How to Bring Out the Best in Your Partner
by David Bruce Leonard and Jodi Baygood
Please Note: All people have masculine and feminine qualities, regardless of their gender. We use the terms "men", "women", "masculine", and "feminine" in this article for convenience, but in truth either polarity can be assigned to either gender. Masculine concepts are applicable to women with a strong masculine alignment and feminine concepts are applicable to men with a strong feminine alignment. Feel free to substitute any terms you like where they might be applicable. And while this article is primarily directed toward heterosexual couples, many of the ideas and practices herein can easily be applied to other types of relationships. We should love whomever we choose, but we should love well. The dynamics of human emotional sexual interactions are universal.
At any given moment, in our relationship, have two choices:
1) We can act in a way that brings out the best in our partner.
2) We can act in a way that brings out the worst in our partner.
In order to bring out the best in our partner, we need to be our Best. That means we need to be true to ourselves and honor our core values. When our orientation and behavior are fully aligned with our values, we have to ability to support and empower our partner.
In addition, we need to be true to our agreements and place both our individual needs and the needs of the relationship as a priority to create a sanctuary for our love to unfold and prosper. If our core values are not in alignment with the needs of the relationship, then we may experience constant struggle.
We should never do anything that involves self-betrayal or the abandonment of our core values, no matter how much our partner might want us to do so. But if we can bring out the best in our partner by empowering him, our relationship will improve considerably. In order to bring out the best in him, it is important to understand how he is wired: i.e., his "Energetic Anatomy"
Energetic Anatomy - Our Positive and Negative Poles
While there is considerable scientific research that validates our approach to this topic, for the purposes of this article, we will focus instead on the more traditional ideas that have their roots in Asian philosophy.
The "energetic" or "psycho-emotional" anatomies of men and women tend to be different.
In some Chinese systems of thought, men are considered to be yang (hard and resilient) on the outside and yin (soft and yielding) on the inside. Conversely, women are thought to be yin (soft and yielding) on the outside, and yang (hard and resilient) on the inside. Thus when you scratch the hard surface of many men, you will find a soft vulnerable person inside. Conversely, when you scratch the soft surface of many women, you find a strong resilient being inside.
The implications of this contradictory demeanor can impact many aspects of our sexual and romantic relationships; and understanding its impact can resolve many confusing situations as we are trying to connect with our partner.
In terms of the physical body, it is said that men tend to shut down from the neck to the navel (their chest) and women tend to shut down from the knees to the navel (their pelvis). If this is true, it means that men and women's bodies are the energetic inverse of each other. Thus, a man's positive pole would be in his pelvis and his negative pole in his chest. Conversely, woman's positive pole would be in her chest and her negative pole in her pelvis.
To put this another way, a woman is most sensitive and emotionally vulnerable in her pelvis, but a man is most sensitive and emotionally vulnerable in his chest.
Understanding this difference, we can be more aware of how to best attend to our partners. So, for a man who experiences stress in a relationship due to to a woman’s incessant emotional pressure to connect, he will instinctively shut down his chest and emotions to protect himself. And a woman who is experiencing stress in a relationship due to a man’s incessant need for physical desire and attention will instinctively shut down her pelvis and sexuality to protect herself. What we need is to understand the opposing differences between men and women so that we can learn to open ourselves up to each other consciously. For example, a man can assist a woman to feel safe and connected by talking with her or moving slowly physically despite his urgent desire to act physically. And a woman can support a man to open up by going directly to his physical need, touching and stroking him so that he can relax and feel a deeper connection.
What many couples experience is the exact opposite. If a man is physically aggressive and grabs at a woman's pelvis when she is feeling vulnerable, her physical and emotional body will shut down, to protect herself. In the same way, a woman might be verbally aggressive and assault a man’s heart by forcing him to answer emotional questions such as "Do you love me? Will you marry me? Come on! Talk to me!". His instinct will then be to protect himself by shutting down his heart.
Obviously, men are vulnerable in their genitals and women in their heart and chest also, but on an energetic and emotional level, this model can explain some of the common dilemmas we face in partnership.
In intimate relationships, we are generally more comfortable in our positive pole; and our positive pole is attracted to our partner's negative pole. Thus, when a man meets a woman to whom he is attracted, his pelvis (his positive pole) immediately is attracted to her pelvis (her negative pole). When a woman meets a man to whom she is attracted, her heart (her positive pole) immediately is attracted to his heart (his negative pole). So, ironically, if a man wants to reach a woman's pelvis, his best strategy is to go through her positive pole, her heart; this is where she is most comfortable. And if a woman wants to reach a man's heart, her best strategy is to go through his positive pole, his pelvis; this is where he is most comfortable. Our ability to communicate is always improved when we have learned the language, energetic and otherwise, of those to whom we are speaking.
Understanding the masculine principles:
Esteem, honor and pride.
In order to bring out the best in your man, you would be wise to learn and understand the masculine language and principles.
Men and women have different "languages" and function from different principles. When we learn the language of the “other” we will undoubtedly discover that it is counterintuitive. However with a lot of practice, we can learn to become fluent in masculine and feminine languaging, although, it will never be our native tongue. What we are actually striving for when we learn the other’s language is to find ways to communicate with him/her in order to increase and enhance connection. We learn the language of the masculine in order to learn words and behaviors that allow our partner the opportunity to open and stay connected to us, as opposed to alienating him. And through the comfort of connection, women can bring out the best in men.
This language of the masculine is comprised of many foundational principles: esteem, honor, and pride. Other vital important components of the masculine language include; setting boundaries, holding space, acting and speaking with integrity, as well as being reliable and accountable.
On a body-energetic, psycho-emotional level, a man's esteem, honor, and pride reside in the same area as his heart, his chest or upper torso. This is also where grief in his body resides, and as we saw above, it is where he is most vulnerable.
A man’s esteem is his sense of personal value. It is how he evaluates his worth as a human being. A man’s esteem and self-confidence lives in his chest; you can observe this clearly in little boys when they are praised. They will literally stand taller and puff their chests out. Among our ancestors, the esteem of others could reflect a man's status in the tribe, spurring him on to taking greater challenges and, thereby, receiving greater rewards. On the other hand, when men are feeling shame or low self-esteem, they physically l collapse their chest. Ironically, they sometimes will artificially inflate their chest to feel more confident and to counteract feelings of disappointment and shame. Either way, the tendency of most men is to numb down the region of the heart until they are in a situation in which they are safe enough to feel what is going on in there.
Now, we might wonder, "Why would men shut down their chest and their emotions? What would be the advantage of doing so?"
For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors relied heavily on men’s ability to protect the tribe. The stronger and more aggressive males were needed to protect the women and children, guard the perimeter and kill invaders. Men had to be physically, emotionally and mentally strong and aggressive enough to hunt down and kill very dangerous animals, and equally dangerous men from other tribes. In order for men to be able to do the job of killing others, they had to do something with their feelings of empathy. If a man was going to look an invader in the eye and take his life, then he had to be able to shut down his feelings and smother his grief. The person he was killing may have been very much like him; he had people he loved and perhaps children who loved and needed him. If a man was too empathic, he would be unable to take that invader's life. If a man could not stifle his feelings and take that person's life, he would put his life and those that he loved most at risk. So nature designed men to be dispassionate in order to protect those they love. Men are designed to be stoic, shut down their emotions, and demonize their "enemies" in order to protect their families.
During war, men who were dispassionate were at an evolutionary advantage... they could shut down their feelings in order to perform their duty and thus take honor in protecting their tribe. These same men had to cease feeling pain and grief when one of their comrades died in battle. If they became paralyzed with grief on the battlefield, they would put their comrades and their families' lives at risk.
This evolutionary trade-off is something that we have inherited. It in an instinctual and adaptive survival skill that men acquired over thousands of years.
But what about when men who are not at war; what then? During peacetime, when men shut down their emotional bodies and become numb in their chest, they also become trapped, unable to know what it is that they are actually feeling. They find it difficult for to navigate their emotions in everyday life. In order for men to reclaim the whole of who they are, they need to reclaim both their grief and their esteem by feeling these emotions in real-time as they are surging through their bodies. The lion's share of men's emotional work in relationships can easily involve dropping in to see what it is that they are feeling.
Another reason why men will shut down their emotions is to avoid feeling shame. Shame arises when a man feels he lacks competence in providing for and protecting others. In today’s world, men often experience shame when they lose a job, get divorced or are incapable of providing financially or emotionally for his children. And one crucial way that women contribute to a man feeling shame is being critical and withholding acknowledgement and appreciation for all that he does provide. A womanʻs simple and genuine “thank you” can nourish a man’s soul.
The ability of men to perform/act in the world and in relationship is another important condition to build confidence and pride. Women can support their men by giving him clear feedback without shaming him. There are numerous systems of compassionate communication that will enable her to do this effectively.
Understanding a man’s energetic anatomy and emotional makeup can support women to bring out the best in men in healthy, loving ways.
Bringing Out His Best
Women relate to men as larger, hairier versions of themselves. Men's emotional wiring can be quite different than that of women. In fact, our instinctive perception of the world can be the polar opposite of our partner's. This drastic difference warrants adopting a different language and strategy when navigating our partnership. This is an enormous subject so I will only touch upon a few important ideas here.
Emotional Lucidity. Because men are often numb in the emotional center of their chest, they typically need more time than women to ascertain what it is that they are feeling. Ironically, in today’s world, women who are taking on more the masculine role may also find it difficult to locate what they are feeling. If you find that you or your partner is shutting down emotionally, it is best to slow the conversation down and drop into your body, feeling the location of the emotion. Place your hand over the area and tune in. If it feels too vulnerable, be willing to feel it without putting too many words to the emotion. Let go of any story you might have around it and just feel. Another way to access feelings is to have your partner hold you from behind so you both are looking in the same direction or spoon each other. Stay silent and soft with the intention of feeling your core. If you are not ready to express your feelings because they are especially vulnerable then moving your body can be another option.
A man may not feel safe enough to share his emotions. It is crucial that a woman creates a safe environment for a man to reveal his feelings. Therefore if a woman is really interested in getting closer to her partner it is important to go slow and be patient with him.
Shame. In order to bring out the best in your male partner, it is crucial not to shame, attack or belittle him. Experiencing contempt and/or scorn can be his ultimate shaming experience. While it may feel temporarily gratifying for a woman to lash out when she is emotionally wounded, she may break any potential for connection and intimacy.
It is a cultural cliché that women will sometimes say that they want a sensitive man, yet will instinctively attack their partner when he expresses his vulnerability. Even women therapists and counsellors who are easily able to support transparency in their male clients have reported this happening when their partner expresses weakness or vulnerability.
This may be yet another evolutionary hangover for our species.
In order to bring out the best in your man, as a woman you will need to be conscious of his sensitivities. If you find yourself wanting to wound him, take note of the sensations in your body and what might have triggered this impulse. When you are calmer you can then make requests regarding changes you want in his language. A man is best held to their highest masculine standards when we expect them to be accountable and encourage them to take personal responsibility for themselves. But to attack a man when he is exposing his fears and darkness will only assure that he will not make himself vulnerable in the future.
Desire to Please. Your man very likely wants to know how to please you; most men want their partner to be happy. This is true both in and out of the bedroom. Be generous with your man and tell him what will give you pleasure in a way that builds his esteem and verifies his competence. Because he is not a mind reader, he cannot know how you are feeling. He will often try to please you the way he would want to be pleased, which generally does not work. Many men think that women want what a man wants: immediate sex and climax. Therefore, especially in the bedroom, it is best to give him gentle instructions. If he has not had a generous woman telling him what pleases her, he will refer to his past experiences and do what has worked for other women. So the best thing you can do is guide him, clearly stating what feels good to you. He wants to win!
That men want to please women may not be obvious at first glance. Men cannot afford to look needy or weak and, thus, will often mask their need for approval. Inside their mind, many men are stumbling over themselves to try to please their partner. That little boy who seeks love and admiration is still in there.
Admiration. There is an old saying that men yearn to be admired and women yearn to be desired. For a man, the opposite of experiencing shame is to receive admiration. If you let your man be your hero, he will try to become that. If you let your man make you happy, you both win. When you show your appreciation of him, he will give you more of it. However, it is important to be honest with him. It does not serve you to simply flatter him or be dishonest about what makes you happy. Let him know what pleases you and appreciate him for giving it to you!
Understanding the natural differences of the masculine and feminine, both men and women can learn to live in harmony with each other. The most important message here is to understand that you play a crucial part in your partnership. You can either bring out the best or the worst in your partner. Strive to know yourself and how to play your part and you will be able to guide the partnership in a direction that can bring about greater intimacy, love and happiness.
Jodi Baygood and David Bruce Leonard are available for couples' coaching sessions and/or private retreats. For more information, go to: http://sacredriversoflove.com