Men and Women React Differently to Emotional Disclosure and Repression

Romantic relationships are based on trust, respect, and communication. Having open and honest discussions about emotional topics is an intimate exchange that builds strength and commitment in a relationship. Women, who rely more on verbal communication than physical communication, are generally more comfortable with disclosing their emotional vulnerabilities than men are. Being unable to adequately conceptualize and verbalize emotions is a condition referred to as alexithymia. It is not uncommon for people with depression, PTSD, eating problems, and anxiety to have varying levels of alexithymia. Although this lack of emotional expression can detrimentally affect interpersonal relationships, it is unclear how alexithymia works to affect the dyad of the intimate romantic relationship.

Patricia Eid of the Department of Sexology at the University of Quebec in Montreal led a study to examine this effect more closely. In her study, Eid analyzed 84 couples using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale and the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. She found that when alexithymia was present in men, it negatively affected their relationship satisfaction and also the overall relationship adjustment of their partners. When women reported alexithymia, however, it only affected their relationship satisfaction negatively and did not have a deleterious effect on their partner’s adjustment.

Eid believes this could be due to the fact that men are less likely to express themselves verbally than women. This is especially true for men who adhere to masculine norms and believe emotional vulnerability is a sign of weakness. By concealing their emotions, men may believe they are projecting an image of power and control. “Although alexithymia may, in theory, bring some social evolutionary advantage to men, it seems to bring some disadvantages for them in intimate relationships,” said Eid. In sum, the results of this study demonstrate unique patterns of adjustment for men and women in a relationship with alexithymia. Emotional disclosure in general is very important to relationship satisfaction for both men and women. However, men are much less affected by their partners’ emotional repression than women are.

Eid, Patricia, and Sophie Boucher. Alexithymia and dyadic adjustment in intimate relationships: Analyses using the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 31.10 (2012): 1095-111. Print.

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  • ALAN


    January 9th, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    I agree that as men we tend to keep our emotions to ourselves and do not really let them out easily. But sometimes it is better to let go and speak up. At least to a close friend or to the spouse, it has benefits when we do speak out. It does get the heavy weight off our chest and trust me it actually feels better. No hurt to our masculinity either.

    I used to be so uptight about these things until recently, when I discovered that speaking out actually makes me feel better. To all the men out there – try it, it does leave you feeling better.

  • serena


    January 9th, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    while women are sometimes ridiculed for being emotional and sobbing,doing so can be a good thing at times!

    its far better to let your feelings out than to hold them inside and burn yourself.I see men doing this all the time.they do not want to talk about an issue but will continue to carry that along with them,thereby causing hurt to themselves.I prefer letting it out,talking to someone rather than to just burn myself with it.

  • Joanna


    January 10th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    I think that my husband has this inability to speak what he feels, and while some women may think that they would like it if the man in their lives kept all of their emotions to themselves, it has really started to drive a huge wedge between us in our marriage.

    I have to tell him all the time that this is not what I signed on for, to only talk to the walls while he sits there seemingly oblivious to anything that I say. It is very frustrating when all I want to do is talk a little and he is completely zoned out and unwilling to engage.

    he did not always act like this, only over the past few years, but I don’t know how much more of his silence I can take.

  • Ella


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    My husband tends to do well opening up emotionally. I’m the one who is a closed book. It’s good to hear that it probably isn’t affecting him all that much. One less thing to stress about!

  • Sabrian


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    Ella, you may actually not be off the hook. Just because most men don’t mind their partners not sharing emotions with them doesn’t mean that all are like that. In fact, your husband may be one of the ones who is negatively affected since he doesn’t mind sharing his emotions with you. You need to make sure his emotional needs are being met. If you think that conversation will be difficult for you, I would highly suggest that you seek professional help.

  • NYJane


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    so glad to know im not alone in this my husband doesn’t tell me anything. i try to talk to him all the time but nothing. does anyone know how to help me help him?

  • P Nicholas

    P Nicholas

    January 10th, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    NYJane, sometimes these patterns are very hard to break. Have you tried counseling? If he is not interested, maybe he would read a self-help book by himself or would he be open to reading it together? I wish you good luck!

  • linnet


    January 10th, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    @NYJane:My husband did that too.But after I spoke to him about how he can count on me and could open up to me bout anything on his mind,he has improved in this regard.We now have more open heart-to-heart talks and sometimes it feels great to be a confidante of your spouse.It can help build the relationship as well because you are exchanging so much trust with each other.

    SO my suggestion would be for you to talk to him about the benefits of opening up and sharing with one another.Chances are that he will reciprocate.Don’t forget to be open to him at the same time.Helps the process and keeps the relationship strong.

  • tyler


    January 10th, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Know what I think?
    I think that there are a whole lot of women out there not looking for a husband but looking for a therapist to unload all the time. That’s what I think.
    Look, men are a little more guarded and prone to keep things to ourselves. That’s who we are.
    I don’t need or want the daily dish, I want someone who enjoys being with me and makes me laugh and is a great partner and who wants the same.
    I don’t want to have to have deep heavy discussions and be analyzed about my FEELINGs all the time.

  • Jane


    January 10th, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Wow Tyler you are going to make some woman SOOOOOO happy one day, just hope it isn’t me

  • Duncan


    January 10th, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Not sure I agree with this at all. From a personal standpoint, I have found that the more open I have been about my feelings with past and prospective partners the more I they became shaming and distant. They made clear that they did not feel safe or secure, and I am quite sure they felt uncomfortable with my candid approach, and I was told I was over analytical. I have learnt that I have to be careful who I share what with, and these gender roles are far too simplistic, in my humble view dysfunctional behaviour is to be found in both men and women. We are in an age in the UK when men and women are not sure about their roles or how they wish to be treated. I think men get a raw deal, from some women who want to be independent, yet want to be looked after, and so it’s about control.
    I was diagnosed with a Mixed Personality Disorder three years ago after twenty years of therapy, due to violence, and neglect during childhood. When I shared my struggle with women I have dated even after knowing them for a long time, they became emotionally distant and switched off to me. I think women can be quite mercenary when it comes to find a mate, and to show weakness in a competitive arena is not a good idea. They may say they are supportive and that they respect you for sharing, but this does not bare out in time. I have now realised that there is a big difference between truth and disclosure. I just hope that there is a person out there who is tolerant, supportive and emotionally confident, so far I have met very few women like that. Sorry.

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