What does “normative male alexithymia” have to do with us? It is a cultural attempt to name the difficulty men have putting their emotional experience into words. Our ancestors would have joked about the need to label a characteristic that has been a part of the male makeup since the beginning of time. Remember: even Adam failed in his communication with Eve when he was silent after Satan had tempted her (Gen. 3:1-10).
I found this term in the May edition of Harper’s Bazaar, in an article entitled, “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden.” The subtitle states, “Toxic masculinity – and the persistent idea that feelings are a ‘female thing’ – has left a generation of straight men stranded on emotionally-stunted islands, unable to forge deep relationships with other men. It’s women who are paying the price.”
What got my attention was this: “It’s women who are paying the price.” The article cited research from Brené Brown: “Whereas women experience shame when they fail to meet unrealistic, conflicting expectations, men become consumed with shame for showing signs of weakness… having hard conversations that involve vulnerability is something men often try to avoid.” The article’s author noted, “Women continue to bear the burden of men’s emotional lives… For generations, men have been taught to reject traits like gentleness and sensitivity, leaving them without the tools to deal with internalized anger and frustration.”
This article can be compared to one’s wife waving one of those beach flags indicating the surf is rough today – so proceed with caution. When my wife waves the flag, I need to engage lovingly and wholeheartedly – and not avoid the warning. I hope you can agree that too many wives carry more of the emotional load in their marriages. Here are some takeaways from this article for Christian men.
First, don’t be like Adam, who didn’t utter a word in his fateful moment with Eve. Men, it is downright messy at times to dialogue with our wives. You will usually feel on the short end of the discussion. But you need to stay with it. Being “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” can be helpful (James 1:19).
Second, admit that many of us are straight men stranded on emotionally-stunted islands. Good models have been hard to find. But we can make a difference by asking God to make us tough and tender. “…Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Third, cultivate male relationships. One of the best ways to become emotionally involved with your wife is to get emotionally involved with other men. Do yourself a favor and get into a men’s group that practices transparency. That will help you learn to share your emotions with your wife. She will bless the group for “cracking” her man open.
Fourth, reject the label “toxic masculinity.” Yes, some men are toxic, but don’t allow the label to cloak you in shame. Be committed to being a man who has both the Lion and the Lamb in his tank (John 3:29-30). God can make you capable of deep, caring emotions when they’re needed.
Finally, remember this from Leanne Payne: “To ask a man to become relationally aware, without being first of all secure in his maleness, is to ask a man to be less than a man. It is in some way asking a man to act like a woman without first knowing what it is like to be a man. A man must be sensitive from the heart of a truly secure man.” Amen to that!