Q: My wife is working hard at getting me to become more communicative and involved in trying to resolve our marriage difficulties. After about fifteen minutes of talking, I find that I start to become confused, impatient, and even angry. I love my wife and want to do my best to work through our differences, but I don’t seem to have the skills to do it. How do I begin?

A: Unfortunately, many men struggle with talking, listening, and working through interpersonal conflicts and differences. Many men have been conditioned out of being open or vulnerable and discouraged from sharing feelings and needs. Boys have been asked or told to “stop crying” and “be strong.” Girls usually have gotten more care and attention when they are crying or feeling weak. This conditioning has contributed to some men feeling disconnected from themselves, each other, and from their intimate partners. Undoing this conditioning is an essential task of current male maturity.

The process begins by first learning to feel yourself—taking time to attend to your inner thoughts, feelings, impressions, memories, and sensations. Taking several deep breaths in a row, slowing down, and noticing what you are experiencing at any moment—and especially while in dialogue—is a good beginning. At first you won’t feel much, or you may feel confused or even numb. This is normal. It’s the first layer of protection from the fear of opening up to yourself and another person. Breathing stirs the content of our inner world by bringing energy into our body and nervous system. It also enlivens areas within us that are sluggish and ignored. Taking a course on mindfulness meditation can be very helpful in this endeavor as well.

By slowing the dialogue with you wife, noticing and verbalizing your reactions, and asking questions, you can stay present to what you are exploring together. Do your best to bring an attitude of curiosity about your own thought process, as well as hers. This creates more space for honest revealing. Intimate relating has many dimensions: knowing oneself; taking time to know your partner; communicating your own experience, feelings and ideas skillfully, without blame or judgment; and listening deeply to your partner. I suggest you read the book Being Intimate by John and Kris Amodeo. It will help you understand the dimensions of developing an intimate relationship.

Q: I have a lot of dreams at night, but by morning I forget them. Should I try and remember them? If so, how?

A: Dream work can be a fascinating and very intuitive way of learning about yourself. First, keep a dream journal or a recording device by your bed. When you go to bed, think of your intention to remember your dreams. Immediately upon waking, record any part of the dream that you can remember. Even a color, word, or one image is valuable. During the day, take a moment to remember any other part of the dream. This may happen spontaneously. If you practice this for a few days, your dreams will come to life. Maybe you’ll send in a dream for a future column?

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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