The lack of emotional expression in men can take a toll of a relationship, and no amount of humor can fix it.
Relationships are a two-way street in all aspects. While partners do cover for each other every now and then, there still needs to be a certain level of balance. Over the past few decades, the institution of marriage in the United States has seen a significant decline of about 60% since the 1970s, reports CNBC. While there are various factors contributing to this trend, content creator Katie Hanlon—who goes by @thekatiehanlon on TikTok—has mentioned some less-discussed yet crucial factors that can often lead to relationship breakdowns.
Hanlon says that men inherently don't express their emotions a lot. She calls it "normative male alexithymia," which may sound complex but boils down to something quite relatable, difficulty in naming and talking about emotions. She believes that this issue in individuals, particularly men, struggling to articulate their feelings, might be one of the hidden reasons why many relationships and marriages face rocky waters. She argues that normative male alexithymia isn't a problem that just goes away on its own.
Instead, it tends to get passed on to the women in relationships with men who haven't quite mastered the art of expressing their emotions. While some spouses might choose to weather this storm, Hanlon acknowledges that countless women worldwide grapple with emotional distress within their marriages, knowing that their partners' emotional reservations may persist.
Interestingly, a significant number of men openly admit their struggles with sharing their feelings. According to a survey conducted by Movember, a men's health charity, involving 4,000 men across several countries, a substantial portion feel the pressure to project "emotional strength" while avoiding any display of vulnerability. A significant percentage have refrained from discussing their feelings with others to protect their image of traditional masculinity. These statistics raise concerns and point to deeply rooted patriarchal norms and outdated gender expectations.
From a young age, boys are often socialized to adhere to behaviors aligned with traditional masculinity, which includes suppressing emotions, self-reliance and shunning qualities perceived as "feminine," like sensitivity or emotional expression. As Hanlon rightly emphasizes, this way of thinking has consequences, particularly for men in long-term relationships. Suppressing emotions and avoiding vulnerability not only hinders the ability to connect with others but also stifles self-expression. Hence, she calls upon men, especially those who see themselves as "the good ones," to make addressing this issue a priority. She believes that discussions about the division of labor, the challenges of parenthood, and the emotional workload borne by women cannot move forward until men start addressing their fundamental emotional needs.
People on the video-sharing platform agreed with Hanlon and had their own examples and perspectives on the issue. @whoisandrewblack_ said, "Not only are these things not taught/modeled to men, but they are also actively repressed by our society. Each man is completely on his own in this struggle." @jpickle3 commented, "When they do talk about emotions it's when you talk about yours first and they're upset and express how bad that makes them feel about themselves."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 15, 2023. It has since been updated.