Last week we posted about physical nakedness and emotional nakedness. While these posts can be attributed to either men or women, the thoughts presented may lean more towards women. Therefore, I (Justin) wanted to present some thoughts for men regarding this subject of Emotional Nakedness.
Megan and I have been married nearly 12 years now, and we dated for a full 3 years prior to marriage. Throughout these past 15 years I’ve come to notice just how much Megan appreciates me being not simply open and honest, but completely open about how I’m doing emotionally. In fact, when Megan and I first met the one thing that really attracted her to me was my openness in how I communicated with her. I was open about every aspect of my life, what I did for a living, what I hoped to do as I grew older, what my former relationships had been like…just about anything I could talk about, I opened up. She loved this about my personality.
Fast forward 15 years, and I can honestly say that this kind of openness is no longer natural. I hold my emotions in more often than not and sometimes I’m tempted to think she doesn’t even notice. But she does. She always does. Even if she asks, “How are you doing?” (which she does because she recognizes there is something bothering me), I’m still tempted to reply with the normal answer, “I’m doing fine,” or perhaps, “Life’s just really busy, you know.” But these kinds of responses are disingenuous. She knows it – and if I’m honest with myself – I know it, too. Therefore, I’ve come to acknowledge I must be emotionally open with her even during seasons I’d prefer to emotionally shut down. But what is it most men need to understand about being emotionally open with their spouse?
1) Understand how much your spouse can encourage and support you
If you look up the the first marriage in the bible, you’ll read about Adam and Eve. One of the things the author of Genesis writes is, “It is not good for man to be alone, therefore, I will create a helper suitable for him.” As you can imagine, that word “helper” has created a great deal of dialog through the years. But the book of Genesis wasn’t written in English, it was written in Hebrew. And the same Hebrew word for “helper” is often used as a descriptive word for God, such as God is my “strength” or my “help”. It’s not a term for “personal assistant”, but instead a term of relational connectedness and oneness.
That said, I’ve come to recognize Megan as a great sense of strength and encouragement in my life. When I’m going through a really difficult season emotionally, I’ll tell her I need her encouragement. Oftentimes she’ll send middle-of-the-day texts to tell me how much she appreciates me and my support of our family. Sometimes she’ll think of other ways to encourage me. But she only does this because I’ve come to recognize her as a true strength in my life, and my guess is that your spouse would love the opportunity to be your strength as well.
2) Understand the freedom that comes with being open (emotionally)
I live in a world of full-time ministry. In this world I’m often tempted to think that nobody else really knows what my life is like, and that only those who are involved in ministry full-time “really” know the difficulties in this profession. The truth is, I think this is often a cop-out thought process that all men struggle with from time to time. We think about raising a family, providing for the same family, taking the next step in our career, etc. In time all of these thoughts weigh on us. To make things worse, our culture tells us that we need to “man-up” and deal with things like men – though nobody ever really explains what that means.
I’m here to tell you that you can suppress these thoughts and emotions all you like, and you will be miserable for a long, long time. But choose to release these thoughts and struggles to your spouse (your helper) and you’ll feel a wonderful sense of release. By opening up and talking through these things you’ll be reminded that you’re not in this alone and you’ll feel encouraged and greatly supported to make difficult decisions but to do so with confidence. If you really want to “man-up,” do what you know to be right, and know that your wife is with you every step of the way.
3) Understand you are in control of your emotions
One of the things people often struggle with is not knowing what emotions they’re experiencing. Have you ever been there? I know I have. If you honestly cannot pinpoint what emotions you’re experiencing (joy, anger, peace, frustration, hate, etc.) it’s probably because your emotions are controlling you and not the other way around. And yes, yes, yes, this can happen to men just as often as it can happen to women. Understand that you can control these emotions, not simply suppress them. You can understand when they come, why they come, and through practice, you can understand how to control them. While I can’t get into too much detail in this post, I want to encourage you to begin thinking about whether your emotions are in control, or whether you are. Also, take the opportunity to think about the above points as well. Are you giving your wife opportunities to be your strength? Are you desiring to be free from emotional baggage?
I recognize this post may not sound overly “manly” according to our culture. But I also believe that for marriage to work as God has intended, we as men have to take the difficult step to open up emotionally with our wives. It may not always be easy, but the rewards of doing so far outweigh the risks involved.