How Do Men Process Emotions?

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We spent some time this past week looking at how several different men think and process problems at work and in their marriages.  I’d love to have even more husbands answer these questions to give us a broader picture.  But I’m so thankful for the men who have been willing to answer these questions for us.  They have given us some really helpful information that I believe will bless and benefit many marriages.  The more we can understand how men think and feel – the more empathy we can have for them and the better equipped we will be to communicate effectively and to love and respect them.

Today I want to begin an emphasis on how men process feelings and emotions (For part 2 ,  part 3 and part 4 click here). Not only do men often need time to think through issues by themselves before they are ready to talk about them with their wives (like we talked about in the last series on how men think), but they also often need time to decide how they feel.  And even when they know how they feel – they may need time to put their feelings into words. 

Men DO have feelings and emotions.  They may not show them to us if they don’t feel safe with us.  But they feel, too.  And they feel just as deeply as we do.

It has to be ok for our men to be men – and for each man to be his own unique self.  If they need time to think and process through issues and emotions, then let’s give them the gift of that time without making a bunch of negative assumptions about them having a  lack of loving intentions.  This need for time doesn’t have anything to do with our husbands’ love for us.  It is just the way they are made. If we can embrace and accept these differences between us – conflicts will be much easier to work through!

FROM A CHRISTIAN HUSBAND

I have a very difficult time explaining my emotions, but there is no doubt I feel the emotions. When my wife is happy I feel like I’m the best husband in the world and doing everything right. When she’s sad I feel like I’ve failed as a husband because my one duty is to make my wife feel happy and loved and cherished and sad or hurt is just the opposite of that.

I’ve had that discussion with my wife many times over the last 2-3 years. Because I’m not able to verbalize how/why I feel things it usually comes out that she says she is not responsible for my happiness. That is 100% true, she is not responsible for my happiness. However her emotional state sets the tone for the relationship. If she’s happy then I’m happy, or I could be sad or angry or whatever based on other parts of my life. When she’s happy I’m free to have my emotions based on what’s going on. When she’s sad I’m sad because I feel as if I’ve messed up.  

I might have just had the best day of my life at work and if she’s sad I already know I’m going to be sad.

My experience has been that women when the sympathize / empathize / discuss problems with other women don’t take on the emotional tone of the women they are talking to they have their own emotions are much more in-tune with them. They can still be happy and feel sorrow for someone they talk to. Men on the other hand when we sympathize with someone tend to take on that emotion as well. When men go to a funeral it could be someone we hardly knew, but a good friend of ours is feeling horrible. We go up and say sorry for your loss or whatever strikes us, and we in turn feel horrible as well. I think it comes back to the fact that men like to solve problems. We know deep down that if you are sad we want to be able to solve that but it’s not up to us to solve it so it makes us sad in response partly because you are sad and partly because we can’t do anything more to help the situation.

As to verbalizing emotions, I can say I rarely do that. For better or worse I’ve learned through life that when I try to say what’s wrong –  because I have a harder time explaining the emotion with words – that it tends to not come out the same as what it feels inside. For example if I’m feeling lonely and disconnected I might appear somewhat down and less talkative than normal.

When my wife would ask what’s wrong I have 2 choices:

1) I can say, “Nothing, just trying to process stuff,” which is usually a lie, but tends to produce results that hurt less even if it doesn’t actually solve the problem.

2) I can try to explain that I’m feeling lonely or disconnected and need some intimate / alone time for the 2 of us to get reconnected. That normally turns into an argument that all I want is sex or I’m too needy.

Because I don’t know how to express the feelings using the right words it’s safer to just stay quiet, but that also means that it will never get better.

We all have different ways to express emotions but it’s learning how those close to you express their emotions that really matters.

FROM PEACEFULWIFE

Let’s allow our husbands’ needs and emotions to be just as important as our needs and our emotions in our marriages.  A healthy marriage is a safe place for BOTH spouses to say how they feel, what they need and to feel heard and significant to the other person.

Other husbands – I would love to hear your take on this issue, too.   Thank you!!!   I think that the more we wives can hear from different husbands, the better we can understand our own husbands.

 

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30 Comments on “How Do Men Process Emotions?”

  1. Ted Cox
    April 12, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    This is such a hard subject for men!I’m so used to running all my emotions through a filter before I speak.I think most men are extremely aware that what they say affects their wives and children,and want to do nothing to hurt those they care about. So no matter how hurt or angry I may feel, if I think it’s going to affect those I care about negatively, I bury them in doing something, or if we’re talking focus my attention on their needs. When men have been disrespected and unappreciated for a long time, negative thoughts and emotions tend to slip past the filter more easily.In myself I figure,I can’t take care of her anyway so what’s the point?It’s only in Christ and being thankful for my relationship with Him that I can maintain a “speaking the truth in love” attitude. Personally ,I have areas in my past, that I choose not to share with my wife, not because I want to hide them so much as I want to protect her from the darker side of my emotions.I liken it to the way in which Jesus reveals himself as we are able to accept and handle it. I always am aware of the affect how much she can handle. I’m an intense person, and a lot of my emotions from the past leak into comments and she doesn’t understand where it’s coming from.So I try to filter them out, because they scare her. Not that she’s afraid that I’ll harm her. because she knows I never would.It scares her that these things go on inside me, the voices I hear, etc.I feel ike I’m just rambling here ,so I’ll end for now. I hope this was helpful.

    • peacefulwife
      April 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Ted,

      Yes, this is very helpful. I don’t think you are rambling. In fact, I think you have hit on some really important points.

      I don’t think that most women think about what their emotions will do to their men (especially if their husbands never say anything about it – women assume their men are invincible and strong enough to handle anything). I think most women tend to think “I want my emotions to be heard.” “I want to feel understood.”

      It is rather foreign for most women, in my mind, to imagine that a husband COULD or WOULD keep emotions inside and not talk about them. It just doesn’t register with us. But most women WANT to be a safe place for their husbands to share all of their emotions. Sometimes we just don’t know how and don’t realize what we are doing to sabotage that emotional connection we long for so much.

      “In myself I figure ,I can’t take care of her anyway so what’s the point?”

      Women don’t see themselves as insatiable. We usually think, “If he would just do X, everything would be so much better!” Although, I have to admit, if we are making our husbands an idol – we ARE insatiable and impossible to please. Or if we have made ourselves being in control an idol – we will also be impossible to please unless we have EVERYTHING our way because we think we are right. :( So in these situations, I can see why a husband would give up and feel like it was pointless because it seems impossible to be successful. And I realize husbands do not like to feel like failures. If you are going to be a failure if you try as hard as you can or if you don’t try at all – why not be a failure with the least amount of work?

      That last part of your comment – I actually think is really important – the part about the darker side of your emotions. Bob Grant is a marriage counselor (who promotes respect for men and submission in marriage and writes a lot for women that seems to line up very well with God’s Word – in my opinion). He talks about this very thing. He says that a lion tamer knows that a lion is still a lion, even if it has been trained to be tame. A lion tamer wouldn’t purposely try to provoke anger in a lion because the lion is still a wild and fierce animal that could destroy a person. Bob Grant says that a man’s anger is like that lion. He says men try to protect their wives from their anger and sometimes they try to not even begin to go into some of those emotions because they are afraid that once the box is “opened” – they may not be able to control what comes out. He talks about a fierceness and dangerousness about men that women need to respect.

      There are also wounds from the past for every man and going into those painful emotions can be extremely intense.

      I like how Bob Grant talks about that wives can help to heal these wounds. He says if we can tell our husbands every time we see them do something we admire – we will eventually hit on something that is a deep past wound for a man. And when we see the good in him about that thing (i.e.: that he really is “man enough” or that he is capable or that he is intelligent, or that he has what it takes) – a wife’s admiration, praise, respect and faith can heal those deep scars.

      That is what I desire for women to do – to partner with God to bring healing to our men and to bring out the best in them.

      If you would be willing to go into more detail about those dark emotions – I do think it may be very helpful for wives because you are able to explain things well. But if it is too painful to think about those emotions – I understand and respect that.

      I would like to share what you have written in a future post in the next week or so if that is ok with you.

      THANK YOU for your perspective and insights. For women, this is a completely foreign world that you are describing. The more we can understand – the better able we will be to support, encourage, admire, respect and cooperate.

  2. Ted Cox
    April 12, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    As with anything I share here April, it is posted with the intention of any who read it to be helped. Therefore,it is always fine to repost anything I write as long as it is in the interests of helping others.Since I trust that your husband and yourself are committed to that,my thoughts are always yours to use or not use as you see fit.I will write more here later but at the moment I really have to get ready for work.

    • peacefulwife
      April 12, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Thanks so much, Ted. I am very grateful for your insights!

      Sent from my iPad

  3. RG
    April 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I’m not sure this actually contributes anything notable to the discussion, but I was reminded of a quote from the movie “Act of Valor.” It was a Letter from the friend of a dead soldier to that man’s newborn son.

    “Your father was a good man!
    Growing up without him is going to be hard!
    It’s going to hurt!
    You’ll feel alone, out to sea with no shore in sight.
    You’ll wonder, “Why me?,” “Why him?”
    Remember, you have warriors blood in your veins.
    The code that made your father who he was is the same code that will make you a man he would admire – Respect!
    Put your pain in a box! Lock it down,
    Like those people in the painting your father liked.
    We are men made up of boxes – chambers of loss and triumph, of hurt and hope and love.
    No one is stronger or more dangerous than a man who can harness his emotions, his past.
    Use it as fuel, as ammunition, as ink to write the most important letter of your life.
    Before he died, your father asked me to give you this poem by tekumson.
    I told him I’d fold it into a paper airplane, and in a way, I guess that’s what I’m doing – sailing it from him to you.
    Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about his religion. Respect the views of others and demand that they respect yours.
    Love your life! Perfect your life! Beautify all things in your life! Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.
    When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again differently.
    Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. ”

    To women, this might sound like a beautiful poem, but to men this echoes and reverberates throughout our souls, and highlights all our struggles with fears, and pain, and loss, and challenges us to use those things constructively, because, often, when we share those human emotions, we lose the respect of others.

    We men have just as many deep wounds and weaknesses as women, but we aren’t allowed the luxury to express them. Doing so solves nothing, upsets women, makes our lives more difficult, and destroys the little respect we do have.

    Women say they want us to share our emotions, but when we do they react with greater disrespect, because they would rather have someone they “respect enough” to depend on than allow men to be human. Women value their own feelings of “security” more than than the freedom men need to be human.

    God loves men as we are, but society demands we become “useful” to women and others. Only God and a couple other men ever give us the freedom to “be understood”, without first proving ourselves useful to the wishes of others. It’s easier not ever to seek “being understood.”

    Instead, just “Put it in a box,” “Lock it down,” “Use it as fuel.” and give it to God quietly when we are alone.

    It is the only way to be “respectable.”

    • peacefulwife
      April 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      RG,

      Wow.

      Yes. This contributes GREATLY to this discussion. You really made me stop and think. This quote is powerful.

      Greg and I were talking about mens’ emotions and respect tonight – and what you are saying is exactly what he was saying – but from a slightly different angle.

      “often, when we share those human emotions, we lose the respect of others.” “Doing so solves nothing, upsets women, makes our lives more difficult, and destroys the little respect we do have.”

      That is what Greg was saying tonight. That men must filter their emotions through the filter of respect. They consider how their emotions will affect others and – I guess, too, if their emotions will affect others’ respect for them – from what I am hearing you both say.

      Women, from my understanding, want to be deeply known. Sharing emotions is part of the emotional intimacy and closeness we long for so desperately. But Greg said that men can go their whole lives without talking about some of their emotions. Women tend to think that if someone has emotions, they will speak them in words. For a woman to not say what her emotions are – would be oppression. And when women see their men NOT sharing emotions – they either assume the man hates them or that the men don’t have emotions.

      We misunderstand our men so much! :(

      I asked Greg, what happens to a man if he has emotions like this that he never shares? For a woman, this would be unbelievably lonely and depressing. Is it hurtful for a man to feel that he has no one safe to share emotions with? Or does sharing emotions not feel like something that is important to him?

      This is really mind blowing to me. I’m so thankful for your willingness to talk about this difficult topic.

      I truly believe that as women better understand how men think and feel – we can be much more equipped to respect our men and to build them up and bless them.

      When we are left on our own to try to guess what our men are thinking – we almost always assume the worst – that they don’t love us.

      I would love to use this comment as a post, please. And if there is anything else you would like to add – I welcome your additional thoughts.

      • Brittany Y.
        April 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        The issue this gives me is sometimes I shut down like my fiance shuts down. When I though, he gets hurt. I was raised to be stronger. I was raised to just deal with things. When I try to be strong, I believe my fiance feels as if though I don’t need him. It’s the exact opposite. I do need him, but I also want him to need me. When he is so “strong” and “contained” I feel that I am useless because what do I have to give him?
        I don’t know if most women feel that way. I was a tomboy in my childhood for a reason. For many years I tried to fit in with the guys. It was all I understood, until now. Now that I try to tap into my feminism more, I feel that the less I understand my man, or any man for that matter. I don’t want to seem needy. I don’t want to feel weak or pathetic. Reading the comments from the men, I see that they feel the same way in that aspect. They want to share what they feel and think, but they don’t want to hurt others. :/ So why is it wrong for me to be the same way? To shut down my emotions and to only share bits and pieces. Sometimes I would rather be that way, but that hurts my fiance. BUT if it hurts me for him to do that, I am in the wrong. I don’t find that fair. Ever.

        What do you guys think?

      • RG
        April 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

        “I asked Greg, what happens to a man if he has emotions like this that he never shares? For a woman, this would be unbelievably lonely and depressing. Is it hurtful for a man to feel that he has no one safe to share emotions with? Or does sharing emotions not feel like something that is important to him?”

        It may not be fair for me to speak for all men, as we are all different, but I do believe there are many men who want love or sympathy for their struggles, and do desire to be known, loved, and accepted for who they are and what they think more than what they do or how useful they are to others. Many of us do desire to be understood by those we trust who are closest to us, but this rarely works well, and usually creates more problems.

        Yes, It is very lonely, depressing, and hurtful, but sharing personal weaknesses and expressing frustrations are fast and sure ways to destroy the respect of others, which only increases our feelings of loneliness, depression, and hurt.

        Our only option is to shut up and “Man-Up” by forsaking the need to be understood and loved for who we are or what we think in favor of building the habit and reputation of being respectable men, not doing so for women or others, but only for the pleasure of God and the betterment of ourselves.

        I’ve learned that “who I am” and “what I think” is not as important as “what I do” for God and for myself. By this, I mean that my motivation for loving and serving others (what I do) is not to earn love or respect from them, but to love and serve them simply because I choose to please God and be a respectable man. By doing so, I’ve re-defined “who I am” and “what I think.”

        From my perspective, It has nothing to do with women. They receive God’s love and help through men because God wants them to receive His love and help. They don’t deserve it, and we don’t need to earn their respect by doing it. We only need to obey God by doing what he wants for their benefit, regardless of “who we are,” “what we think,” or how little or not they respect us. Women don’t “deserve” it, but, again, it has nothing to do with them. We love them because we love God and want to be respectable men, period.

        If the result is that we are only able to “be understood” by God, then that is what we must do. We have no other choice.

        I question, that if men pursue the “understanding” and acceptance of women, that we are also walking in the wrong direction, forsaking the respect we need for the love that does not help. Desiring love seems like a great goal in a world without respect, but it only disappoints and distracts us from becoming better men.

        I apologize for the needless repetition. I do that sometimes.

        Yes, you may use my comments as a post if you wish. Feel free to edit them as well.

        • peacefulwife
          April 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

          RG,
          I guess this goes along with Dr Emerson Eggerichs’ findings that 3/4 of men he polled would rather feel unloved and respected than to feel loved and disrespected.

          I agree with your conclusions. Those are the same things God taught me about seeking feeling loved in marriage instead of finding my acceptance in Christ and then living by His power to meet my husband’s needs regardless of whether my needs were being met or not. Ultimately, I must do it for God, not to get what I want.

          There is a weealth of wisdom here. Thank you for sharing! And thanks for allowing me to ue your comments.

  4. peacefulwife
    April 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    I am so impressed that men want to only share emotions they know their wives can handle, and if they think their emotions might hurt their wives or children, they filter them out. I have to say, I don’t think women generally do this, from my experience. It kind of makes us look bad when you see that in black and white. But in our defense, we tend to think our husbands are really strong and can handle anything, and we often have no idea that we have wounded our men or that we could wound our men, so we often don’t consider at all how sharing our emotions might hurt our men. But as we learn about respect, I think we can definitely learn to express our emotions in constructive ways that are not hurtful. What do you think, ladies?

  5. Brittany Y.
    April 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    I definitely got a glimpse of this last night. Though it was partially my fault and his fault.
    I get out of work pretty early and we both have to wait for our ride to take us to church. My fiance used to come join me at the college so that we could keep company. He might even bring dinner knowing that I had no way to feed myself until I would get home around 11pm. For whatever reason he stopped doing this. It didn’t exactly bother me at first because I thought “I can handle half an hour by myself.” Then it became an hour. Now it’s two hours when our ride FINALLY picks me up. That’s when I got extremely upset with my fiance because he knew I was alone for two hours with nothing to do, nothing to eat, etc. I was also sick yesterday, so I REALLY was in a horrible mood. I was extremely upset because my fiance knew I would be alone for two hours. He knew I would be hungry. He knew I was sick because I asked him for medicine earlier in the day. He knew all of this! Yet he just stayed home playing video games with a friend never considering that I was miserable (or so I believed.)
    I am working on respect, but that really pushed me over the edge. It wasn’t the first time that this has happened. I snapped. I called him asking why he didn’t come. I told him how I felt in a very point blank range. I didn’t even soften the blows. I was not happy. At all. I know for a fact that he felt horrible because he got his friend to come pick me up and bring me back so that I could be with them. I was just mad that he never considered that in the first place.

    As the night went on, I somewhat got over it. I was still in a pretty bad mood though because I was pretty sick. When we were sitting at church, I noticed that something was wrong with my fiance. He wasn’t very responsive. He wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I knew that guys need time to process their thoughts, but I also knew that he rarely ever told me while he expected me to always tell him what I am thinking. I pushed it. He felt like I was making everything his fault even though that wasn’t true. I was only telling him the stuff that was HIS fault. Not our ride’s fault.

    Later on while we were texting, he told me that he felt like a failure because of what happened. I didn’t understand. I knew he wasn’t a failure. I knew that things happened. I even tried apologizing for being disrespectful, but I did not know how to word it in a way that would make him feel better.

    As I sit here now, I know that the above stuff is true (the post). I know I could have shown more respect. Being one that is still learning how to show respect, I feel very hurt myself because I know that he expects things that he won’t give me in return. I’m expected to share my thoughts and feelings while he rarely ever does. I’m expected to just deal with what I go through when he gets upset if I don’t consider helping him with things. That’s where I find this emotion stuff to be fuzzy. I know that the Lord can help me deal with it and learn how to be more godly, but the idea that I have to sit there without any knowledge of how he feels makes me feel horrible. I can see when he’s upset. I can see when he’s happy. I can see when he has something on his mind. I’m sure most women can. So why can’t men work on sharing things more?

    I know this was long. I usually have long comments, but I really want someone (men and women) to help me see how I could better respond. I’m doing better on letting our conversations take time. Emotions and situations like this I cannot deal with yet. Please help.

    • peacefulwife
      April 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      Brittany,

      Let me say first – when any of us – men or women – are sick/tired/stressed/under a lot of pressure/hungry – that is when we are most likely to lose our temper and do/say things we usually wouldn’t. As a pharmacist, I can tell you that sick people and people with really low blood sugar can get particularly nasty. And as a mom, I can tell you that when a woman is hormonal/pregnant/sleep-deprived – it is infinitely more difficult to respect and be patient.

      Then – my suggestion to you is to take a sandwich, nuts, carrot sticks, cheese sticks or something with you if your fiance is not making sure that you get something to eat and there is no restaurant or anywhere for you to get food. Then you can be responsible for yourself and won’t be so dependent on him. And you will not be so grumpy because you will have something to eat.

      When you were by yourself and hungry and sick – you could have called him up and said, “Baby, I feel AWFUL. I am so sick and hungry. It would mean so much to me if you would please come get me. I just don’t think I can wait 2 hours.” And I feel pretty sure he probably would have done what you asked.

      Some guys don’t think about helping if you don’t specifically ask for it. To some men, helping someone who didn’t ask for help can be disrespectful. Of course, to many women, not helping someone who obviously needs help seems unloving.

      The take home message is – don’t expect him to know what you need or read your mind. Politely ask for what you want and need and give him the chance to be your hero.

      Maybe you could say something like, “You know what? I really lost my cool and that was wrong of me. I should have asked for what I needed calmly instead of expecting you to read my mind. And I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I apologize.”

      When he feels respected and safe – he probably will share his feelings more with you.

      God can use your relationship to help stretch and grow you both and to help you both be more like Christ. It is a painful process! But it is how we grow and learn. :)

      Does that help at all?

      Sent from my iPad

      • Brittany Y.
        April 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

        That actually helps a lot. I guess as a woman I am used to just trying to help, so it’s weird seeing him to just now “know” what it is I need. It makes sense though. I’m not that great of a mind reader either. ;P

        I really should bring more food too. Knowing how I get, I shouldn’t just let myself fall into a stage where I know for a fact that I won’t be respectful. Not that I mean to be disrespectful, but as you said it’s just that much harder.

        Thank you for the advice. :)

  6. Karyl
    April 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi April! I just wanted to tell you about my new book! :) http://ilovethishusbandandwifestuff.com/2013/04/16/the-book-is-here/

  7. ugo
    March 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I recently stumbled upon this blog because I feel like my boyfriend is not able to express his emotions easily and he always replies with I don’t know when he is not quite sure what he is feeling. Recently we have been arguing about his emotions towards me. I just feel like I care more than him and he tells me he cares but because I do not see any emotions I just feel sad in our relationship. How can I get him to open up and show his emotions for me? How should I know that he cares about me the same way I care about him?

    • peacefulwife
      March 12, 2014 at 8:07 am #

      Ugo,

      It is great to meet you! I would suggest searching my home page for “emotion” and “men think” and read the posts I have about these topics. Another great resource is Shaunti Feldahn’s book For women Only. Men are so different from us. It is freeing to learn that and to allow them to be themselves and not try to force them to think and feel and talk just like we do. They are not women! That is a good thing. :)

      The more you understand him and his masculine soul and personality, the more you will understand how he shows love in his own way and you will be able to learn to appreciate him and accept him as he is. You can then ask for what you would like, respectfully and without pressuring him. You can learn to respect him and honor him and make it as safe as possible for him to share. And then appreciate how different and amazing he is.

      There are posts at the top of my home page about disrespect and respect. :)

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