Psychologist Chris Hart on how to handle a man that does not talk about his feelings [Courtesy]

Hi Chris,

My boyfriend is one of those men who won’t talk about their feelings. I mean, I have known him for quite a long time, and he still won’t talk about them! I am beginning to think that he does not even understand his feelings at all. For instance, he will deny being upset when it is quite obvious he is. Is that normal? What can I do to help him be more willing to talk about his feelings? 

No Feelings

Hi, No Feelings!

It is possible that your boyfriend was brought up to be the strong silent type, and that he will gradually open up. But it is more probable that your boyfriend does not understand his feelings. The inability to identify and describe emotions in yourself and other people is called alexithymia.

It is a spectrum disorder, which means that some sufferers only struggle slightly with emotions while others cannot talk about their feelings at all. In fact, alexithymics can be unaware that what they are feeling is an emotion. Like your boyfriend denying being upset, when you know he is.

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Not surprisingly, deeply alexithymic individuals have awful marriages. Driving their partners nuts with their total lack of empathy and emotional support. But they are not doing it deliberately. They have no idea what their partner even means by “emotional support”. They often truly believe that their partner is the one who has the problem.

They usually develop a range of canned responses to social situations that can sound completely normal: “That must be so hard…”

But you will quickly notice that they use the same responses over and over again and that their interest fades far too quickly to be genuine.

They also often lack imagination, and while they can do well in highly structured jobs, they do not understand the subtleties of social situations and so they rarely reach higher levels of management.

Conversations with them feel monotonous and frustrating. Factual, literal, with few opinions, lots of trivial detail - and no emotions! It feels as if they are deliberately refusing to open up to you, but actually, they just do not understand how to discuss feelings. They generally do not enjoy emotional novels or movies either.

They are usually terrible at romance and intimacy, completely miss hints and body language, and nothing about sex with one of them ever feels like making love.

So what should you do? If everything I have said sounds just like your boyfriend, then you would be wise to consider it carefully before starting a permanent relationship with him. But if you think he might be a mild case, talk to him about getting some therapy to help him to understand his emotions and to be more empathetic.

All the best,

Chris