Big men are real enough to feel!

Recently I was working with a couple for the first time who, by virtue of their background in therapeutic work and facilitating tantra groups, could have been expected to deeply ‘know the territory’ when it came to relating and intimate communication. However assumptions are dangerous. Their marriage was in a very dire state. It was quickly clear that the fundamental problem was that their past inability to communicate, listen, receive each other and fulfil each other’s basic needs for intimacy, had led to dark, shadow-y behaviours, deception, mutual rejection, heavy judgement and blame over many years, though they had maintained their very public facade of togetherness.

At last, they had been forced to  move outside of their comfort zones to seek outside reflection. Unfortunately for this couple one partner -the man-was willing to acknowledge his own need to change. But the woman saw it all to be about the man changing and becoming worthy of her. Sadly, I doubt that I will see them again. I was deeply touched by their pain and struggle and knew I could facilitate newness and a rebirth of love for them -if both were willing to stay with it.

When I reflected back woman’s unwillingness to listen to his truth, no matter how far it was from hers, and her refusal to stop interrupting him, she accused me of colluding with  the man. This kind of projection and accusation happens very rarely in my practice and is always in a situation where there is a desperate desire to cling to the status quo and stay invested in blame and separation – indeed a few months ago with another couple experiencing very dire difficulties the man accused me of colluding with the woman! The truth of it is that I collude with no-one, and am simply life’s servant in this work of Love and Being. The energetic essence of a situation -and the changes which can lead to massive openings  – can reveal themselves very quickly in a couples breakthrough session. Transformation is usually simple and natural but that doesn’t mean it is always easy! Especially if there is a clinging to mind and ideology.

I fully feel how intensely distressing such a crisis is for both partners. I do also know from 19 years of working with people how crucial it is for both parties to be near equally willing to each do the sometimes painful (especially at the beginning) work of transformation and dissolution of the known, which nature and evolution is always urging. Both parties in a  couple where there is dissatisfaction must drop the same old conversations and patterns of communicating and find new ones if their love is to become or remain vital, alive, nourishing for both. How I respect those who engage fully in this work of mutual healing and commit to awake, intimate relating.

The scientific research about men, women and intimacy makes fascinating reading. Without the context of circle and transformational work, which brings so much deep ease, it could also be rather depressing for those who are longing to feel deeply fulfilled in their most intimate lives! Below are a few research findings about men that may be worth contemplating -and I am very aware that such facts are a gross generalisation. Yet what is general or cliched is so because it can often be true for many, too. And even the most sophisticated facade can reveal basic archetypal energies at work and on top of those the ineffective stereotypical behaviours that create stuckness. I offer this with deep love for all men and all women and an acknowledgement of how painful transformation can be. Best to contemplate these points perhaps in the light of knowing we are all both male and  female. Consider your own energy balance and how flowing the inner marriage is as you read this – a woman -especially if she is animus driven and unaware of it -can be more ‘male’ in a  relationship than her man partner for example.

1. For men, conflict brings greater and longer lasting stress and anxiety than it does for women. Women often fail to realise this. Who knows why, maybe it is something to do with the demands of childbirth, but it is a fact that women can handle and tolerate emotional stress and pain more easily than men. Men will tend to use strategies to avoid conflict and do all they can to make peace. As  result, they do not learn how to resolve conflicts well and may disengage, even deceive, rather than endeavour to do so. This in turn creates distance in their relationships as women may as a result (and some times mistakenly) lose trust in their man’s interest and committment, override his sensitivity while proclaiming their own, and resort to witholding and blame which further drives the man away.

A man’s inclination or even need to avoid confrontation and what seems inevitable short term emotional pain, plus his guilt at apparent failure, and a woman’s frustration that he ‘wont talk about it or change’ can build up if not resolved at the time and eventually result in a relationship breaking up, or divorce.

2. Men desire sex so that they can again feel connected to their depth and women want to feel connection and trust in order to feel comfortable about and open to having sex. Some men want to stay disengaged from depth and feelings and simply enjoy sex as a distraction. This will be sensed by the woman and she will often blame him and withold. Women might complain that their partner wants to have sex even though they can’t feel him emotionally. Some women -as with the woman in the couple I’ve mentioned above – may refuse to have sex literally for years until the man ‘sorts himself’.

So the strong sex drives may go underground, rather than fuelling alchemical evolution. Porn and prostitution can be the easiest outlet then, as it was, sadly, for the man in the couple I mentioned earlier in this article. A kind of anonymous intimacy, even a heart opening, can be found by a man in internet chat rooms, with porn or with prostitutes and it can feel much easier than sorting out what feels like impossibly stressful confrontation and dissatisfaction with his partner.

3. Men have a smaller emotional vocabulary than women and are less emotionally articulate so he can instinctively retreat from conflict when he feels a woman is running rings around him verbally. She is probably clumsily endeavouring to get him to open up but the fierceness of the climate is just not conducive to that.

4. Many men, even those who consider themselves well parented, have never seen their father -their most important role model -cry, talk about emotional pain, insecurity or life struggles, or even their good feelings and experiences. So they have few opportunities to model effective new behaviours unless they have the massive courage required to seek out a facilitated transformational opportunity and stay with it.

5. More than three quarters of marriages break up because the man will not or cannot accept the woman’s influence on and input in his life. Other relationships and marriages last, but are quietly desperate because the man has left emotionally if not physically. Of course, both parties can disengage and of course if either member of a couple will not listen and allow themselves to be influenced by the other, the marriage will not last or will be chronically unhappy. Nature demands alchemical change in intimate relating!

6. In social situations, men will often make a joke about a difficult situation or remove themselves from it by leaving, rather than discuss deep feelings or risk confrontation.  Drug and alcohol use is very frequently used to deaden emotional pain. Men, who are emotionally unable to or don’t feel safe enough to express emotion or even feel it, men who are sad, angry, not loved, and depressed will often become workaholics, drink heavily or use drugs to avoid feelings and the deep longing for something more, something better.

So after that list, one might well ask – why can men have such a difficult time with intimacy – the intimacy woman seems to demand from him?

Intimacy – in a  marriage, a circle, a friendship- is deeply risky for all of us. It requires making a commitment to a relationship such that each person comes to depend in all sorts of ways on the other(s). The risk of even the most mature interdependent relationship is of deep loss and deep hurt. Perhaps one of the qualities of maturity is to know one’s capacity to self-heal, and this allows intimacy to thrive.

Men in our Western culture (women more and more too), are taught to strive for independence. For women interdependence can be easier. Women naturally tend to do things together and talk more from an early age.

Cultural and family messages men receive might be ”Tears wont solve the problem,” “Big boys don’t cry,” “No pain no gain,” ”It’s tough at the top,” “Don’t be a sissy,” “Don’t let people know you’re hurt, they will see you as weak.”

Men are generally taught from an early age that strength is a good thing, that it is good to be competitive and independent, that feelings can be a sign of weakness and that vulnerability and dependency might make them lesser men. All the cultural studies point to men having mates they ‘do things with’ such as tennis, golf, football, but they don’t tend to cultivate relationships where they can open up emotionally. Men can be wary of this kind of sharing because they fear that they might be judged or put down or they simply dont have the words to express all that moves inside.

Male energy is at its best about freedom and spaciousness, a  fullness of presence in life at all times. Man may perceive woman’s desire to influence him as a curtailing of freedom, as being ‘henpecked’ or dragged into the mud, as being a lesser man. even the most self-aware strong man may feel a  fraud or weak because he has strong feelings and sensitivity. to apparently lose or give up his position can feel close to being inadequate for many men. So he may resist her promptings to deeper mutual intimacy and surrender because it can feel as though he is losing something. and underneath the strong, together exterior is the deep maybe unacknowledged pain of guilt at not being able to ‘fix it’ with his partner, inadequacy and unworthiness.

For men to be intimate they must first learn about who they are, what they want and what is truly important to them, and then learn how to simply and responsibly and vulnerably, without blame, express these truths. Feelings are our best guide to what we deeply want and what we deeply need so without fluidity of feeling life can become increasingly hollow. So many men lead lives of quiet desperation, never letting anyone in or showing themselves to others.

Of course men are capable of intimacy, interdependency and vulnerability. I am privileged to witness the incredible beauty and tenderness of men in my own relationship and also in Secret Garden circles. It is just that fast paced Western culture does not support these qualities in men or women so there has to be very high motivation and consistent willingness to give space and time to them  for men -and women- to develop them and trust them.

And to learn to trust this new way of being men, just like women, need others, friends, intimate partners, facilitators and healers,  to receive them as they make mistakes or close down and then open up again.

The men who do choose to take a deep look into who they really are and allow their unique essence to be known to those around them grow a deeper strength than the men who remain silent, isolated or like the man in the couple I met recently, living a double life in his past (I trust and hope he can move into something new now) until he couldnt take the agony of it anymore.

And those men who know the power of their own vulnerability, the wisdom of their insecurity, the intelligence in their river of feelings, even those men will often freely admit that in a day of work, traffic, life’s demands upon them, they can close up, batten down the hatches and forget. So they come to circles and create awake intimate relationship so that they remember again.

A vulnerable, authentic man who can show what he feels simply, is not becoming like a woman. He is becoming more truly and deeply a MAN. Revealing deep vulnerability, tenderness, and a willingness to change are not signs of being weaker or more feminine, or more childish. Awake receptivity does not mean a man must lose sight of his vision and deep values and capacity for firmness and boundaries.

A man should not develop these qualities to please the woman he is with but for his own sake, for his own LIFE. These qualities are the essence of being HUMAN, they align all of us with nature, with life. For all of us they bring a presence where life is full of miracles.

For all of us these qualities of vulnerabilty, tenderness, a willingness to be new, receptivity, awakeness are the gateway to the magical child spirit where all joy and freedom and love to share is immediately available. Secret Garden Circles facilitate this opening.

I am aware that commenting at all on this subject can trigger all kinds of resistance, misreading, assumptions. Forgive me the generalisations for the purpose of a short article which will be read by a very varied audience.

Let me put it really simply – this piece is just an invitation for all of us -men and women -to be who we really are, beyond formulas, ideology or cultural expectations. The vulnerable awesomely sensitive being we really are in our awakeness and authentic embodied truth. In this is the presence so many long for, in this is the aliveness, in this is the love, in this is the freedom.

I love you. Joy xxxxx


Annabel Hollis

Am deeply touched and inspired by this peace. There is so much potential for greater and greater freedom through intimate relating. I recognise my own fear and resistance in this arena (some of!), and articles such as this bring encouragement and hope, that there is a way through, when there is a willingness to let go into the unknown, and to trust.

Joy Hicklin-Bailey

Hi Annabel
its great to hear from you here, thank you. Im delighted the piece inspired and encouraged you. There is indeed a way to relate happily and with consciousness. i love your longing and willingness
much love Joy xxx

Robin Greenwood

Not a word out of place Joy! Thank you for articulating my own experience … I feel affirmed! …


Thank you for taking the time to comment- that is so good to hear Robin! Your feedback really inspires.

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