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Tackling Tough Conversations with Your Partner

African American men often keep their feelings inside, missing out on getting crucial help or communicating their needs to their partner, as found in investigations by The Man Up Man Down Research Program. This research showed that for African American men, being a ‘real man’ involves providing for family, achieving financial success, and earning the respect of others. ‘Manning up’ can have serious consequences, however, including experiencing severe effects of depression at work and in relationships. It is important to express your thoughts and emotions honestly and openly with your partner, so you can work together to build a strong relationship — one in which both of you work as a team to achieve goals like happiness, commitment, and togetherness.

Sharing Emotions

Some of the most difficult issues for African American men to discuss with their partners include talking about fear, anxiety, and depression. Aubrey Harrison of the American Psychological Association reports that during his time working in an intervention program, African American youths would occasionally “open up and talk to me about this ‘anger,’ representing pain and hurt, but they did their best to hold back the tears and ‘man up’... the words ‘I’m good,’ and ‘I’ll be alright’ seemed all too familiar to my ears.” In order to encourage better communication, major work must be done by educators, communities, intellectuals, and health providers to exercise full commitment to listening and asking the right questions that will elicit honest and helpful responses.

Communication on Sexual Issues

A study by Bowleg shows that African American men can find it hard to explore their sexual needs and wants in a healthy way owing to sexual stereotypes of prowess and promiscuity. Even more difficult is discussing sexual issues in new relationships. These can range from erectile dysfunction to STDS and other ‘tough topics.’ In fact, research supports the idea that slavery and colonization are causative factors in the lack of emotionality and vulnerability in the way males communicate, suggesting that “language surrounding intimacy, emotions, and sexual satisfaction may have been absent in the socialization of some Black individuals.” How can men be encouraged to share their concerns with their partners?

Black Men Desire Sexual and Emotional Intimacy

J Doogan et al. found that black men do indeed see emotional connection and sexual intimacy with their partners. On an individual level, “the willingness to place an investment of vulnerability, emotions, and communication in a relationship through reciprocation facilitates intimacy.” However, breaking down the barriers of communication will require work on a larger scale - as well as education, discussion and information. In his book The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships, author Hill Harper notes that education is key to finding common ground, knocking down stereotypes, and countering misinformation and mistrust. It is also important for couples to learn conflict resolution skills, so that nagging, dropping hints, and avoiding touch questions can be replaced by goal-oriented, non-judgmental language that creates the open environment men and women can relate to.

Research indicates that black men can find it difficult to share their emotions and talk about sexual and other ‘difficult’ issues owing to stereotypes and historical influences. Breaking down obstacles to better communication is a big task that can be achieved through the combined efforts of educators, families, and individuals. Good communication results from skills which can be learned and applied so that future generations of black men no longer feel like they have to ‘man up.'


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