Was I a terrible dad? I was sitting with my wife in Del Taco and for a fancy date night and some deep conversation. I was kind of upset that someone had just written me a letter saying that after having spend a couple of weeks around me, they found me to be way to negative and harsh with my boys. I was impatient, yelled way too much at them, and was too quick to spank them and did it too often. They said that if it didn’t change, I could scar my boys for life and maybe they’d even hate their dad. I held my breath and asked my wife, “What do you think?”
This is the moment that any man truly hates. You can fake it for your friends and coworkers, but your wife or girlfriend is there every single day. She sees you at your best and your worst. Even though she loves you… Wait, because she loves you so much, she sees you without the biases of your own perspective of yourself.
Because I know my wife will tell me the truth in love, I was kind of scared to hear what she was going to say. Before talking to my wife I had reflected on the letter and I had to agree with some of what the person had to say. And it had been a rough few months. I had felt angry at my sons a lot. Titus who was 3 and Timo who was 1, could seem to make me furious over the smallest things and I felt a strong desire to “get them under control.” But it wasn’t that bad, was it?
Shauntelle smiled at me sweetly and took my hand and affirmed that I was a good dad and she knew I loved my kids. She talked about many things I’ve done to sacrifice for them as a stay at home dad. Then she gently went on to say that the letter was a bit strong and it didn’t all apply to me. At the same time, she had noticed that I had gotten more rough and impatient with the boys. I felt terrible as a father and a husband, but I was glad to have the issue addressed and identified so that through hard work, patience and prayer, I could do better.
Nearly a year later, my wife recently told me that I’ve made a dramatic change and things are much better with the boys. She even said she’s impressed with how I deal with them when they are at their most difficult, which is often with 4 and 2 year old boys. It’s a big blessing to have a woman by my side who I can be vulnerable with and who I can mess up around. It’s a comfort to know that after much prayer and planning she will gently call me out when I’m off the right track in an area of life. And it’s a big help to have her walk beside me encouraging me, building me up and helping me get back on track.
Most men have this same need. We were meant to lead in a relationship, even called to it. Still, we want someone by our side who we can trust our feelings with. We need someone who can put their arm around us when we are weak and carry us through a rough patch and help us get to the other side.
Why Do Men Have an Emotional Guard Up?
Many women wonder why it’s so hard to have a deep, emotionally vulnerable conversation with their man. They want to know what’s going on inside him, but it seems like he just won’t let her in. Boys are raised in one of two extremes. Some are taught to be tough and that crying is for the weak. Others, especially in the 21st century are told that it’s ok to be hemotional and they should just let the hemotions flow. Some take it too far in either direction.
In either case, the average man eventually gets hurt and has to figure out what to do. He may be in a relationship where his girl treats him badly or even cheats on him. He may have tried to achieve some important personal or professional goals and failed big once or failed repeatedly at what he’s tried to do. His circle of family or close friends may have repeatedly mistreated him or broken his trust over the years.
No matter the cause many men react by closing down access to their emotions and guarding them with flaming swords like the ones guarding the Garden of Eden. They protect their emotions like a mama bear guarding her cubs and you have to fight to get in there.
It’s not all bad though. When it’s time to have a fun or romantic night, he’s great to be with. When you want to discuss business ideas or how to get promoted at work, he’s a great resource. The problem for both the man and the woman trying to get in is that behind that wall of protection are a fountain of emotions in his heart that may not be totally healthy. When you start discussing the fights he always gets into with his mom, the flaming swords come up. When you ask him why he doesn’t want kids, the bear claws come out.
An Emotional Wall Becomes a Protective Shell
One way to think about a guy and his emotions is like a turtle in his shell. When you meet him he puts out his head, arms and legs so you can deal with the parts he wants you to see. And many men have built up their emotional defense system like that shell so you can be mean with him or say things that hurt, but he’ll just go into his shell and protect himself.
The tricky part is that sometimes you can say or do perfectly innocent things that feel like an oncoming attack to him and he will still go into his shell. You may just ask what his relationship is like and it sparks up all kinds of thoughts about the issues between him and his mom. You may talk to him about going to church and he thinks about how he was given the cold shoulder the last time he went to church because of his tattoos. In any case, he goes into that shell.
Your goal and desire is to get under that man’s shell and get access to his more sensitive spots. But don’t force it. The shell of a real turtle is actually a vital part of it. It’s backbone and ribcage are fused to it and nerves and blood vessels run through it. You don’t want a man without the protection his shell provides. When he’s out in the world dealing with the many tests and trials that come at him, he needs this protection to survive and succeed. What you want is for him to let you in and stay vulnerable with you.
Here’s how to get that access.
Respect and Validate His Pain
Be gentle, loving, wise, firm, and patient.
When a man is dealing with pain, you have to treat that pain with respect. Acknowledge that his pain is valid and remind him that we have a God who has felt every pain he has felt and his Holy Spirit can comfort and heal his pain. Two important things to note. First, the pain he feels may never go away and it doesn’t have to. Jesus cried when he found His friend Lazarus dead and He was getting ready to bring Lazarus back to life! (John 11:1-44) A man just needs to be reminded that God can carry his pain with him and that you’ll be there to comfort him as well.
The next note about respecting his pain is to know that YOU are NOT the primary source of his comfort. While you are going to be there to hear him and comfort him, the ultimate comfort comes in a growing relationship with Christ. Don’t try or promise to be his everything. You will fail at it. And when, not if, you do, he may add you to the list of hurts or disappointments and go further back into his shell. Let Christ be his primary comforter and pray for help on how to be a part of that process.
Contents are Fragile. Handle With Care.
You should also help him heal his wounds or strengthen his weak parts. Continue to be gentle once he lets you in. When you hammer against the shell, your man may not even fell it. But when he pokes his head out and even makes room for you to come in, that protection is gone. So even the most slight poke in his side will be very painful, even if it is a joke. So no joking about or demeaning his shortcomings, especially in public. You’ll get kicked out of the shell and he’ll go back inside alone.
Be loving, wise, and firm. When my wife discussed my sinful anger and impatience with my boys, she did it in the context of lovingly building up all of the good qualities I had as a father. That let me know she didn’t just see me as a dead beat dad. And even though in our right minds, we as men may know you don’t think we suck, if you don’t sweeten us up with some good stuff first, emotionally we may think you only see bad. Crazy, but true.
Use Wisdom & Be Firm
Then my wife and I jointly used wisdom. How do you just get wise all of a sudden? Get it from elsewhere like the Bible, good books and other wise people.
I got a book called When Good Men Get Angry and talked with her about some of the things in the book that I related to. All of the things related back to Biblical principles so I grounded those lessons in God’s wisdom from the Bible. When there were areas where places where she thought I could apply some of what we talked about, she mentioned it. And she was nice when she brought it up. That made it easy to hear. She also complimented me often when I did a good job with the boys. She didn’t let stuff go or ignore it. I knew she was praying for the best way to bring up any issues or for God to convict me and deal with them Himself when she couldn’t. She helped me grow.
My wife also speaks with other Godly women who have wisdom she can learn from. They have raised children, been married for decades and have successfully navigated some of the issues we deal with. They help her realize what is going on in difficult times and how to get through them.
I also have two other men my age in my life. I’ve built up a trusted relationship with them and can tell them anything. I know they’ll push me toward Biblical wisdom and righteousness with love. I also have a mentor who’s been married for more than 20 years and has raised 6 kids. He gives me the wisdom of his experience raising them as a Godly father and the challenges he’s faced including dealing with anger. I can give these men all of my excuses and they’ll help me strip them away, using force if necessary.
Push Him to Have Wise, Strong Men Around Him
Here is the best way for a woman to be forcefully firm. Outsource it. Get some other trusted Godly men to do the heavy lifting. Listen, there is some stuff that no matter how hard you try, a woman can’t understand the same way another man can. Also, there is a way another man can put some bass in his voice that a woman can not, no matter how much you want to.
Push the man you love to have some men full of Godly wisdom who he looks to for accountability and direction when he needs it. You don’t want to do all of the work of helping him grow yourself and you can’t anyway. Some men can be his peers and these men should be trying to make their best better every day. One or more men should be at least 10 years older and wiser so he’s at least been through some of what he’ll be helping your man with. If he doesn’t have those kinds relationships, give him time and encouragement to develop them. But be firm that you want him to have that in his life.
If you don’t have some firmness here, you may not gain the respect you need to when dealing with tough relationship issues. That doesn’t mean be rude about it. Just be clear, patient and firm about what you see as being healthy in a relationship. Push him to grow. If he doesn’t want it or see the importance… #redflag
Most importantly, be patient with this man. If you’re dating, you’ll have to make a judgement about how patient you want to be. If you’re married, think infinite patience. #tilldeathdoyoupart
The most important take away in the anger book I read was that God was and IS extremely patient with me so who am I to rush the progress of anyone else. Men don’t have a long history of dealing with emotions well and many didn’t have dads to help them through it so give them time and Grace.
The Hard Work is Worth the Reward
See men are easy. We’re just heroes in a half shell that need a little love, gentleness and patience to get us out of our shells. Many of us have just been hurt or socialized to think we need our emotions under lock and key behind flaming swords. A woman who is persistent in her desire to do what it takes to get us out of our shells will find a great reward.
With your help we can push our God given gifts to the limit and become great men. We love to lead and are happy to. We also want a woman who we know is by our side for our benefit. You don’t have to overlook the bad and you don’t need to force him to come into the open. By being gentle, loving, wise, firm, and patient, over time, you’ll find out you have a man who you can help through past hurts and current struggles. It’s hard, but rewarding work. And as he gets stronger, you get a front row seat to the growth. Most importantly you get to enjoy the man he becomes.
What About You?
Ladies, what ways have you found that are effective in helping your man come out of his shell and letting you in.
Fellas, what have some women done well that make you comfortable opening up to them?
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