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Question: My significant other does not know how to handle my emotion when I am depressed or sad. He said he wanted to fix things, but he does not know how, so now he tends to shy away. And his avoidance only makes me feel worse. Is there a way for us to arrive at a happy medium? ...Rhonda

Answer: This is a great question, and one that has perplexed women and men for years: How does a man offer emotional support to his significant other, without giving into his natural inclination to try and "fix" things?

In order to answer this question, we must first look at the differences between men and women.  As a rule, men are naturally goal-oriented.  As such, if we encounter a problem of any kind, we immediately try to figure out a way to solve it.  It's a practical approach that serves us well in school, sports, careers, and recreational activities.  It does not, however, work particularly well when dealing with the emotions of the women in our lives.  In fact, more often than not, our earnest efforts to resolve your pain often exacerbate the situation and lead to even more pain, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and general frustration.  The primary reason for this, as you know, is that when you share your feelings and emotions with us, you're usually not looking for a solution or "quick-fix."  You merely want to express what you're feeling, and have us lend a sympathetic ear and perhaps a strong shoulder to cry on.  And that's it.  The sadness or depression you feel will not go away as a result of our pro-active suggestions.  You'll simply stop feeling the way you do in your own time, and not before.  That makes perfect sense to you, but leaves us completely baffled.  For us, it make absolutely no sense to feel bad for even one additional moment if there were some course of action you could immediately pursue that would resolve the underlying reason for your emotional pain.

To further complicate matters, women are naturally more comfortable with their emotions.  They are happy to share their feelings unabashedly and with little or no reservations.  Men, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite.  From the time we're little boys, we are strongly encouraged to keep our feelings and emotions to ourselves.  In fact, being openly emotional is apt to cause us to be ridiculed or even ostracized from our peer group.  For it is "unmanly" to show our emotions (except when it comes to athletic competition - our sole, legitimate "let-your-feelings-run-free" activity).  Thus, after years of hiding how we feel, we are understandably ill-equipped to deal with any display of emotion, ours or anybody else's.

Because we are not devoid of emotions - just ashamed of them, we recognize your suffering and feel great empathy, but we are clueless as to how to make things better.  So after failing miserably time and time again in this area, many of us retreat, deciding to admit defeat, rather than regularly subjecting ourselves and you to our impotent attempts at salving your emotional wounds.

Like many things, open communication between the two of you will go a long way to make this situation better.  You must explain to him that there will be times that you will be sad, or depressed, or melancholy, and there is nothing either of you can do about it.  And while you may share your doubts, sorrows, worries, or frustrations with him, you do not expect or want his help in solving things. You just want him to understand that you're in pain, and that you need his emotional support. Then you must be explicit as to the kind of support you want. Sometimes you may just want him to listen. Other times you may desire his comforting embrace. And there may even be times when you don't want to be touched, but still want his love and acceptance. And he needs to know, that in those times that you eschew physical contact, it is not a reflection of how you feel about him, but rather how you are feeling overall. You are not rejecting him, you are simply avoiding physical contact which may be too much to handle, given your current emotional state.  

The important thing to remember here is that despite his lack of knowledge or comfort in this arena, his strong feelings for you cause him to want to ease your pain by any means possible.  And though his efforts may be clumsy, annoying and counterproductive at times, they come from a good and caring place.  Knowing that, should help you help him help you.  

If you have any questions about men, relationships, dating or a related topic, please feel free to email them to me at: I will try to answer as many as I possibly can here in my column. If you are interested in a more comprehensive compendium of musings on the male mind, check out David's [Link Removed] 

(C) 2010 David M. Matthews.  All Rights Reserved.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Anonymous wrote Aug 6, 2010
    • I suggest all men should take an empathy class in addition to the fixer up classes.

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