I recently discovered the work on Alison Armstrong – who for 15 years has been honing her message on the important differences in men and women that manifest in the heterosexual marriage in typical and often frustrating ways. Her wisdom is found in the freedom that comes when we understand each other instead of blame and accuse each other. Last week I was sharing some of these ideas with a small group of grad therapy students. One of the men who is newly married, lit up and said, “Oh my gosh, that happened just this morning.” He then told a story of how his wife asked at the end of the day, “Well, do you notice anything different about me?” His immediate thought was, “Oh crap, I’m in trouble.” He said he quickly looked at her with as much examination as he could muster. She was beautiful and he loved to drink her in … but for the life of him, he could not see anything different. “No” he sheepishly said, knowing that was definitely the wrong answer. Looking disappointed she said, “I am wearing my hair totally different. I can’t believe you didn’t notice – all my other friends did.” He desperately wanted to notice details important to her … but he missed this one … and would miss many others. While every one of her girlfriends would have commented that day on her hair – most of the men in her life, while appreciating her beauty, would likely miss this detail.
So much of what gets heterosexual couples in trouble is not understanding core gender differences – and thus expecting each other to respond to life stressors and situations exactly like they do. Alison says that women, without realizing it, see men as big hairy women and men see women as soft tender men. However, there are important core differences in men and women that when not understood and adapted to, cause huge and ongoing conflict in marriage. These differences have extreme value – and have allowed the survival of the human race. Fortunately or unfortunately, our DNA and brain wiring have not changed to adapt to a modern life … the life we have been living for the last 100 years. In modern life it is less obvious how these differing skills are adaptive and helpful in our current lives where we do not hunt our food or keep our young safe in the same way we did over the many thousands of years we foraged our existence. In hopes of helping you laugh more and criticize less, here are a few of those differences.