Hey, Men - It’s Vulnerability, NOT Strength, That Will See You Through Infertility
Expressing vulnerability brings relief and communicates to your partner that neither of you is alone.
Men are socialized out of most emotions, particularly the vulnerable ones. Other than anger we are rarely given a chance to connect with our sadness, our fears, our guilt, and our shame. Yet these are all feelings that arise many times throughout our lives, and they are very strong during the struggle to have a baby.
You might encounter:
- Fear & sadness that it just won't happen.
- Guilt that you waited too long.
- Shame that it could be your body that’s the problem and that you're not a Real Man if you can't fix it.
At this point, most people ask me, well, what's the point of connecting with these feelings anyway?
We Connect Through Vulnerability, Not "Strength”
Masculinity can get in our way when it comes to expressing how we really feel. From the day we start being given the message that "boys don’t cry" or that we need to "be a man" it is just the start of a lifelong, consistently reinforced, shutting down of a major part of who we are.
We’ve been told that this is what "being strong" looks like, but it’s a lie.
Sure, there are moments when survival is all that matters and sitting in our sadness, our shame, or our fear is not helpful; there’s no need to process feelings when the Zombies are actively attacking—but we’re not always in those moments of crisis, yet we still don’t give ourselves the benefit of feeling. And there are benefits to it.
Working toward pregnancy can feel and be very time-sensitive, and it can feel acute all of the time with a strong sense of urgency. Treating it with the hypervigilance that we bring to the fight/flight/freeze scenario of the bear-in-the woods or the intruder-in-the-home, though, can only hurt you and your partner.
And I use the word 'hurt' specifically here because we’re not doing anyone any favors by holding our vulnerable feelings during this time. Not us, or our partners. Here’s the reason: we connect with each other through these feelings. We learn to trust each other more when we see that we can be vulnerable with someone who won’t mock us or throw it in our face and who, in turn, loves us enough to show us how scared and sad they are as well.
Look to What We Can’t Control
Since we were young boys we’ve been trained to "use our anger" to take care of just about everything:
- To solve problems
- To deal with stress
- To manage embarrassment
Whether the anger is channeled toward scoring on the opposing football team, towards earning an A to show up that teacher who made fun of us or let the bullies know that they can’t make us cry, we have become masters at mobilizing vulnerability into anger and then into solutions and triumph.
Until it doesn’t work that way.
Until we see that life doesn’t always follow along with our plans and we’re left scratching our heads—but I did everything, right? Why do I still feel lousy? Things aren’t fair.
But if I try harder, it won’t happen again. I’ll succeed.
These are words and mantras we’ve been playing for ourselves for a long time.
And if we really were in charge of everything and had control over all the variables, it’d be helpful. In fact, there are areas in our lives when it is helpful and we do accomplish after doubling down.
Still, in some of the most important areas of our lives, it’s not about dogged persistence, coming up with a new, better equation, or forcing the circle to be a square. In these most important things—and I’m talking about relationships, disease, health, and having a baby—there are forces beyond our control that have more say on our outcomes.
We can help the process along with education, discipline, and a strong will, but the idea that those things (the things we can control) can only get us so far is scary to take in. It shows us how helpless we really are when it comes to:
- Whether someone loves us
- Whether we get cancer
- Whether our company disintegrates and we’re laid off
- And, of course, whether our sperm or a partner’s eggs can easily come together to create a new, sustainable life
Getting angry and looking for a new fix can only go so far.
Expressing the vulnerability underneath it all can be a great relief. Expressing yourself in the form of pure anger is a relief as well, but the next layer is more tender and it’s this that needs to be tended to. If we don’t do so, our anger just blindly leads us to despair and cuts us off from those we love.
Men often spend too much energy holding in their vulnerability. Letting it out provides relief and communicates to your partner that neither of you is alone.
Written by Justin Lioi, LCSW | Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) focused on Counselling for Men
Justin Lioi, is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) focused on men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a New York-based psychotherapist with a teletherapy practice throughout New York State and internationally. He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and is a requested presenter on topics such as fatherhood, assertiveness, anger, and self-compassion. His writing can be found on The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Good Therapy.