Why can't/won't he cry?

Hello Alice,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 2 years. It has come to my attention that he just does not cry. Not when a relative dies, once we got into a huge fight and he was on the brink of losing me and our family and that didn't even make him cry. So I asked and he says he doesn't think he has cried since he was 14 (20 years ago) even though he's had a pretty rough life, one that I would think needed a lot of crying to get through. He generally seems rather emotion-less. He's either angry or just here. As where I am a very bubbly person. Should he see a therapist? Could there be something wrong with him mentally? It's causing serious issues in our relationship because he's just not very lovey and I am and I feel if you are about to lose someone you love, you cry; which makes me feel like he does not love me. What's going on here? Thank you.

— Brittany

Dear Brittany,

It seems like you’re struggling with two issues here—you’re wondering why your boyfriend doesn’t cry despite having had a rough life, and you’re feeling disappointed and hurt that he doesn’t show more emotion in your relationship. Not crying may be a coping mechanism that your boyfriend developed in response to his challenging life, which doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with him. However, it’s clear that your relationship is suffering because you and your boyfriend are not on the same page in terms of how much emotional expression you each desire from yourself and from each other.

There are many other reasons why you and your boyfriend may have such a stark difference in emotional expressivity. Many research studies have found a trend of women showing more emotional expressivity than men, explained by a biopsychosocial model. This model states that minor biological differences, such as sex differences in gene expression and hormones (for example, testosterone and estrogen), influence how emotion is expressed, such as young girls having higher language abilities and young boys having more active emotional arousal systems. As children age, the people and culture surrounding them serve to reinforce dichotomous gender roles, which may solidify minor biological differences into larger social differences in gendered emotional expression. For example, anger is considered more "masculine," so boys may feel more comfortable expressing anger than other emotions, while girls are taught to suppress their negative emotions in order to put on a pleasant face for other people. The immediate social and broader cultural contexts a person is surrounded by can further influence how strongly a person identifies with these gender expectations. One caveat is that this biopsychosocial model is primarily based on studies that sampled from white, cisgender, middle-class populations in Western countries, so there are limitations to how generalizable this model is. Some research has been dedicated to exploring differences in emotions across cultures, finding broad similarities in emotional intensity and physiological response alongside some cultural differences in how emotions were displayed in facial expressions and the degree to which emotional expression versus suppression were culturally valued.

What this means is, how your boyfriend outwardly expresses his emotions (crying or otherwise) doesn't necessarily represent how he feels internally, and you may be able to address the level of emotional intimacy you feel in your relationship without asking your boyfriend to cry in front of you. For some people, being "emotionless" is a common coping strategy to protect themselves when placed under high stress, and it’s not typically a conscious decision. For other people, it might be a conscious decision—it varies! Perhaps your goal could be to work on your relationship together so that you both feel loved and fulfilled, instead of putting effort forth in an attempt to change him. You’ve made a great first step by starting a conversation with your boyfriend about what you need to feel valued in a relationship. Still, intimacy within a relationship takes time and effort on the part of all involved to build and maintain. If your boyfriend hasn't felt emotionally safe and supported in the past, he may not be used to expressing his feelings in front of you and your family. Emotional processing can be affected by how others respond to a person's expression of emotion. A study focused on adolescents found that for teens who were less willing to show their emotions, their parents tended to ignore their negative emotions and didn't validate their emotions the same way other parents of more expressive teens did. Your boyfriend may not even know how to express his feelings to his loved ones. If you and your boyfriend agree that you’d like to increase the emotional intimacy in your relationship, there are several steps that you could try:

  • Pay close attention to your feelings. If you’re not sure how to describe or express those feelings, it may be helpful to start with a broader emotional category (such as “sad”) and then add specificity to the emotional description (such as “lonely,” “ashamed,” or “disappointed”). Talking with friends, searching the internet, or using a tool like a feelings wheel may help in building your emotional vocabulary. You may even try keeping a journal and writing down how you feel throughout the day or week.
  • Talk about your feelings with each other. This may feel strange at first, but this odd feeling will fade with time as you both gain comfort talking about your emotions with each other. Trying not to make assumptions or judgments can go a long way to increasing communication and feeling safe to share thoughts and feelings between you and your partner.
  • Actively listen to each other. Based on his background, your boyfriend may not be used to having his feelings heard and validated. It seems like you might be facing that same problem in your relationship with him. So, listening to each other and making sure the other person knows they have been heard and understood may help increase security and safety in your relationship. You might also consider setting up a regular time and space to have these check-in conversations.

Remember, this is a process. Emotional intimacy isn’t immediate—it takes time and dedication to build it partnership with one another. You may make some mistakes, but these are opportunities to learn and build an even deeper connection with each other.

You might also consider attending couples therapy. Because you’re just starting your journey to becoming more emotionally intimate, having a non-judgmental third party’s help may allow you to work on your issues more effectively. This may also be a great time to ask yourself if this relationship is giving you what you need. Would you be happy even if your boyfriend never cries in front of you? Are there other ways to increase your emotional intimacy separate from your boyfriend’s emotional expressiveness? Answering these questions may help clarify the things you wish to work on together to improve your relationship, without requiring anyone to express their emotions in a way that feels uncomfortable to them.

Hope this helps,

Last updated Nov 04, 2022
Originally published Apr 11, 2014

Can’t find information on the site about your health concern or issue?