Let’s Talk about Men

Men are puzzling creatures.

As little boys, they are cute. charming. adventurous. funny.

However, our perspective changes as they become men.

  • Their behavior doesn’t make sense.
  • We wonder what they are thinking.
  • Why do they disconnect?

What bugs you most about men?

Post your comments below, and let’s talk.

If you prefer a private conversation, you may want to schedule a free 30-minute video consultation here.

Taking the Lead

Are you a Christian man?

God created you to take the lead in your family.
That does not mean you get to steamroll everyone.

It does mean that you get to learn how to be more confident, compassionate, & tenderhearted toward your wife and/or kids.

  1. Be confident in who God created you to be on this earth. You have to talk with Him to know that.
  2. Be compassionate as you gently teach what you are actively [currently] learning from God Himself.
  3. A truly great, effective leader is tenderhearted in that you listen first. Otherwise, you are likely to solve the wrong problem, eh?

If you are married

Be a good husband to your wife. Honor her. Delight in her. She is different than you, to be sure. But you share equally in the grace of life because of Christ. Treat her well so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1 Peter 3

If you have kids …

Fathers, don’t frustrate your children with no-win scenarios. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. Ephesians 6:4

Lessons Learned from a Vindictive Wife

When I first started specializing in the Psychology of Men & Marriage, people would often ask how it happened that a woman like me – who knew so much about men & romance – wasn’t married.

Maybe they didn’t realize that I had been married. Twice.
And divorced. Twice.

Sitting through hour after hour of marriage counseling (with me as the counselor), I often envied women whose husbands were enduring so much.

Men who were fighting for their marriages.
Even when their wives were fighting so hard against them.

And I thought of many women I’ve known.
Some of them have been pretty mean.
But they still had husbands.
And I didn’t.

One might be tempted to believe that being a Mean Girl is the only way to get & keep a husband. How do they do it? Why do these men stay? (I’ll have to answer the latter question in another post.)

Never take another woman’s advice. Never ever.

Shortly after I met The Cute Boy, a female acquaintance offered her advice. “Expert advice” because – she proudly announced – she once worked as a receptionist in a counselor’s office (not mine, fortunately). Therefore, she felt compelled to share her own love story as a “good example” of how to keep a man.

As a young teenager, she’d become infatuated with a boy who was several years older. He didn’t treat her well. But she hung around anyway. Like a lovesick puppy.

When all of his friends had deserted him because he was so self-centered, she was still there. And he started being kind to her. Spending all his time with her. By then, there wasn’t anybody else for him to hang out with.

Once she’d “set the hook,” however, she changed her approach. Drastically.

After he’d declared his love and married her, she announced – out loud, I believe – that she was going to “make him pay” for all the time he’d ignored her when she was following him around.

She gleefully reported,

“I treat him like $#@!. Then when he feels really bad, I do something really nice for him. Like cook his favorite meal. Or have sex with him. And that’s how I keep him in line. He can flirt with other women. They don’t intimidate me. I’m the one he’s always going to come home to.”

When I met this couple, they’d been married nearly 30 years.

  • Did that mean she had it figured out?
  • Did her husband realize what she was still doing?

What was his point of view?

Her husband had been dealing with some pretty serious digestive problems. He ended up in surgery.

A few months after that, I was standing next to him at a presentation about Victorian costuming when someone asked why they never had any workshops for men’s costumes.

He turned to me and mumbled sarcastically, “Ya. ‘How to Make Armor.’”

And I wonder if she cares that – in that same conversation – he referred to wives as “blood-suckers.”

As a psychologist, I’m convinced there’s a connection with his poor health. Being treated badly would make anyone’s stomach hurt.

On the other hand, some men have no better advice than women.

I was carpooling with a group of friends and sat next to a middle-aged single man. He was aware of my interest in the Psychology of Men and took the opportunity to tell me “an insider’s secret” about men.

“Guys don’t like to date a woman they see as too perfect. It makes them nervous that they’ll never be able to deserve her. So they’ll dump her.”

So … it would seem that I’d been going about romance all wrong. I should first pick a Bad Boy, then become a Mean Girl who flaunts her flaws as though they are virtues & treats men as slaves?

I just couldn’t see myself doing that.

And I have absolutely no desire to even try to pull that off. Not ever. As a Christian, my goal is always to become more like Christ. Whether any man ever loved me or not, I want to be governed by

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • gentleness
  • faithfulness
  • and self-control.

And I most certainly didn’t want to be the kind of woman that makes a man feel like he needs to wear armor when he’s around her.

What I needed & wanted in my life was a man who had the same goal that I have – to be more like Christ.

What kind of partner do you want?

Does your husband take you for granted?

Sonya asked me, “What do you do when your husband takes you for granted?” She felt unappreciated. Overworked. Like she couldn’t please him to save her life. She was working hard to be the best homemaker in their empty nest, just as she had always done. Trying to anticipate what he needed and wanted from her. But she was missing an important ingredient in her formula for a great marriage.

In truth, her husband just needs to know that she …

  • likes who he is,
  • wants to be with him, and
  • isn’t taking him for granted.

If she could find a way to communicate that to him, she could solve 95% of her challenge.

And he would make her feel so much more appreciated.

And valued.

Here is just one example for your consideration.

Does your husband take you for granted?

What to do when your husband takes you for granted.

I recorded my answer during a live Q&A on Zoom. Here’s the transcript. The video is posted below.

Watch the clip from the live Q&A.

I’m here to help, so let’s continue the dialogue. Feel free to post in the comments box below. If you have a more personal question & would like my response, contact me.

[Begin transcript.]

You know, I think actually women are more likely to take men for granted than the other way around. I actually do. Men just kind of figure out,

“This is the way it’s going to be.”

And they give up. So what may look like he’s taking his wife for granted is he’s just trying not to rock the boat. So he doesn’t ask for anything.

Well, you know we talked about that before. About how men don’t like to bring up something that they’re not happy about. Because it could either

  • hurt his wife’s feelings or
  • it could make her angry.
  • One or both of those things.

So he keeps it inside of him, and he just really learns to settle. If makes sense …

and because he’s not complaining, and because he shows up every day, and he’s doing all the things that a woman wants him to. You know, except maybe helping around the house a little bit more, feeling more connected. And he really doesn’t know what that means.

He doesn’t know what being “more connected” is.

But he just learns to settle. He just comes home and does his thing. And the common conversations among men are

  • Just try not to get in trouble with the wife.
  • You know that saying: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” So you try to keep mama happy.
  • Which oftentimes means that you don’t ask for anything. You see her flittering to do all of these things, and she seems to be filled with all kinds of anxiety about kids and the house and getting everything done.

And there’s really no room for the husband to even mention his needs.

Who’s taking whom for granted?

I watched a video yesterday the title of it was Self-Made and it was on Amazon. [Correction: It was on Netflix.] I’m not sure if you’ve seen that, but Octavia Spencer did a really good job of portraying the first female self-made millionaire in the United States. She’s African American, so you have all of these cultural issues that are part of the video. … I think it starts in 1908, so we’re talking more than a hundred years ago. A long time ago.

She’s married to an abusive man in the beginning, and her self-esteem is just in the pits. She takes in laundry … all these things are going on. And then she ends up marrying this really nice guy.

She finds out … I don’t want to spoil the whole story for you … but she she finds this haircare product for African American women, and she wants to sell it. But the woman doesn’t want anything to do with her, so she develops it on her own. And it takes off.

The reason why this comes to my mind is that at one point this really loving husband that she had … makes suggestions for her … about how to get the rich men to invest in the factory she wants to open.

But she dismisses him. She totally pushes him [her husband] aside, and she says,

“No, this is my company.”

She just keeps referring to it as “my company.” And she ended up pushing this perfectly loving man to the side … basically tell him, “I don’t need you. I don’t need your input.”

Well, she does find a way. … Obviously the story is that she’s a self-made millionaire. She does find a way to get the backing, and she goes through the women.

But in the process, she totally disrespects her husband. He even says,

“What good am I?”

She’s got him doing women’s hair, and the things that he’s capable of doing. … I believe it was advertising, that he had a specialty in advertising. And she wouldn’t even listen to his input. He ends up having an affair, and they divorce.

They both still love each other, but they didn’t handle that very well.

I don’t think that women should submit to all men. I am right up there with: “We’ve got rights. We’ve got brains. We should do things.”

But if we’ve got a partner, we need to learn how to work together. Nothing in the marriage is ever mine and yours. It’s ours. Something we do together.

That’s part of where I think the the whole shift – and I know I’m going on a different topic than you originally asked, but it’s on my mind. This whole shift from the way that men, in their vulnerability, used to suppress women to help themselves feel better. Now we flipped it around.

Instead of making things better where we cooperate more, we’ve actually made it worse. Because now, in finding our voice, we’ve told men to “shut up.”

So across the board – unless a man wants to be a real jerk and do some of the things that you know have come up recently – you know about men taking advantage of women, which that’s a whole other topic.

But women really take advantage of men and just run over them. I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing with gaining our rights.

So that’s kind of a sidebar in in your question. But I think it’s really important.

So men just learned to settle.

It’s just the way it’s gonna be. They’ve lost their voice, and everything revolves around the woman now.

I think it’s a product of us being really really misinformed about what the marital relationship is supposed to look like.

[End transcript.]

Why Do Husbands Hate Coming Home From Work?

Your husband is late again. He finally walks in the door. But he’s not really there. You’re trying to get dinner on. And the kids are fighting. Again. Your husband doesn’t even notice. Much less pitch in to help. What can you do?

So why do husbands hate coming home from work? Once a woman understands her husband’s inner world, she can usually (and quite easily) ignite his desire to come home earlier … and to help out more.

Keep reading to learn One Simple Change you can make with minimal effort!

Why do husbands hate coming home after work? What to do hen you need one another's understanding.

As a woman and as Couples Psychologist, I know how hard we women work at getting things right.

  • Work.
  • Home.
  • Kids.
  • Marriage.

But we often shoot ourselves in the foot by focusing on doing things right, instead of doing the right things.

I want to help you change that.

… and make your life so much easier!!!

When your husband hates to come home, everybody loses.

When your home is not a safe place for your husband, it’s not going to be good for you either.

Yes, men need to find a safe place. At home.

My first post on this topic got some immediate feedback on social media about how women need to have a safe place, too.

Then a discussion ensued on Twitter about abusive relationships and how this does not apply to someone who is being abused. I want to address that topic in another post. It’s something we should all ask ourselves, and there are specific things I want to share with you about domestic violence.

However, when I’m talking about men needing a safe place, I’m really talking about the guy who’s not abusive.

A Good Husband Needs a Safe Place

The average man is a good man who wants to take good care of his wife and his family. He goes to work every day. He comes home every day and just really needs a place where he can be wanted and accepted just like he is.

And that is actually so rare – even for the good guys in this world – to be able to have a safe place where they can come home and just relax. So that’s why husbands hate coming home from work.

One Lonely Husband

Several years ago, a man I’d been seeing in couple’s counseling told me something I never would have guessed.

He and his wife lived in Southern California, so he had a really tough commute from Orange County to LA and back for work every day.

His drive took a minimum of an hour and a half … one way.

While talking during a split session, he confessed that when he got home, he would actually drive around and park several blocks away.

He’d shut off his car.
Then he’s just sit there and cry.

He felt so exhausted from everything he handled at work every day, and he dreaded going into the house. Because he was typically met with a list of problems and no real attention or affection. Clearly he was one of those husbands who hated coming home from work.

It was eating him alive.

If you’ve followed me for very long, you know that men are actually way more sensitive to those kinds of things than we are as women. The problem is that those guys have to go out in this fast-paced world, make a living to provide for their families, and put on armor to protect themselves from everything that’s coming at them that’s telling them …

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You are inadequate.
  • You are never gonna make it.

So he goes through his whole day with a huge, heavy weight. And equally weighty armor to protect himself from that sense of not being able to measure up. So when he comes home, he needs to be able to take off the armor, be greeted, loved, and accepted.

He needs to know he’s wanted.

If he doesn’t tell his wife about what’s been going on at work that day, that’s one thing. But when she doesn’t even seem like she cares that he’s home, or for her to immediately say,

  • “I need help with the kids.”
  • “I need you to ….”
  • “Take ….”
  • “Fix ….”
  • “Go ….”

All the while, there he is, feeling alone, not cared for … and used.

And hating coming home from work.

I mean it’s no wonder that man would sit in his car and cry.

If he knew he was gonna have to go into his house and put on the armor again? That’s really, really sad.

Stay-at-home moms don’t have an easy life either.

The flip side of that is also very, very understandable. Because you’ve got a woman who’s been at home all day long with kids. I did that myself for 12 1/2 years, so I know that can be its own set of nerve-racking.

She desperately needs some help, and she sees him as her rescuer.

She believes he’s going come home and take over the chaos. He’s going to take care of the kids – or whatever fire is blazing at the moment. And she’s going to get some relief. Because the cavalry has arrived!

While he’s on his way home, she isn’t thinking about about what he’s coming from.

Some women have full-time jobs on top of a household to run!

Even worse yet is a situation where the wife also works outside the home. She comes straight home and immediately jumps into the fray:

  • fixing dinner
  • taking care of children
  • getting homework done

All of those things … and more. Plus she seems to be able to do it really well.

Then he comes home from work. And he doesn’t help. At least, he doesn’t seem to want to help. That’s very very confusing. Because women are handling lots of things, and they desperately need the help. But the guy’s not stepping up and taking care of things, too.

What we don’t realize in those moments is how often we turn to attacking, blaming, and criticizing the person we love most – someone who’s already been really beat up all day. He usually has no place else to go where he can …

  • be nurtured
  • have his wounds attended to
  • know somebody really cares about him … as a vulnerable human being.

We women have a different situation.

Women are generally pretty good at finding ways to support one another. We have many ways to reach out. And it’s totally acceptable for us to reach out, to ask others for emotional support.

It’s not the same for guys.

They really don’t have a place where they can just say,

  • “I feel like I failed today.”
  • “I feel like I’m just not getting it done.”

There’s no safe place for men to say that … except with their wives. If they’re lucky enough to have a wife who accepts their vulnerability. And if he is one of those lucky guys, he does not hate coming home from work.

And if she can infer that he had a bad day from his nonverbal communication, all the better!!!

We must begin to realize that. Because if we don’t know what’s really going on with him, we’ll see him as the problem.

Women often see their husbands as an additional problem.

That’s when we attack, blame, and criticize him for not coming to our rescue the moment he walks in the door.

When that happens, we’re doing the emotional equivalent of kicking the man in the groin. And now we’ve taken away everything he needs to function as the Knight in Shining Armor we married.

You know I have three sons. And I accidentally kicked Son #2 one time. We were engaged in horseplay, and I kicked him. Not that hard. And that poor boy – he was about 13 at the time – he literally dropped to the ground. He could not breathe! It took the wind right out of him.

We do that emotionally to men all the time. We don’t realize how wounded they are. So we get on his case about what we perceive to be his shortcomings. Which is the equivalent of saying,

  • [kick] “Now get up and help me. This is about what I need, and you’re a jerk to leave everything for me to do.”
  • “What is wrong with you?” [kick kick]

It’s more painful for him than women ever realize. And I don’t know how else to really get this across to women. How important it is that we understand that home is the only place where a man has even the remotest opportunity to …

  • take off his armor,
  • get next to his lady, and
  • feel the warmth of her comfort!

How to Ignite His Desire to Come Home to You – Without Using Sex

This is about knowing the right thing to do so your husband does not hate to come home from work … and you won’t have to do everything yourself. I’ll be talking a lot more about what that looks like. Specific steps that you can take to make him feel welcome to be with you.

One Simple Change

Here’s one really simple and quick tip that will have an immediate impact. When he walks in the door, stop whatever you’re doing, make eye contact with him, and smile.

You don’t really have to do anything more. It’s like hanging out his personal welcome sign. A simple, low-energy investment that says:

  • “I want you here.”
  • “I’m glad you’re home”

When you do that and he feels like he’s really wanted at home, he will look forward to coming home. He won’t be like that guy that drove around the block and sat parked his car and cried because he didn’t want to go in his own house. He won’t be like that.

Instead, he’ll be thinking, “I can’t wait to get home and see my wife.”

And he will rally with this new energy to step in and help you with stuff.

Experiment to see if and how it works in your marriage.

You don’t have to trust me on this. But when you do this on a consistent basis, I believe you will see a difference. Maybe not right away. Depending on how distant you have been from one another. But you have already started changing things. With minimal effort on your part.

That’s my challenge for today. Test it. See if it makes a difference in your husband’s desire to come home from work. Then let me know how it goes. I look forward to hearing from you and the results that you see.

Warning: Often when I make a suggestions like this, I get, “Yeah, but…” from women. If you have a “Yeah, but,” please let me know.

The Quick Start Guide to Understanding Men

Do you want to know more about your husband? Learn what Dr. Debi learned about men as a Clinical Psychologist working with men & the women they love for 25+ years.

Get instant access to Dr. Debi’s FREE WORKSHOP for women. Watch it whenever you want & as often as you want.

Why Husbands Don’t Help Around the House

Are you the parent who is taking charge of homeschooling? Are you also the only one who cooks? does the dishes? washes clothes? picks up after kids?

Decades after women started working outside the home, research shows that the lady of the house is still responsible for most of the housework & childcare. Furthermore, wives are also far more likely to manage everyone’s doctors’ appointments, as well as the family social calendar.

Ask a woman what she needs from her husband, and she will most often say she needs him to help more around the house. But that issue is much more complex than merely sharing a list of chores.

Why Husbands Don't Help Around the House

In fact, a woman’s desire for her husband’s help around the house barely scratches the surface of what she needs from him.

And his refusal is only the tip of the iceberg of what he needs from her.

When we fail to see the underlying reasons why husbands don’t help around the house, we miss the “main thing” for him … and for her.

Here are three reasons men don’t help around the house … and what we can learn from each about both perspectives.

A Man’s Perspective on Why Husbands Don’t Help Around the House

Men simply don’t think like women. They’re not supposed to. If they did, we wouldn’t need them. We already know the female perspective on life. What we need is balance. And that’s what he brings. Or hopes to bring.

1. Men don’t put household perfection at the top of their priority list.

The men I’ve met do like a clean house. But very few of them are obsessed with perfection. Mostly they just want to have a comfortable place where they can relax after a long day.

One woman I met would get upset with her husband for sitting on the sofa and messing up the pillows. He could sit there, of course. But if he got up to do something else, she expected him to fluff the pillows & cushions.

Even if he was just going out to walk the dog.

Another woman freaked out when her husband set his car keys on top of her freshly polished dining room table.

Okay, I’ll give her that one.

But it wasn’t worth the fight that followed.

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.


2. Men don’t understand why women insist on perfection.

I read a rather long post not long ago from a woman who admitted to having a meltdown because she wasn’t able to get everything done. Her husband walked into the fray & shortly thereafter announced that he was going to the gym. She was really mad at him for abandoning her in a crisis.

I get her point. She needed him, and he left.

However, his initial response would NOT have been helpful anyway. He probably would have told her to “chill out.” He would have told her she was overreacting. He would have tried to help her see how silly she was being over stuff that didn’t matter.

You get the picture.

He was wiser to go to the gym.

But a man doesn’t realize how much pressure a woman is under to do everything & to do it all perfectly. To fail means a bucket load of shame on top of extreme fatigue & time pressure. We can handle being tired. And we know there’s never enough time.

But we fear shame. So we get angry instead.

Then feel ashamed.

What women need is (1) empathy, (2) to be held, (3) & a husband who can say, “What can I do to help?”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

PROVERBS 31:30-31, NIV

3. Men don’t like (i.e., hate) being treated like children.

Men have mastered a lot, especially when it comes to vulnerable emotions. Unfortunately, they try to get their wives to use a man’s survival strategies. Or they revert to whatever has worked for them in managing their business lives.

Neither of those approaches work with a wife.

But women also get stuck in how they communicate with men. They use their “mom voice.” Even spoken more softly, it’s still a “mom voice.”

“I need you to ….”

“Put your ….”

“Go ….”

You get the idea?

He’s gonna rebel. I guarantee it.
[rebel verb. “to rise in opposition to an established government or ruler.]

Not the result you were going for, was it?

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.

PROVERBS 31:10-12

But 3 Things a Woman Really Wants From Her Husband …

  • She’s not alone when it comes to raising children.
  • He values her & all she does to make their house a home.
  • She is more important to him than anything else in the world.

So when we listen to the words we use & notice the actions that result, we can learn a lot about how we are meant to partner together.

The Short Answer for Both RE: Why Husbands Don’t Help Around the House

… let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, & let the wife see that she respects her husband. EPHESIANS 5:33, NKJV

Therefore, we can conclude that …

  • The main thing she wants is to be loved.
  • The main thing he wants is to be respected.

I look forward to hearing from you!

If you have questions or comments about this article, feel free to contact me. I will reply as soon as I am able. Plus I will add you to my biweekly email, so you will be notified whenever I publish a new post.

Of course, you may also post your question or comment publicly in the space provided. I respect your privacy, so you email address will not be published.

Always remember: I’m here to help.


Understanding Emotionally Unavailable Men

Does the man you love avoid talking about feelings – his & yours? Does he shut down & stonewall when you get emotional? Does he give you his “logical answer” when you want to process what’s really going on in the relationship? If you’ve ever wondered why so many women have these same complaints about men, keep reading.

Attachment Theory helps explain why so many men are emotionally unavailable. Basically, a man is born more sensitive than a woman, but his upbringing teaches him to hide his vulnerability.

understanding men - emotionally unavailable men

Understanding Men Through Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory is based on the research finding that every human being needs someone who is available & responsive to his/her needs from the womb to the tomb.

Research by Dr. John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, showed that babies not only need to be fed and protected, but also need strong emotional bonds.

  • Every baby is born with an attachment system to ensure its physical & emotional survival.
  • When a baby is angry, sad, hurt, or afraid, his attachment system cries out & moves him toward someone who can care for him.
  • When someone is available & responsive to his needs, he feels safe.
  • If his experience is consistently positive, his memories of being comforted will soothe him when no one is readily available.

Positive early emotional memories, as well as sights, sounds, smells, taste, & touch, help him develop healthy beliefs about himself:

  1. I am lovable.
  2. I can depend on others to love me & to help meet my needs.

The “relational template” he develops (comforting or distancing) becomes his pattern for future relationships.

Of course, this is true for girl babies, too.
But I’ll talk about that in a different post.

What Changes for Boys?

At the beginning of life, a baby boy’s emotional experience is much like a baby girl’s. However, boys are more emotionally & socially sensitive. Therefore, they feel every experience more intensely.

However, most boys are pushed away at an early age. That experience forms a negative belief about what it means to be a man & what a man can expect from others … especially from a woman.

His natural sensitivity often causes considerable pain & confusion as he matures. According to research …

  • Infant boys are more emotionally & socially sensitive at birth (Brody & Hall, 1993; Levant, 2001).
  • By the time a boy starts school, he has learned to hide most feelings — especially if they show his vulnerability (Levant, 2001; Pollack, 1998).
  • Nearly every boy repeatedly experiences socially acceptable shaming.
  • A boy learns to appear tough, aggressive, dominating, & non-emotional.
  • Many boys & men demonstrate limited emotions — usually anger.
  • Men withdraw from emotional discussions to protect their vulnerability.

A boy who needed love & acceptance, but was rejected & shamed for his vulnerability instead, has experienced far more pain than women will ever understand.

Rejection & shame during childhood & adolescence leave a boy alone to deal with complex feelings, especially guilt, humiliation, shame, anxiety, depression, anger, and rage.

Women are confused about what it means to grow up male (Pollack, 1998).

A boy usually has no place to turn. No one to help him with his pain.

Where Did His Mom Go?

A mother often feels uncertain about how to raise a healthy man. Consequently, she may feel pressured to push her son away.

His mom actively, but often unknowingly participates in “the hardening process through which society shames boys into suppressing their empathic and vulnerable sides” (Pollack, 1998, p. 40).

This usually happens when he needs her reassurance & instruction most:

  • The first time is when he goes off to school.
  • The second is when he’s going through puberty.

The Clingy or Abusive Mom

On the other hand, some women use their sons to fulfill their own emotional needs. This topic requires a much deeper discussion than we have space for here. But I will be talking about it elsewhere on this blog.

A Father’s Guidance

Fathers who have also been pushed away & rejected have no idea how to be there for their sons. All they know to do is show them how to avoid vulnerable feelings, often “at all costs.” Dads mostly demonstrate their strategies through their on lack of emotional availability.

Remember that early experiences provide a boy with images & feelings that form his understanding of how to form relationships and how dependable he can expect those relationships to be based on …

  1. mom’s & dad’s availability & responsiveness to him, and
  2. how effective he has been in getting others to respond to his needs.

So boys move from mother disconnection to father disconnection. No wonder he learns to shut down his feelings. He does it to survive!

The Crises of Boyhood

Growing up is complicated & confusing for a boy.

And he is often without emotional support.

Researchers (e.g., Levant, 2001; Pollack, 1998) have identified several stages when boys have emotional crises. The first crisis sets the stage for the second. Both help explain why men are emotionally unavailable as adults.

  1. The first crisis is the beginning of school (e.g., kindergarten).
  2. The second is as a teenager as he tries to understand adult sexuality & all there is to know about girls.

The first crisis is actually several years in the making and is fundamentally the result of how we socialize our sons’ emotions. Because of widespread beliefs in U.S. society about how boys and men ought to behave (what I call the “code of masculinity”), we tend to get swept up in a process of shaping and channeling boys’ expression of emotions so that, although boys start out life more emotional than girls, they wind up much less so. By the time a boy enters school he has learned to hide and feel ashamed of two important sets of emotions: those that express vulnerability in one way or another (fear, sadness, loneliness, hurt, shame, and disappointment) and those that express neediness, caring or connection to others.

Levant, 2001, p. 355

The Code of Masculinity

Levant, Hirsch, Celentano, and Cozza (1992) examined major American beliefs. Their study revealed that boys & men are “supposed to be”:

  1. independent and self-reliant,
  2. non-expressive of emotions related to vulnerability or attachment,
  3. tough and aggressive,
  4. driven toward high social status,
  5. perpetually in the mood for sex,
  6. disinterested in anything feminine, and
  7. interested only in sex.

Pollack’s (1998) “Boy Code” is a similar list. These sound a lot like survival techniques for a tenderhearted boy. Don’t you think?

  1. Be a Sturdy Oak. Whimpering, crying, complaining, or any sign of weakness is strictly forbidden.
  2. Give ‘Em Hell. Boys are encouraged in risk-taking behavior characteristic of a macho, invincible, sometimes violent, high-energy superman.
  3. Be the Big Wheel. To survive, he must dominate others & refuse to let anyone know he actually feels like a failure or like life is out of control.
  4. No Sissy Stuff. This last commandment (survival technique) is like an emotional “straitjacket” that keeps boys from expressing feelings “seen (mistakenly) as ‘feminine’— dependence, warmth, empathy” (p. 24).

Other Important Questions

  • Was he a victim of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)?
  • How did discipline (spanking, hitting, shaming) affect him?
  • What was his parents’ relationship like?
  • How was his relationship with siblings?
  • What did he learn from sports?
  • Was he a “jock” or a “nerd”?

Summary for Understanding Emotionally Unavailable Men

So many factors go into making a man. But emotional separation & rejection are highly common experiences for nearly all boys.

We must learn appreciate that men have been able to survive in a world that is unfriendly toward males.

Being more sensitive by nature, many boys could not have survived to see adulthood if they had not developed some highly effective defenses.

  • Not surprisingly, the classic male stereotypes are avoidant or dismissing.
  • Common complaints from women range from
    • lack of feeling and/or sensitivity toward others to
    • aggressive and/or angry outbursts
  • To expect a boy or man to be empathic toward others is an unreasonable request if he himself has not had the experience of being:
    • understood
    • accepted
    • loved
  • Generally, the world may not be a safe place for a man. The only way he has survived so far is to cut off his feelings. Or at least to keep them from showing.
  • Anger & depression are not uncommon responses to teasing & shaming. Yet boys and men are expected to learn to control their anger, rather than to understand it.

Solutions for Understanding Emotionally Unavailable Men

When a man (or boy) is emotionally unavailable, he probably has a very good reason.

  1. The short solution is that men need empathy.
  2. The more difficult task, however, is to teach women how to understand & empathize with men in a way that doesn’t add further shame, manipulation, and trauma.


NOTE: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Brody, L. R., & Hall, J. A. (1993). Gender and emotion. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 447-460). New York: The Guilford Press. [Amazon link]

Levant, R. F. (2001). The crises of boyhood. In G. R. Brooks & G. E. Good (Eds.), The new handbook of psychotherapy and counseling with men (Vol. 1, pp. 355- 368). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [Amazon link]

Levant, R. F., Hirsch, L. S., Celentano, E., & Cozza, T. M. (1992). The male role: An investigation of contemporary norms. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 14, 325-337.

Pollack, W. S. (1998). Real boys: Rescuing our sons form the myths of boyhood. New York: Henry Holt and Company. [Amazon link]

Smith, D. L. (2009). Mothers and sons: How the maternal attachment experience affects boys’ emotional and social development. [instant download available from Dr. Debi Smith on Thinkific.com]

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