You’ve heard it before, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. Is this popular belief real, or just hype? From brain power to biology, we’re shaking up the way you view the sexes. Find out how de-bunking gender differences can improve your relationship.
Clinical Psychologist and Studio 5 Contributor, Dr. Liz Hale, says believing we are different, divides us.
Of course we have differing biology! The truth is that most sex differences start out small – as mere biases in temperament and play style -but are amplified as children’s pink or blue tinted brains meet out gender-infused culture; including tea parties, wrestling matches, cafeteria drama, playground scraps that dominate a girl’s versus a boy’s existence.
Obviously, girls and boys are not identical at birth: genetic and hormonal differences must launch the male and female brain down somewhat different developmental pathways. But it’s early experience, we now know, that permanently alters the chemistry and function of the genes inside cells, leading to significant effects on behavior. Bottom line: peers and parents perpetuate gender norms.
Boys and girls are different, but most psychological sex differences are not especially large. For example, gaps in verbal skills, math performance, empathy and even most types of aggression are generally much smaller than the disparity in adult height, in which the average five-foot, 10-inch man is taller than 99 percent of women. When it comes to mental abilities, males and females overlap much more than they stand apart.
Furthermore, few of these sex differences are as fixed, or hardwired, as popular accounts have lately portrayed. Genes and hormones light the spark for most boy-girl differences, but the flame is strongly fanned by the essentially separate cultures in which boys and girls grow up. Appreciating how sex differences emerge can reduce dangerous stereotyping and give parents and teachers ideas for cross-training boys’ and girls’ minds, to minimize their more troubling discrepancies and enable all children to more fully develop their diverse talents.
With all the bright and experienced minds in this world, it would seem that we could get definitive answers. Of course, we do have answers. So what is the problem? Why do we have so many misunderstandings and disappointments in our communication with our mates if we have the answers? Is it that we don’t like the answers? Maybe. Is it that we don’t understand the answers? Probably.
We think we understand but we understand through gender filters.
We interpret our mate’s communications (words, body language and meanings) through our own experience and goals. Of course, you say, how else could we respond? Well, as humans, we have the ability to empathize, to imagine and put ourselves in another person’s shoes. What do we do if we meet someone from another culture and we want to understand and be understood? We would probably want to consider what is important to that person so we would not offend or insult them. We would ask questions and clarify to make sure we understood one another.
HOST: So what do we mean when we say we want to communicate?
Dr. Liz: What we really mean, way down deep, is we want to feel good about ourselves. Both genders want that. We want to love and be loved, feel appreciated, recognized, honored, respected and supported.
HOST: What about that information we often hear that women speak so many more words a day than men? And that by the time men get home from work they’re all talked out and women are just getting started!!
Dr. Liz: Let us dispense with the urban legend that “women speak three times more words every day than men.” The rough numbers: 16,215 for women and 15,669 for men, according to a 2007 study of nearly 400 college students fitted with digital recorders, led by psychologist Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona. Females do outscore males on most measures of speaking, reading, writing and spelling from early childhood and throughout life, but the gaps are generally small and change with age. Language differences emerge early in development. As infants, girls begin talking about one month earlier than boys and are some 12 percent ahead of boys in reading skills when kindergarten begins. Girls’ advantage in reading and writing continues to grow through school, until by 12th grade, an alarming 47 percent more girls than boys graduate as proficient readers, with an even larger gap for writing, a conclusion drawn from several decades of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
HOST: Why do most of us believe so strongly in gender differences despite the evidence that that shows they are minimal for most things?
Dr. Liz: Overinflated claims of gender differences appeal more to our intuitions. They sell more magazines and newspapers. They make for more interesting no-fiction book titles, and they allow researchers to publish papers than gain scientific recognition. If we start out believing in gender differences, then we will see them wherever we go. There are HUGE costs to our beliefs. We see how beliefs lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Men, sadly, are taught to believe that they are not good at communicating, that they lack tact, that they lack tact, and are not good at interpreting emotions. Women, on the other hand, are taught to believe that they are not cut out for leadership or they’re bad at math. The costs for these beliefs are huge for both genders and we have little scientific data to support them. At the very least, may we all become more skeptical the next time we encounter a so-called “gender difference.”
The only difference between men and women is, “wo” (a variation of both woe or whoa!) Believing we are different divides us. “Wo” can also stand for W.O. = “Watch Out.” Simply believing we are different causes us to trip-up in our intimate relationships. Believing is seeing!
1) Need for Friendship
The importance of friendship is often overlooked in marriage although it is equally important to men and women. All of the masters of marriage (couples in happy, long-term relationships) who have been studied talk about friendship in marriage and how loving and lovemaking is an extension of that friendship. Seventy percent of the passion, romance and sex for men stem from friendship; the percentage is even higher for women. When we have “friendship” within the marriage, it enables us to store emotional savings in the bank that makes repair attempts work following a fight or disagreement.
2). Need for Effective Repair Attempts
In real life we all occasionally do something thoughtless, hurtful and just plain dumb! When negative interaction occurs and you sense that you or both of you are escalating and losing control it is important to de-escalate and repair the interaction. This is particularly important for the men. Dr. John Gottman found that in stable, successful marriages the husband tended to make repair attempts when things were getting too heated. These men did not lose control when they responded to their wives expressions of anger, disappointment, hurt; they were able to calm themselves down. Their pulse rate actually went back toward normal and they expressed a quiet concern for their sweetheart. They did not become cold and stonewall or lose their temper. This self-calming by husbands and the desire to positively respond to their wife had a calming effect on both spouses. Obviously, if the wife is the one who is prone to lose her temper and escalate then utilize repair attempts, self-calming and sharing a positive concern for her husband would be needed. Needless to say, when one spouse begins to self-calm the other spouse should take the cue, accept the message and respond accordingly. Click HERE for marriage repair checklist
2) Need for a Love Map
One of the best ways to nurture friendship is to keep a richly detailed “Love Map.” That’s the term for the imaginary place in your mind where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life – their dreams, aspirations, worries and fears. Couples with love maps remember the major events in each other histories, and they continue to update the map as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world changes.
Love maps are about knowing your partner and being known. One of the most important things in marriage is being and staying interested in your partner and keeping your partner interested in you. No gimmick, like flowers, candy, nights away, will work unless your partner’s genuinely interested in you and their face lights up when you enter the room.
3) Need for Anger Expression & Management
In a good marriage, anger is like putting the italics or emphasis on something. The masters of marriages deal differently with anger than people in troubled marriages, and they accept their partner’s personalities. Anger is a healthy emotion and is not seen as hostile as long as there is no personal attack. If anger is not expressed, it can be destructive. Sadly, some men and women get out of control; almost anything can make them angry and their anger can escalate into belligerence. The mismanagement of anger is one of the top causes of divorce.
4) Need for Common Ground
Only about 1/3 of American husbands accept influence from their wives. Men need to especially look for areas of common ground with their wives. This is not about become a wimp; it’s about a man saying, “Yes, I agree with you on this, but not that!” A man can’t be powerful unless he allows himself to be influenced; there is needed reciprocity. The competent man accepts influence and becomes influential. In abusive relationships, men have little or no influence over their wives. They rule by fear, not influence. A good marriage has give-and-take. The reason most men are unwilling to accept influence from their wives is likely cultural. We have been raised with a critical culture that often tells us “No!” When you take that kind of culture into a family, it is very destructive. Creating a substitute culture of pride, honor and praise is vital to a successful marriage and family!
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.