The communication breakdown between the sexes can often be summed up like this: You like to talk about your feelings; he doesn’t. It’s not his fault. “Boys are taught to be less emotionally open than girls,” says Ronald Levant, a professor of psychology at the University of Akron. “They are socialized by their peers and parents never to cry and to embrace traditional norms of masculinity, like being aggressive.” (Those action-hero figures aren’t saving the world by negotiating with the bad guy….)
But the era of the man bun has ushered in a willingness on the part of guys to be less guarded. Millennial men are more down for deep conversations with their partner, says Levant, but there are differences in how men and women communicate that can make it seem like he’s hiding his feelings. “We all share the same need for love,” assures Levant, “but men don’t always grasp how to use talking as a way to get that.” For a lot of men, physical contact (read: sex!) or even just hanging with you is their way of letting you in. Here, some methods to get his lips moving.
1. Strike when he is busy
When was the last time your boyfriend bonded with his buddies over a quiet dinner? Exactly. Guys aren’t wired for that at-close-range communication. “Face-to-face conversations can make men feel vulnerable, so getting into a serious discussion while engaged in an activity, like driving, feels safer,” says Deborah Tannen, PhD, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don’t Understand! Sustained eye contact can also cause confusion. “Between two men, a direct gaze can be a sign that you’re looking for a fight,” she explains. And with a woman, a guy may perceive a long stare as you being DTF, not down to talk. “Either way, he may close up because he’s either too on guard or too focused on sex,” Tannen says.
2. Ease into the deep stuff
“Not all men are used to describing their emotions, so when you ask him what he’s feeling, he may not know what to say,” says Mark Feinberg, PhD, a professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University. Worse, it can seem like you’re calling him out for withholding, which puts him on the defensive. So avoid the “Why so quiet?” approach. Instead, try these four words that do a better job of encouraging a guy to articulate what he’s feeling: “I’m here to listen.” That phrase sends the clear message that you’re ready to hear him. Then, if he tells you, “My boss hated my presentation,” rather than firing off questions about his boss’s reaction, use empathy to take the conversation deeper. Say: “I’d be so bummed if that happened to me!” which signals that you’re not judging him.
3. Talk about his favs
While listening to him reel off baseball stats may not feel like bonding, Feinberg points out that “dismissing small talk as superficial is a mistake.” Engaging over lighter topics your guy cares about can actually bridge toward more emotionally charged subjects. When you say, “Let’s talk,” to a dude, he senses something is wrong. But casual chitchat about his interests reinforces that this isn’t an interrogation. If you take his side about that ump’s bad calls, he may be more likely to open up about stuff that matters to you later.
4. Give him the floor
When he does start chatting, it’s your turn to zip it. “When women are conversing with each other, there’s more mutual engagement—overlapping, interjecting, and commenting—and less turn-taking,” Feinberg says. “But for a guy, it’s easier to get his point across when he gets a chance to say something without interruption.”
5. Get him laughing
Could watching Fallon be the cure to a communication freeze? It may sound silly, but yeah. A study in Human Nature found that people are more likely to share personal details after a laugh. Just make sure your man isn’t the punch-line, Tannen says. He might take that as a hit to his masculinity and clam up.