By: Abigale Hassel
I need to start this discussion with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, feminists may not want to read any further, because I will be reinforcing the notion that men and women are in fact different and some may consider this to be politically incorrect. I am far from PC. Consider yourself warned. Secondly, there are always exceptions to the rules. Men can have more feminine traits, while women can have more masculine traits. The purpose of this discussion is to help married couples understand one another more. Having said that, let us now look at the many ways men and women are different.
1) We think differently. I once read the perfect description of how the minds of men and women operate. Bill and Pam Farrel wrote that men think in boxes, while women think like a plate of spaghetti. That basically means that men tend to compartmentalize. They put things in figurative boxes and think about one thing at a time. Sometimes, they file the box away and avoid thinking about certain things. This can account for how our husbands sometimes forget things that seem easy enough to remember.
Women, on the other hand, think like a plate of spaghetti. Think about that for a second. A plate of spaghetti consists of many, many noodles overlapping. Sometimes, one noodle may not be distinguishable from another. It is a pile of jumbled mess. In other words, we women think about several things all at once. We do not compartmentalize very well. We tend to remember much more than our husbands do. We multitask better than our husbands do and we are reluctant to just file away our thoughts, like our husbands can do at times.
How this can affect your relationship: Men, when you compartmentalize, it can make your wives feel as if they are “out of sight, out of mind.” If they do not feel that you are thinking about them, it can make them feel unloved, forgotten or dismissed. Knowing this, you can make extra effort to let them know that you are thinking about them and the things that are important to them. Take a minute and send an “I love you text”. Give a quick phone call to let them know you are thinking of them. Pay attention to what your wives are saying and let her know that what she has to say is important to you. Women, thinking about everything all at once can be exhausting and anxiety provoking. Just because something seems important to you at a particular time does not mean that your husband is thinking about it. If he is not, it does not mean that he does not care. It simply means his mind was occupied by something else. Remember, he thinks about things one issue at a time. What you are thinking about may be in another box in his mind. Just communicate with him and he will pull the proper box.
2) We express our emotions differently. In spite of popular opinion, men do have emotions. They simply manifest differently in men than they do in women. My husband and I are a perfect example of this. True to form, I am very emotional, while my husband is, well, not. Do not get me wrong. When things are good, he is a loving, attentive and affectionate husband. When things are not so good, his inner Spock comes out. He is all logic and he is very calm. That can be a very good thing, especially when I am so upset and can barely think straight, but it can also be a source of difficulty for us. I have recognized this trait to be a defense mechanism for my husband. He simply must allow logic to kick in so he does not fall apart and so he can be my rock when I need a stabile force; however, it can also inhibit him from really dealing with some tough emotions and it has made me feel alone at times. If I am the only one in pain, it can feel very isolating. It can also be frustrating, because, sometimes, I just do not know what he is feeling and I just hate that!
I, on the other hand, am very emotional. My husband never has to guess what I am feeling. I am basically an open book. I am passionate, expressive and open. That can be good, because my husband knows how loved he is by me. He delights in watching me pursue the things about which I am passionate. I amuse him with my humor and I make him feel secure with my nurturing ways. However, my emotionality can be very intimidating. My anger can be very overwhelming to him.-When I am upset, it can render him paralyzed. Sometimes, my emotions can be so strong, I may not even seem rational to him. As you can imagine, this has gotten in the way of our communication in the past. We have been together for a long time and we have done a lot of hard work together. Now that we know each other so well, we have learned how to compensate for our differences and work with them, rather than against them.
How this can affect your relationship: If these types of differences resonate with you, please keep this in mind. Ladies, just because you are not immediately seeing emotion from your husband, that does not mean he is not feeling any. You need to pay attention, because his emotions manifest differently for them. Rather than making assumptions or trying to read your husbands’ minds, ask him what he is feeling. Be patient if he struggles to identify his feelings. Men tend to struggle with the more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, sadness or shame. Often, anger is a shield for those more vulnerable emotions. There is always something under anger, so you may try to help him identify those feelings. Men, remember this and practice this often: VALIDATE YOUR WIVES’ FEELINGS. Whatever you do, do NOT dismiss their feelings. You may not agree with or understand why your wives are feeling what they are feeling, but her feelings are not wrong. Allow her to feel what she feels and ask her to help you understand why she feels the way she feels. A little understanding and validation goes a long way for us women.
3) We have different needs. The things that motivate men and women can be very different. I always tell the couples I counsel that in their relationships, men need to feel respected and women need to feel loved. In my infidelity recovery work with couples, and this is just my observations, I see that men have affairs to build their egos, while women have affairs because they want to feel loved. Men are socialized to be the strong providers for their families. They want to know that their hard work and sacrifices are noticed and appreciated by their mates. They feel pride when they are able to provide for their families’ needs. Conversely, they feel emasculated if they believe they have failed in any way.
Women need to feel loved, appreciated and respected too, but love is our number one need. No matter how difficult things get, no matter what stresses from life are thrown our way, if we feel loved by our husbands, we can conquer anything. The happiness we feel from being loved fuels us and helps us to face everything from financial hardship to drama with the children, and more. Conversely, if we do not feel loved, no matter how great the rest of our lives are, we feel a sadness that simply does not allow us to fully enjoy the blessings in our lives. The feeling of not being loved by our husbands becomes a shadow cast over everything and sends us into a state of despair.
How this can affect your relationship: Remember what I said previously about how we express emotions. If a man does not feel respected by his wife, he may start to feel like he has failed somehow. His pride in himself is diminished. He starts to feel shame and may become depressed. He has difficulty with these vulnerable emotions, so his feelings manifest as pure anger and resentment. Although he may not be happy with himself, he projects this onto his wife and then starts to resent her. This leads to poor communication, a rift in the relationship and, sadly, it can leave him vulnerable to infidelity. If a woman does not feel loved, she feels lonely within her relationship. This loneliness turns to sadness, emptiness and despair. She starts to question her self worth and her self-esteem takes a big hit. This can cause resentment, which can lead to her feeling distant from her husband. She too can be vulnerable to infidelity if she feels all of the above. Ladies and gentleman, you must love, honor and cherish your partners. You must make every effort to speak their love language. I highly recommend The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman (www.5lovelanguages.com). Learn your own and each other’s love languages and speak them!
4) We have different roles. Another disclaimer: the following may not be considered politically correct by some. There are some things men cannot do that women can and there are things women cannot do that men can. Yes, we are different. We have different strengths, we have different gifts and we are built differently. More than that, we each fill different needs and different purposes. This is not something to be fought, to complain about or to resist; this is something to be embraced and celebrated.
In my marriage, my husband and I have settled into our roles. We have learned to accept and even celebrate each other’s strength and we have learned to work around and support each other in our weaknesses. I do the cooking, because, quite frankly, my husband would burn water! He does the mowing of the lawn, because I am highly allergic to fresh cut grass. One whiff, and my face looks like Rocky after a fight. Plus, I really hate yard work! You and your spouse need to figure out your roles and work with each other’s strengths, and support each other in your weaknesses.
How this can affect your relationship: Roles can be a tricky thing, especially if one or both partners feel as if they are not succeeding in their roles. For example, men tend to be the breadwinners in the relationship. If they are not financially successful, they may feel inadequate and that can lead to depression. Depression in men often presents as anger. Remember, they have difficulty expressing the vulnerable emotions. Women are typically the caregivers. If they feel they are not doing well with raising the children, their self-esteem can be negatively affected. Their sense of self-worth may suffer. When women feel inadequate, it can adversely affect her expression of affection. These are just examples to illustrate how the roles we fill can affect how we see ourselves. It is ok to ask your spouse for help and it is essential for spouses to offer words of encouragement. Remember, you are a team.
God created men and women differently for a reason. Marriage is so sacred. When a man and a woman come together as one flesh, it is a representation of who God is. The man represents the authority part of God. He is the provider. The woman represents the life giving part of God. She is the nurturer and giver of life. If you think of it in these terms, is not that a beautiful concept? Our roles are not more important than our spouses’. They are different, but equally important. Our differences are not something to fear or resist. Once we understand these differences, our assumptions and the ways we interact can change. We can have more patience for our spouses, more empathy and more love for them. Remember, different does not mean unequal. Enjoy each other! God bless.
Abigale S. Hassel is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, and individual and couples counselor. MSW, LCSW, OSW-C.
**The advice provided represents the opinions of the author. It is not to be considered therapy or professional advice of any kind. If you require such advice, you should consult an appropriate professional. Refer to the Marriage Rocks Website Terms and Conditions (link in page footer) for other applicable terms and conditions.**