How Men Think: Myths And Facts

couple with a broken down car

Exploring what men really think about love, sex and emotions.

Think females are more sensitive than males? Not so fast says clinical psychologist David B. Wexler, Ph.D. Yes, it's true that by the time boys become toddlers, they've already learned to suppress a show of feelings. But Wexler cites evidence that boys actually start out as more emotional (yes, more) than girls.

This made us wonder: What other misconceptions might women have about men? Of course, we've noticed that their heads swivel when a figure-eight female passes on the street; they seem to crave sports and all things competitive; and they loathe stopping to ask for directions even when they're undeniably lost. But what are the psychological, cultural and evolutionary underpinnings of these behaviors -- and might understanding what's behind their actions give women a shot at better communicating with the Mars set?

We think so. To really comprehend the "basic male code" and to uncover what women most often misunderstand about men, we called on two renowned experts in gender development: David Wexler, Ph.D., founder of the Relationship Training Institute in San Diego, and author of When Good Men Behave Badly, and Terrence Real, founder of the Relational Life Institute in Boston, and author of The New Rules of Marriage.

AOL Health: What do women most often misunderstand about men?

Wexler: Women often don't realize how much power they have in men's lives. A man is very sensitized to how he is viewed by the key women in his life -- his mother, his girlfriend, or his wife, for example. Many women don't understand how their level of approval or disapproval -- their look of love or disgust -- can deeply affect a man's sense of well-being, connection, and value. This is not a power that women necessarily seek out: Most women are not power freaks who want to control men. Rather, it's a power that women are stuck with. And yet the more that women realize this, the more it can sensitize them to why a man is reacting in a certain way. Women sometimes fall into criticizing a man's efforts by saying things like, "You're still not doing enough." That's a psychological buzz kill that discourages the man from becoming the man you would like him to be. But here's how she can use her power in a constructive way: Catch him doing something right. You might say, "I really appreciated how attentive you were at dinner tonight" or " It really means a lot to me to see how you're relating to the kids -- even though you were frustrated, I think you really handled it well." Those kinds of words just make a man swell up with pride -- and that's much more likely to bring about the desired result.

Real: If a woman ever wonders what her boyfriend or husband thinks when he looks at her, she can't go wrong if she imagines this: He sees her as an endless abyss of need. In general, men think that women are emotionally insatiable. The endless abyss of need scares men to death, because they fear that they'll never get the things they want. The secret about men is that that they feel powerless in their relationships. They think it's useless to ask a woman to care about what they want or need. So most guys either push women away or placate them.

But here's the thing that most men don't understand: They need as much as women do. They're just too stupid to know it, because they've been raised to believe that they don't have needs. Remember the male code: Need equals vulnerability. What does Superman need? What does the Terminator need? According to most men, needs are for chicks. But in reality, that's baloney. All humans, male and female, are endless abysses of need. So men need to feel appreciated, loved and desired.

If you figure that your man feels underappreciated, you'll be right 99.9 percent of the time. Men need to be appreciated for what they're doing right. A lot of women are long on complaint and short on appreciation -- and their complaints are clearly ineffective, because men keep doing whatever they've been doing. I want women to really shake things up and fight for what they want. How? First, rock the boat. If you give the guy a free pass, he'll take it. Let him know what's important to you, and make it clear that you're willing to make him uncomfortable if he doesn't change his ways. Second, break it down for him. If you want him to be more of an empathetic listener instead of going into problem-solving mode, for instance, say, "Honey, what you're saying doesn't work for me. This is the kind of listening that I like: 'You must feel terrible, I'm sorry.'" Don't wait for the guy to do it wrong and then criticize him; that's a stupid way to train somebody. Lastly, make it worth his while. If you ask him to be more romantic and he tells you that you look nice, don't respond with, "You're just saying that because I told you to." If your guy tries to please you, give him positive feedback. Give him the operating instructions on you, and then make him feel good about becoming an expert on the guidebook you've provided.

AOL Health: Why do men seem so obsessed with sports and competition?

Wexler: Whatever aggression is built into the male brain, psyche, and even DNA, sports and competition are relatively healthy ways for men to express that aggression. And they've been doing that since the beginning of recorded history, when the gladiators took the stage of the Roman Coliseum. Mostly for better and sometimes for worse, men use sports and play to channel aggression that might otherwise be destructive. And we know from both evolutionary and behavioral psychology that when a behavior works, it gets reinforced, repeated and included in humans' behavioral repertoire. So if a guy has an aggressive streak, and he plays or watches football to keep himself out of trouble, that becomes a


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