I'm not normally one for stereotypes. But if there's one thing I've learned in my years as a marriage counselor it's that if there's one stereotype that might be true, it's that women really are more emotional than men. It's not men's fault, really. We're socialized to be that way. Think about it. When a little girl falls off her bike, her parents scoop her up, hug her and kiss her owie all better. But when a little boy falls off his bike, the boy is told to "tough it out" and "don't cry, that doesn't hurt."
Men are also socialized to show aggression instead of softer emotions like fear, hurt and embarrassment (see William Pollack's book Real Boys for more on how men are socialized not to be emotional).
Unfortunately, because men are socialized not to be emotional that often means they don't know how to communicate emotionally. So when you're a woman and you've been socialized to show and talk about emotions, but you marry a man who hasn't been, you can find yourself frustrated. You might even feel emotionally neglected.
What to do when your husband ignores your emotions
So if you're feeling like your husband is ignoring your emotions, don't fret. There are ways you can overcome decades of your husband's socialization (and decades of your own socialization, too) to create a marriage that is warm, deep and caring. Here are four:
1) Reward him for being emotional with you
He might not be emotional very often but when he does, put your arms around him and give him a hug. Or snuggle into him. Or even simply tell him "thanks." A little positive reinforcement will go a long way, and he'll be more likely to do it more often.
2) Learn self-soothing
You can't be there for your child every time something doesn't go her way. Think about how many times you've been on the phone when your child started crying and you told him to wait. Every time you do this, you're teaching your child to self-soothe. Or, the more scientific word for this is self-regulation. Self-regulation is good for children. It teaches them emotional regulation, self-discipline, and to wait for rewards, just to name a few.
As adults, sometimes we could learn how to better self-soothe (or self-regulate), too. For example, just because something goes wrong doesn't mean we always have to complain about it. And just because someone gets mad, doesn't mean we have to respond in anger in return.
As a wife, just because your husband isn't as emotionally available as you'd like doesn't mean you have to feel so neglected. There are several things you can do to soothe yourself (like read a good book or call a friend) to help you in the moment until your husband becomes more able to be emotionally available. Sometimes you might have to wait a little longer than just a few moments, which requires even more self-soothing, but the payout for you can be immeasurable.
3) Find rewarding things to do
As mentioned above, sometimes you have to wait a little longer than just a few moments for your husband to become emotionally available (after all, it took decades of socialization for him to become this way, so it's not going to change overnight). In the meantime, you can find plenty of rewarding things to do to bide your time, like joining a book club or starting a membership at a gym. There are plenty of rewarding experiences and friendships you can get from these kinds of social places. Just make sure you're not replacing your husband with these things or you'll find bigger problems in your marriage than him emotionally ignoring you.
4) Take measures to create change
If it was a natural thing for your husband to be emotional with you, he'd be doing it already, and you wouldn't be feeling emotionally ignored. As a result, it will take some deliberate effort on his part to change his ways. Reading books and seeing a counselor are both great ways to raise awareness of certain problems and create change. Sure, it might be a bit embarrassing to see a counselor but it's actually one of the strongest things you can do for your marriage.
Emotionally in tune marriages are the most rewarding. But just because yours isn't that way now doesn't mean it never will be. These four tips are great ways to get your relationship there and will give you something to do in the meantime.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.