What if you could understand the frustrating parts of your man and get him to be the lover you need?
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.
1. Difference: Women have diffuse awareness and men have a single focus. What this means is that women are often aware of many, many things at one time. They see all that needs to be done, all that is out of place, all the tasks still on her list. It is as if each task, each out-of-place item is screaming at her … and there is no quiet in her head until things are in their place or off her list. Men on the other hand are single in their focus. This allows them to shut off distractions and attend to the issue in front of him. His single focus guides him to accomplishment and results without getting lost in other distractions.
Why? The evolutionary purpose of this difference is men as hunters, protectors, providers needed to be single focused and determined. Staying on the trail of a deer or other game, meant singular focus and strategy. Protecting his family from a potential threat required the same focus. If men were constantly distracted, loved ones would starve or be threatened. Women on the other hand, need to be constantly aware of her environment in order to keep herself and her young cared for and safe.
Frustration: This is frustrating for men who find her unable to just stop and sit with him or stop and do something with him. Also, her stress and frustration gives him the sense she is not happy and thus he is doing something wrong. Men’s single focus is frustrating to women who think he is purposely ignoring all the details that are overwhelming her because he doesn’t care. She does not understand “Why he can’t see all that needs to be done!” Another place this difference shows up is in conversations. Women’s minds are going a thousand miles an hour and she tends to talk in the same quick fire circular motion. He on the other hand is likely to stop and think about the question or comment before he responds. He might seem slow to answer a question or elaborate his thoughts. Since his pace is slower and more deliberate, she assumes he is either shallow, unemotional or doesn’t care. Women who interrupt and rush their husbands, often complain he does share his thoughts with her. Her pace and criticism may have shut him down.
Clues for Women: He needs time to switch attention and focus on what you may have asked him. He is single focused in his thinking. He will not say what is on the top of his head and then process out loud like you might. He is more likely to offer one thought at a time – each with more depth. If you want him to go deeper – don’t interrupt - be patient - give him time to go back to the well of his thoughts.
Clues for Men: Understand that her environment or tasks may be screaming at her and distracting her from her own needs and from you. Ask how you can help her and love her in her stress and ‘to do’ list. This will help her tap into her gratefulness and happiness – and help her feel seen, known and loved by you.
2. Difference: Women are Task Masters and Men are Result Makers. Women tend to focus on tasks and are motivated to get them done in order to feel peace and quiet within them. Men are less motivated by doing a task then they are motivated by a result they want. Men need to be clear that a task is going to make his wife happy or make him happy or accomplish something he seeks, for him to be motivated. If his wife only spouts tasks, fails to show him her appreciation or happiness, but instead moves on to the next task he needs to do, she will deny him the one thing he needs to be motivated.
Clues for Women: Men do not see all that you see that needs to be done and are emasculated and demotivated by criticism and demands. Place your eyes on what he is doing that you appreciate and what he can do to help you - instead of on all he is doing wrong. Be specific and loving in your request. As he helps – share your appreciation and let him feel your happiness. This is the result that will motivate and nourish him. He wants to make you happy – help him be successful!
Clues for Men: Understand that tasks are keeping her from joy and pleasure but her awareness of that might be eclipsed by the screaming of tasks. Find out how you can help and support her.
3. Difference: Women tend to have a weak relationship to body vs. men who tend to have a strong relationship to body. No matter how stressed men are they will feel when they are hungry, tired, horny, in need of exercise/sport, or in need of boy time. They are more likely to listen to these cues and do something about it. Women on the other hand when they are stressed or weighted down by their ‘to do list’ are more likely to ignore their body cues for food, rest, exercise, play, affection, sex. In fact, women are likely to push themselves to a point that they are so exhausted they begin to get cranky with everyone else, blaming others for the state she has gotten herself in. Rather than see the choices she has, she is likely to get angry someone did not step in and lighten her load.
Clues for Women: Learn from your man to notice and take care of your body. Keep pleasure, nourishment, rest and fun on your calendar. Remember the airline oxygen mask! You cannot help others until you are healthy yourself!
Clues for Men: Remember that she forgets about herself – her rest, her pleasure, her body, her happiness. Invite her to a nice dinner and take care of all logistics (babysitter?); help her complete a few tasks in the evening and invite her to bed so you can make love TO HER in the way she can feel your love and her pleasure; help her to remember to take time for herself and help her with the logistics of that, tell her she is beautiful and what you love and appreciate about her.