When I am doing couples counseling, I am often reminded of how different the mindset between women and men are. It is one of the reasons communication between the sexes is so challenging. Every day I run into this fact in my own relationship as well. So here is a helpful list to see what some of these differences are and a few tips to help bridge the communication gap.
First, I need to make a disclaimer. Not all men and all women follow the likes in the list provided. I am generalizing, and there are always exceptions. So keep this in mind! My observations may or may not apply to your particular guy or gal.
Watching football (or other sports) on Sundays, Monday nights, or basically whenever it is on.
Having the TV remote, TIVO, or any technological device that allows them to be in control, right by their dominant hand.
Little or no chores, or “honey-do” lists.
Sex whenever and wherever they happen to be in the mood.
A good meal when they return from a hard day’s work.
Little or no discussions about feelings or the unimportant things of the day.
For women, we find this general list of desirable things:
Interaction with our spouse in the form of talking, talking, and talking.
Help with the kids and household duties.
Family day on Sundays.
Planned date nights.
Time alone to pamper ourselves or just get away from the kids for a few hours.
Romantic gestures, lots of foreplay, and flirting as a segue to a sexual encounter.
Compliments and attention.
How can this work? Several items on these lists seem to be mutually exclusive! And yet the attraction between men and women continues to flourish. How can we be with each other without driving each other crazy?
If you change your perspective by just a few degrees, it might be easier to relate. Instead of loading him down with tasks on football day, leave him alone to enjoy the game. While he is hogging the remote, use that time to do something special he doesn’t like. See a friend who he’s not particularly fond of. Take a yoga class or go to a spa. Maybe changing family day to Saturday instead of Sunday would be a win–win for both of you.
Nobody said the traditional “honey-do” list has to be full of boring or onerous tasks. Find things he likes to do or is good at around the house and put those on the agenda. See how creative you can be getting what you want done and letting him enjoy it. Sometimes it helps if you supply a parallel list of what you will be doing while he is busy. You can always ask if he wants to trade chores.
Look at ways to see your differences in a positive light. Make it work for you, too. Reframing like this will probably fall in the female domain, so realize that you will most likely have to initiate these changes. Add a little extra incentive by telling him what you like and appreciate about how he’s doing his chores. Everyone loves compliments.
John Gray speaks eloquently about the fact that men and women have differences in their primary love needs. Below are some of his ideas.
- Women need to receive caring, devotion, understanding, validation, respect, and reassurance.
- Men need trust, admiration, approval, acceptance, appreciation, and encouragement.
Blend the differences and appreciate the uniqueness of each other. One way to highlight this uniqueness is to swap love needs for a day. Get a feel for what he is looking for, while he gets a chance to walk in your shoes and understand what you are looking for. Men may find it difficult to understand requests such as “I want to know I am important to you.” They are much better at hearing descriptions of the behavior that produces the desired effect. “When you listen to me describe my day for ten minutes, I know you really care.” Take a peek into his world and give him an open door into yours. Ask questions about one another’s feelings and reactions, and learn how the “his or her” brain works. Walk in his shoes, and have him walk in yours.
If you can do an exercise like this, it will make your needs more explicit. This is a great chance to talk about what you get out of the relationship and what you are longing for. Negotiate! You can always trade a short massage or a favorite snack for an attentive bit of listening or perceptive compliments. Don’t forget to bring a sense of humor to this effort. Flirting is always more fun than confrontation or blaming. Men respond well to dares. “I bet you won’t be able to …” could be a tempting overture.
Relationships are not really made in heaven. If you want yours to get to a blissful place, you have to be an active participant. He might think you are a little crazy for proposing these communication exercises, but having a spouse who cares that much about staying close can be delightful. Just make sure not to put him down or make him feel like he is being nagged. A good recipe for improving a marriage requires both of you to take a bit of a risk and try new things.
Accept his favorites, and ask him to accept yours. He might want more sexual attention; you might want a couple hours of childcare every weekend. In a good relationship, both partners have to give to get. Generosity is reciprocated. But each partner has to be able to see that generosity as a gift, and not take it for granted.
So ask him to write down what he thinks women want, while you write down what you think men want. Exchange lists, discuss them and ask questions. We can live in the same house for years and still mystify one another. Long live the differences!