Women, tackle these four points and rid your relationship (and your guy) of the man box forever! Men, did we get it right?

The Man Box. It exists. And women deny it. Our social media is clogged with memes broadcasting the need for men to “man up,” referencing the number of guns a man might own, or how he will bury the guy dating his daughter. The worst ones poke fun at a man’s competence. We all suffer the goofy daddy meme, too. Some people may argue this is humor not meant to hurt anyone and so it should be okay. But even in jest, the man box is reinforced by men and women, particularly women who have not inherited the new man—a man who has somehow managed to avoid the man box altogether. This gent is in touch with his feelings; he doesn’t shoo them away, and he doesn’t feel shame for experiencing them.

So for the sake of loving men, as women we must learn how to bolster this new man (out-of-the-box) and those courageous enough to try and leave the box as well.

The man box, arguably has been identified as primarily belonging to this next, hipster generation. Baby Boomers may decry that a man box even exists, and a majority of them sure as hell don’t want to leave the invisible, predictable confines. Their partners, wives, gals; largely straight-laced and slightly more conservative, may wonder there’s nothing wrong with the surviving man who has risen up among the ranks of men through the ages…why are we trying to change them now?

As this generation of progressive women flank their men, receiving by a matter of course and growth new guys who fight for their right to feel, heal, open up and express without chastisement, it is not surprising these same women sometimes struggle with what to do half the time, as echoes of their fathers remain. The stoic daddio, clad in tank top underwear (unglamorous/offensive slang a.k.a. wife-beater), his cigarette hanging out as he pressed a spatula into the hamburgers spitting grease. This is the phantom father at odds with the man sitting across from her, or if he has a partner, his lover sitting over the breakfast table, perhaps both of them striving to slice up that man box…yet unsure how.

For this purpose, let’s go hetero as we explore four key points. I have traversed this road, and have since inherited this situation as have a lot of my female friends, so I can speak authentically.

1.  Women’s definition of a vulnerable man is one of supposition and is therefore incomplete. The meaning of vulnerability coming from the fairer sex may not be accurate, simply because while women can be empathetic, we lack the deeply-grooved history of living as a man. As such, we resort to suggestive truths that may not be accurate at all; assuming we know what a man might need and how he might feel. In reality, we are not qualified to define vulnerability in our men; we are not able to leap their tall feelings in a single bound.

Assuming so implies we know the inner workings of a man. The inference he is all sex, brawn, manly lather and pine fragrance, that he needs physical work and strenuous habits in his life. In reality, each man is different, each man a blooming wildflower, if you will. Inside and out, so complex, such a cellular marvel and as a result, each man possesses different and very individual needs which need to be met; a broad-brush application will not do the trick.

Once we permit our men to explain their needs and desires, it’s on to point two.

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2. Creating an environment where men can allow themselves to be vulnerableAs women, we need to listen to his cravings he announces are necessary. Several months ago, I pointed out in a prior The Good Men Project article: It’s Your Turn to Talk Men, Your Partners Are Listening, that it is vital to develop this habit. Yet as the context of the article sought to inspire such a practice, the men who read it, railed back! Flurries of comments rose up from disbelieving men hollering out their frustrations and the fact they had never felt safe enough to fully reveal their emotions in their relationships, to cry, to even in the time it takes an argument to tire, to feel as though they had been listened to.

Let’s revert for a minute: ladies, can you imagine if you were not able to settle into emotional comfort when you prepared to bare your soul? That you were shut down in a hot second, or worse, ridiculed? What must that do to men, who are forced to stuff their emotions right back where they came? What would that do to you?

Men require an accepting environment where they can pour out their feelings and get comfortable. Really, this goes for anyone–if you are a bottled up female, a transgender person, a lesbian, or gay male struggling in a relationship…however you identify. This is not an exclusive decree. It is applicable to all humans. To love and accept while offering encouragement.

Which is a super segue into bullet three.

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3. Understand what needs to be addressed to encourage vulnerability. What can you do as your partner is taking a risk to explore their feelings and ultimately testing you to see if you can be trusted with them? Listen. Listen. Listen. Then ask questions to facilitate support and love only when your partner has emotionally emptied themselves.

What made you feel that way? How can I help you get through this? What do you need in this moment?

Keep on pulling those feelings out and letting them shine in the light. Be prepared for the person sharing to want to shut down, to act embarrassed, or even ashamed at what they just confided. Likely, they are competing with years of guilt, regret and fear. You can put your hand over the top of theirs and look into their eyes, smile and let them continue to talk. It is not up to you, as the partner of this man, to determine when the conversation is over. Your role is to sit there and be an engaged listener for as long as it takes your guy to unload.

Yes…we have addressed and will continue to address listening. Might there be a theme?

When a person is learning to trust and taking that tentative step, it’s a crucial time of extreme exposure, so when he takes you into his heart and head, realize it’s an honor. You have the power in this moment to allow the ground to break open and shatter a stereotype, to satisfy the thirst in his heart, or to trample all over it. Remember, he knows how naked he is and he is telling you without saying one damn thing, that he hopes you will get him; that you will act as a safety net in what he may perceive as a moment of extreme weakness.

If you allow him to continue sharing his vulnerabilities, demonstrate he can trust in the security of the moment and coax him to convey his emotions, you two will emerge stronger. The next time you have the opportunity to listen, your reward comes in the form of increased devotion and a mate who will find it easier to trust you. Your conversations will flow. I have heard, I don’t know how to go deep in my relationship with my husband, and guess what? I didn’t either…until I shut the hell up. Trust begins to flower immediately, and soon it spreads like Creeping Charlie on the lawn.

If you are threatened at hearing such honesty, try to suppress your knee-jerk emotion. We spend so much time being offended, but a man confiding his deepest doubts and feelings has nothing to do with you. I said it. Nothing to do with you. He is asking you to be present. He is asking you to pay attention and take an interest in what he cares about and in what he holds dear. He is beseeching your friendship and love to show you that he needs you in a very specific way–to hold him up–and to permit him to emotionally trust fall in your presence. Your partner may confess secrets about you that hurt to hear. Resist a defensive reply! This is the time for you to grow emboldened on the inside. Tell yourself his is needed feedback and it will reinforce your love. Because it will. You need to listen when things are bothering him–even if you are the thing bothering him! You need to take in his observations and the ways you may be hurting him accidentally and incidentally. Just as he listens to you­–and even if he doesn’t.

First, it is the right action to take, and second, if he is struggling to listen to you, you model what you need and what entails a healthy habit. When your guy tells you what pulls at him framed in a constructive discussion, it is not to cause you pain, but to help both of you. And if you don’t listen, be prepared for the snowball to come rolling into your life. Little offenses, when not validated, quickly turn into unwieldy and repeat issues that are harder to handle, and sometimes, they even morph into deal breakers.

It might sound silly, but your male partner needs the reassurance from you to continue spilling his inner secrets. You may need to state that he is safe and you are excited to hear from him, and you will do anything to support him. Then back it up and show him. Your man will start to transform. The moments when you worried if your life mate would ever get to that next level are going to start to happen. So get ready for greater fulfillment; prep for your own moments of vulnerability to become even more meaningful.

Finally…

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4. Women don’t understand that men have definite anxiety about becoming vulnerable. Why? Because all of their lives men have been charged with living up to a resolute stereotype. It is real. As a person who is all for urging a softer side from your male partner, it’s important that you grasp this fear is fact. Men, practiced in sucking up the tears, in deflecting their true emotions: panic, terror, anxiety, sadness, grief, frustration and all the other dwarves have become masters. They self-deprecate their skills: the funny guy who’s secretly sad inside: the tough guy: encountering a devastating situation who never works through tragedy, including everyday tragedies and disappointments; everyman: ignoring slights cutting at them. Men can turn it off, throw you off and shut if off in seconds. You might see a flash of regret as they eat another emotion—as they wrestle with staying in check, so comprehend it is there—this superhero emotional syndrome. If you ask leading questions and allow your partner to define their unique vulnerability; if you accept the real fear men dread, i.e. “caving into weakness” and if you listen while urging raw honesty, you will see a different man triumph. Know he can’t do it alone. He needs you as a deliberate partner, as any human requires support. He wishes for you to validate it is okay to let his guard down.

That is the start, accepting your role in destroying the man box, and then extending your hand to help him out of it.

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Original article appeared at The Good Men ProjectReprinted with permission.

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