Relationship Fitness

S21 E3: Being Both Tough and Emotionally Strong

In season 21 episode 3 of “Relationship Workout for Men,” host Vince Vasquez and guest Roni Maislish, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, discuss the critical need for men to balance physical toughness with emotional strength. They explore how childhood trauma, societal expectations, and the journey from survival to truly living impact men’s emotional health and relationships. Tune in to learn how men can embrace vulnerability, connect with their true selves, and foster deeper connections with their partners and communities.

Vince Vasquez Speaking:

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner and being a better partner for the person they choose. Season 21 focuses on men navigating strength, vulnerability, and addictions. We’re in episode three, “Being Both Tough and Emotionally Strong.” I’m speaking today with Roni Maislish, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist working for 20 years on the psychological roots of emotional eating, food addiction, and obesity. In this episode, we’re going to discuss how many men are physically tough but also emotionally fragile, not necessarily having the tools to handle emotional turmoil very well. So, Roni, what do you think about this topic?

Roni Maislish Speaking:

I think that, as we said a bit before, men are not taught to have open hearts or to let themselves become a bit disintegrated or fall apart when something is happening. They don’t have any connection to their vulnerability and their broken heart. I think being in touch with your broken heart is a starting point because if you acknowledge that you’ve been neglected or abused or that someone left you, and maybe you’re in a depression, you can put your energy into healing those wounds. Then something changes in you, maybe transforming you. You could become some kind of shaman. A shaman is someone who works through their broken heart and then helps others with theirs. Not enough men do this kind of work because they are too busy with life, and people, mainly their parents, taught them that they need to be tough. But what the parents meant most of the time is that their children should become brittle. They are very strong on the outside but fragile on the inside. They didn’t have enough tools to work on their inside. You need to grow up emotionally and spiritually to become strong on the inside too. Then you become more integrated. Your emotions, sensations, experiences, and memories become integrated. You feel more holistic, cohesive, knowing where you come from and where you’re going, and then you can become much stronger.

Vince Vasquez Speaking:

So when you have to be emotionally strong and not emotionally brittle, it keeps you disconnected because it’s like you’ve created a wall from your internal feelings. Even grief and men rebound all the time as a way to skip over the step of the grieving process. Can you talk about how childhood trauma connects to this? It seems like if I’m raised to be stoic and not cry, and then when I have a family, I have to keep them safe. So I can’t come in after work and talk about my failures because that’s counterintuitive. Then I can’t connect with my partner about my true experiences. Can you elaborate on that?

Roni Maislish Speaking:

I think most of us went through experiences where our parents or teachers helped us survive. So we are in survival mode most of our lives with our career, family, emotions, and relationships. But sometimes, maybe a child or someone close to you asks you to do more than just survive, to actually live. But you never had the tools to live. There is no connection between survival and living. To be in life, you need to be connected to your emotions and trauma, not just cognitively understand what you’ve been through. You need tools to understand, grieve, and restore your true self, saying goodbye to your false self. That’s a journey. Michael Eigen from New York used the term “equipment.” You need different equipment to go from survival mode to actually living. When you’re living, you’re much stronger inside. When something happens, you have much more capacity to handle it. It’s important to still know how to survive, but also learn other aspects of life.

Vince Vasquez Speaking:

It’s hard to have a long-term relationship if your partner doesn’t know your true self. If you’re in survival mode and disconnected and stoic, and she tries to get you to be more connected to your emotions, you don’t know how to go there. How do you take the first step to become emotionally strong if you’re not sure how?

Roni Maislish Speaking:

It’s very individual and subjective. Maybe the wife threatens to leave if you don’t connect with your emotions. That could be a starting point. If the fear changes to curiosity, you become more curious about what she’s talking about—what is being connected to your heart, emotions, and spiritual journey? You read books, watch movies, attend workshops, or go to therapy. Something changes in you because you want more from life, and you become hungry for life. That’s a major shift. Sometimes, an accident, like a child’s illness, changes the dynamic in the home. Joyce McDougall wrote about the “Theater of the Body,” where a child’s disease brings a message to the family. If the father is open and playful, he can understand the message. You need openness, which helps you go through a door to your healing process. You need other people, your friends, colleagues, community. We need each other.

Vince Vasquez Speaking:

First, you have to realize we begin in survival mode. There is more than just surviving. To be with someone for 30 years, you have to go beyond survival and connect. Otherwise, you’re on an island, and many marriages don’t last because the wife gets tired of swimming around the island when she wants to be together.

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