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Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Husband

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Is being soft a weakness, and how manly should a man be to be ‘sufficiently masculine’? There is a well-known Chinese saying: “男子汉大丈夫流血不流泪”. It roughly means a true man sheds blood but not tears. Shedding blood is physical pain that needs healing of the body, and shedding tears is emotional pain that needs healing of the heart. That saying sums up our tendency to suppress our emotions in our culture, and especially for men.

Asians have this cultural value, primarily influenced by Confucius teaching, that calmness and serenity are regarded well, but strong emotions such as anger hinder social harmony and order. Thus, we tend to suppress our sadness, hurt and disappointment in front of others. Remember when children were taught to be seen and not heard? Did you received praise for keeping quiet and were scolded for crying as a shameful thing?

When we grow up suppressing emotions, we become unskilled in being emotionally intelligent husbands and wives. Instead of turning towards each other emotionally, what psychologists call attunement, we turned away and against each other unknowingly.

Dr John Gottman, a renowned psychologist, found out through his research in his Love Lab that women have two major complaints about men: “He is never there for me” and “There isn’t enough intimacy and connection”. What about men’s complaints about their wives? “There’s too much fighting” and “Not enough sex”. Wives’ complaints tend to be more oriented toward discussing and understanding feelings. But husbands tend to dismiss their wives’ emotions instead of attuning to them. They may try to fix the problems, minimise the concerns, and sometimes mock or make fun of their “exaggerated” worries. They may also become irritable when they take their wives’ feelings personally or feel responsible for their emotions.

We need emotions to connect intimately. Husbands who learn how to make their wives feel safe enough to express negative feelings will get what they want: less fighting and more sex! Those who can connect emotionally with their wives will find out the stories behind the complaint or criticism.

One of my clients, Mr Ong (not real name), came to me recently and asked for help. He told me his wife was getting unreasonable and became angry when he tried to help with bathing their newborn son. After hearing both sides of the stories, I understood what had happened. Mrs Ong was a little down due to tiredness and the stress of caring for her first baby. She told Mr Ong about how she felt, hoping to hear some comforting words. Instead, Mr Ong said to her that what she had experienced was normal and told her that this was the sacrifice she had to make. While Mr Ong presented the logical picture, he missed the emotional connection with his wife!

Emotional attunement is the ability to recognise another person’s emotional state and respond (not react) in a supportive way. It is a vibrant energy that allows the husband and wife to move in rhythms of feelings and needs to adjust their behaviour accordingly – to be there for each other.

How can Husbands become emotionally intelligent – moving from emotional attenuation to attunement?

Dr Gottman proposes the ATTUNE skills for couples to build emotional trust, a basis for attunement.


Awareness of emotions


Turning towards the emotions


Tolerance of the emotional experiences


Understanding the emotion


Non-defensive listening to the emotion


Empathy toward the emotion

Let us examine the first of ATTUNE – Awareness of emotions.

Awareness of emotions is to take in your partner’s thoughts and feelings as they are. It is not adding or dismissing the emotions but to describe to yourself what those thoughts and feelings are. It is done without being impatient or annoyed and without responding with blame and accusation.

For example, your wife may say: You don’t care about me. All you care is your work!

You may argue back with all the examples of what you have done to care for her. But the first step of attunement is to “catch” the emotions of your spouse. What were her thoughts and feelings?

Thoughts: She thinks my work is more important than her. She thinks that I don’t treasure her.

Feelings: She is angry. She feels neglected.

This could be hard if what your wife said triggered you in the wrong way. But remember that acknowledging each other’s emotions opens up the communication channel.

Stay tuned for more tips on ATTUNE in next month’s newsletter.

Written by: Timothy Thong, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services


The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, John Gottman, Ph.D., W.W. Norton & Company, 2011

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, John Gottman, PhD, Nan Silver, Orion Publishing Co, 2018