If you read my previous blog (The Importance of Men’s Emotion’s), you may remember my client James who came to me on the brink of divorce with his wife, Susan.

James wanted to understand why he would explode in anger and say horrible things to Susan. From his perspective, his angry explosions were prompted, by her ‘always being critical.’ Like many men I meet in therapy, James was disconnected from his emotions. In therapy, James was able to identify what was really going on for him underneath his angry outbursts: he didn’t feel good enough, he felt hurt, and he was scared.

I suggested he tried being open and honest with his wife, like he had been with me. James was reluctant. He was scared his wife would laugh and think he was weak. Sadly, a core belief many men still hold is Vulnerability = Weakness.

Men are not raised to be intimate; they’re raised to be competitive performers. Traditional socialization teaches young boys to filter their sense of self-worth through performance. The paradox for boys is that in order to be worthy of connection they must prove themselves invulnerable, button-down warriors in the world’s emotional marketplace. In the world of boys and men, you’re either a winner or a loser, one up or one down, in control or controlled, man enough or a girl. Where in this set up is the capacity for love?” Terry Real

James didn’t want a divorce; he didn’t want to be a ‘weekend dad’, so he said he was willing to share his deeper truth with his wife. I believe James, like any man who has the courage to share how he feels, should be celebrated. For it means he is going up against centuries of socialisation which I wrote this in another blog titled: Traditional Masculinity: A Lose-Lose for Men & Women.

James came back to me the following week looking deflated.

He said he apologised to Susan for his angry outbursts and for the horrible things he’d said. He asked Susan if she was willing to hear how he was really feeling. She said, ok, so he did.

“How did she respond?” I asked with some concern because James looked shattered.

He said – mic drop –

“She laughed and said are you serious?” and then she walked away.

Boom. All his fears came true.

It might be easy for us to judge Susan, after all James was courageous, and laughing isn’t a kind or respectful response. But I’ve never heard Susan’s side of the story. As a couple’s therapist, I am keenly aware there are always two perspectives, and I know I am presented with a skewed version of the relationship.

I suspect Susan laughed because she felt uncomfortable. As much as she may have wanted James to share how he felt (rather than explode in anger), she wasn’t prepared for the reality of receiving it. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve witnessed this. Many women tell me they want their partners to share their feelings, but then recoil when they actually do. I know I used to. Too many women have never experienced a man being open and vulnerable before them. Not ever. And that’s usually why it’s uncomfortable. That’s sad.

Some women have also internalised harmful beliefs that prescribe a ‘real man’ needing to be tough, and if he is vulnerable, he’s ‘soft’ and not ‘manly’. In my therapy room, I will always challenge women who hold such beliefs, because they are profoundly damaging and anti-relational.

“Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I’ll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work”. Brene Brown

If you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable or experiencing fear in your relationships when your partner is being vulnerable:

Ask yourself:

Why is this causing me discomfort?

Notice if you can make the choice to be courageous and take a risk and embrace vulnerability of the men and boys in your life.

What can I do in these moments?

Be curious. Ask questions. Listen. Prompt.

  • Tell me more?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What was that like for you?
  • Is there anything I can do or say to support you?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • Listen attentively.

If you find yourself getting reactive and taking conversations personally, say so:

“I’m starting to feel reactive, and I really want to hear more about this. It sounds important. Can we talk more later?”

Say: “Thank you for sharing this with me”.

If you manage to do this, you’re amazing! Not only are supporting the men or boys in your life towards greater connection with you, but you are also playing a part in dismantling centuries old harmful traditional beliefs about what it means to be a man. You are helping him to be a better man, partner, father, and a more peaceful world. That’s powerful.

It’s what I call a major ‘win-win-win’. A hell-yeah.

How to support a man in difficult conversations?

  1. Practice Active Listening: Focus your attention on what he is saying without interrupting or formulating your response while he’s speaking. Show genuine interest in his thoughts and feelings. Don’t try and fix him. Just listen.
  2. Validate His Feelings: Acknowledge and validate his emotions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Let him know that his feelings are valid and that you’re there to support him.
  3. Avoid Judgement: Refrain from passing judgment or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, provide a non-judgmental space where he feels comfortable expressing himself freely. Don’t offer advice unless he asks for it.
  4. Empathise with His Perspective: Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand his perspective, even if it differs from your own. Show empathy and compassion towards his experiences. Remember there’s no right or wrong. You can share your perspective later.
  5. Offer Encouragement: Offer words of encouragement and support to boost his confidence and morale. Let him know that you believe in his abilities and strengths. Thank him for sharing. Tell him it means a lot to you.
  6. Respect His Boundaries: Respect his boundaries and preferences regarding what he’s comfortable sharing. Avoid prying or pushing him to disclose more than he’s comfortable with.
  7. Be Patient and Understanding: Be patient and understanding, especially if he’s opening up about sensitive topics or emotions. Give him the time and space he needs to express himself fully. Remember, for centuries men weren’t encouraged to share feelings. This is likely to be new for him.
  8. Maintain Confidentiality: Respect his privacy and confidentiality by keeping the details of your conversations between the two of you, unless he explicitly gives permission to share with others.
  9. Communicate Triggers: Let him know if you are feeling emotional about what has been said, if it’s too much step back and say something like “I’m starting to feel reactive, and I really want to hear more about this. It sounds important. Can we talk more later?”

Be Courageous. Take a risk and embrace the vulnerability of the men and boys in your life. Ask yourself: what comes up for you when a man shares his feelings or vulnerabilities? Where does this come from? Ask: How can I help him share more with me? If you get stuck – seek support from a good couple’s therapist.

Helen Brereton is co-founder of The Courageous Man is a certified Relationship Therapist (trained by Terry Real) and offers in-person (Central Coast of NSW, Australia) and on-line relationship assessments, 1-day intensives, and relationship therapy.


I am focused on heterosexual relationships and use binary terminology. My lack of non-binary pronouns and lack of reference to different sexual & gender orientations, and non-monogamous relationships is not intended to offend.

If you are using or experiencing physical, sexual, or psychological violence or any form of coercive control I do not recommend you are vulnerable with your partner, and I do not recommend couple’s therapy. For more information on The Courageous Man’s individual therapy for people experiencing or using domestic and family violence go to: The Courageous Man – Domestic and Family Violence