?” You will find that asking permission will completely change the response you get from your partner.
- Ask him first!: again continuing from the above point. You can ask him first. Await for him to get comfortable and ask genuinely how his day was. Then you can ask permission to share how your day was. This helps with creating healthy communication and boundaries for both of you. Communicating and feeling your emotions come more naturally to you (most of the time) which is great! Allowing your partner to go first will only make him want to hear you more and support you more. It is not a trade off.
Men we are NOT fundamentally flawed, or broken, or in need of being fixed. Rather we need to remember who we truly are: human beings, and as human beings we have human experiences. These ‘human experiences’ include struggle, sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, confusion and not having all the answers at a second's notice. Men it is time to destroy the old notions of masculinity; work hard 24/7, be tough, win at all costs, be aggressive, don't be emotional, push through the pain rather than addressing it and have your shit together 24/7, 365.
It is an incredibly uncomfortable experience. It requires massive self awareness and an ability to trust your partner to hold space, but I can assure you that letting your partner hold you will NOT kill you! In fact, it will strengthen you, your relationship and your resolve in the face of adversity.