How men and fathers express emotions

Fathers comprehend and express emotions differently as they spend time processing their feelings.

It is a universal belief that men process emotions differently than women. While women tend to recognize and understand how they are feeling rather quickly, it can take men hours and even days to realize how their feelings are affecting them. For men, understanding and accepting their emotions may take some time to process.

The initial instinct for most men when faced with strong emotions is to look for a problem to solve. They don’t necessarily think first about the feelings and emotions that may be involved. A Psychology Today article, “Why Don’t Many Men Show Their Emotions?” notes that men do experience emotions, but they typically don’t show them.

Below are some ideas on why men and fathers sometimes appear to struggle with emotions and feelings.

Give men time to understand the feelings they are having. Most men and fathers would rather solve problems than talk about their feelings; they prefer to get to the solution first and talk about how they got there later. Solving a problem tends to give men the time to process and understand how they are feeling, thus giving them the necessary time to think before communicating.

Men often express their feelings in a physical nature. Men often express feelings outwardly through body language such as physical gestures, facial changes, muscle tensing and gritting teeth, instead of expressing those emotions with words. A Scientific American article, “Why Fathers Downplay Feelings,” also points to men using special events, rewards and showing positive support as a way to express emotions and feelings. Men may give hugs, pats on the back and a high-five to express feelings of love towards their children. Just because a father doesn’t verbally express his feelings doesn’t mean he is not loving and affectionate towards his children.

The greater the emotion, the longer it takes. Men take a longer time on average to understand what they are feeling and to figure out what may be causing the emotion. When an emotion is less complicated, men can recognize what they are feeling quicker than with a more complicated emotion. A less complicated emotion would include being upset that someone did not take the garbage out, while a more complicated emotion would be grieving the loss of a close friend or family member.

Talk about feelings once some time has passed. Understand that some men will need to take time before they can talk about their emotions. By giving them plenty of time to process and understand their own emotions, you are showing empathy and respect for their experiences and creating a situation where discussing emotions can be more meaningful and successful. When you force someone to talk about their emotions before they are ready, you risk alienating them or encouraging them to shut down and stop sharing. Allowing men and fathers time and space to process their emotions gives them the time and support they need to respond appropriately.

For more information on child development, parenting and school readiness, please visit the Family Section on the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.


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