"The brain is wider than the sky." - Emily Dickinson
Dr. Jim Fuller

Dr. Jim Fuller © All Rights Reserved. Please report any issues with this website to: info@soninllc.com

Ph.D., LCSW

Though general in nature, these three subject areas encompass most of the communication issues faced by gender differing couples. As mentioned earlier, men focus on sex and tasks. Women focus on connection through dialogue and feelings. These primary gender differences predispose the Mars and Venus dichotomies made famous by John Gray’s popular self-help book. Let’s talk about them in more depth.

Gender and Communications

Sex

Men and Sex: Men love sex. They love it so much that many men unfortunately become lost in their own obsessions with it. Modern American culture fosters and maintains this obsession. However, it is common in every historical period for men to become so captured by the erotic they destroy their careers, reputations, and relationships; sometimes losing their lives as a result of their obsessions. This problem has probably existed longer than our ability to record it. Men love the erotic.

While sexual obsession can approach or enter the pathological, and can also foster relationship dysfunction, the erotic needs of men in intimate, gendered relationships cannot be ignored. The need for sexual satisfaction is basic to men, and must be included in the dialogue between men and women in intimate relationships.

It is important in this chapter to recognize that men think about sex much more often in interpersonal relationships than do women. While some things are subject to change, this particular gender difference, almost certainly biologically determined, is not. Male behavior is shaped by the disproportionate amount of testosterone in the male body.


Women and Sex: While contemporary women are progressively more comfortable enjoying sexuality and the erotic, women enter sexual or erotic experience through tender, affectionate connections with men. In the book Intimate Strangers, (drawn from the results of a field study of intimate, heterosexual couples) Lillian Reuben.reports her discovery that men connected with their tender feelings through erotic experience, while women connected with erotic experience through their tender feelings. Men and women tended to be opposite in this manner. Since interpersonal communication is the process through which tender feelings are established and maintained, deductively, it is the quality of interpersonal communication (through its link with tender feelings) that can either link women to men through the erotic, or conversely, thwart that link. In other words, the quality of interpersonal communication represents a primary link between women and men, either thwarting or helping to maintain sexual connection in intimate relationships.

Thus, it is the quality of interpersonal communication that determines whether men or women get their differing needs met in intimate relationships.


Men, Women and Sex: In the interest of healthy interpersonal communication, women need to recognize, appreciate, and seek not to exploit the male’s omni-present awareness of, and need for sex. Men, on the other hand, need to learn to wear their highly charged sexuality respectfully, with awareness and respect both for how women differ, and for the need women have for safe and respectful boundaries. Violations of these simple maxims for healthy communication are replete in North American culture. The effect is toxic, in a myriad of ways, on a daily basis, in countless gendered relationships.

In sum, where high quality interpersonal communication is embedded in relationships characterized by love and respect, men are connected to their tender feelings and women are connected to their erotic needs. In this state, sexuality and affection appear symmetrical and balanced. In these balanced relationships, gender differences regarding sexuality tend to fade. Conversely, where communication breaks down, and negatively charged walls are erected, women cannot get to their erotic side, and men cannot get to their tender side. In these unbalanced relationships, gender differences regarding sexuality become walls rather than pathways to intimacy.

Talk

Men and Talk: Men are, first and foremost, problem-solvers. Problematically in intimate relationships, men often regard talk as a means to an end, as well as a way to assert dominance or control. These two tendencies are traceable to the competitive worlds in which men dwell outside the home.


Men, first and foremost, are problem solvers. Emphatically, and undeniably problem solving is a fundamental and critical function, both in the maintenance of relationships, and in the maintenance of families as systems. Often men take a leadership role as problem solvers. While this role is extremely valuable, it becomes a liability if it is an exclusive form of communication, or if men are unwilling to share their problem-solving interests with their female partners. An exclusive tendency to problem-solve lends itself quite well to success in many blue and white-collar work settings. But, when exclusively applied in intimate gender relationships, it militates against gender-balanced communication, thwarting relationship connections made through non-problem oriented dialogue. Communicating simply to share and connect does not come spontaneously or comfortably to many men. Often men have to work on their communication patterns to provide balance in their relationships with women. The simple act of sharing in order to establish and maintain connection in a relationship is foreign to many men. It is a behavior that men often need to learn and cultivate.


Women and Talk: Women love to talk, not as much to problem solve as to make connections. Most women will find every opportunity to connect through dialogue. Since women tend to be horizontally vs. vertically oriented, they monitor through conversation the quality of their connections. Women do this spontaneously and naturally with each other. Often women call this sharing. The activity of simply sharing oneself through dialogue may appear foreign to many men, who overtly orient to a competitive world, but it is fundamental to most women. In other words, just as talking to problem solve and establish hierarchy is fundamental to men, talking to establish and maintain relationship is fundamental to most women.


Men and Women and Talk: In the interest of healthy interpersonal communication, men need to recognize, appreciate, and seek to fulfill the woman’s need for connection through dialogue. It is within this respectfully connected pattern or process of relationship where women can be erotic. Women, on the other hand, need to wear their need for connectivity through dialogue respectfully, with awareness and respect both for how men differ, and the need men have, both for distance as well as intimacy, and for safe and respectful connection through sex and the erotic. In brief, if a woman can feel tenderly connected through talk with a man (not to the same degree and in the same manner as with women friends), and a man can feel safely erotically connected with a woman, talk and love-making create a reciprocal circle, or cycle, in which there is a delightful blend. In such relationships, the beginning and ending of dialogue and the erotic are indistinguishable and interwoven in a self-perpetuating pattern of reciprocal, intimate gendered communication.


Men and Emotions: Often people make the offhanded and incorrect assumption that men are not emotional. That is, it is often assumed that while women are “emotional”, men are not. Such could not be farther from the truth. The right brains of men are very much alive, if not always well. Men have difficulty putting many emotions into words, however, and often are not conscious of their own emotions. The lack of emotional consciousness, as well as the inability to put emotions into words presents significant problems for men in relationships. If a man is not conscious of his emotions, he can neither express them to his intimate partner (which promotes connectivity for women), nor can he take them into account when he is making important, relationship based decisions.

The conscious, and socially acceptable male emotion is anger. In general, men are much more comfortable with, and communicate anger much more readily than do women. Although men are conscious of this emotion, the healthy management of it in intimate relationships is often lacking.

While men express anger more easily than women, they tend not to be as comfortable with the more tender emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness, and affection. These emotions cause many men discomfort. Thus, men often avoid emotions that make them more vulnerable, and minimize or ignore these emotions when women express them.


Women and Emotions: Women spontaneously and frequently express most emotions. As mentioned, anger is the one exception. Many women have much more difficulty expressing anger than do men. Since suppressed anger tends to produce depression and/or passive-aggressive behavior, it is very important that women who have difficulty expressing anger learn to do so. When expressed respectfully, anger indicates that your partner’s behavior matters to you. It also indicates a resolve to set and maintain appropriate boundaries in relationships. People who do not establish and maintain boundaries tend to be taken for granted, if not abused. Again, it is important for women to learn to see anger as an acceptable and legitimate emotion to be expressed in gendered relationships.

Problems occur, however, when women attempt to connect through emotion with men, and expect men to emotionally connect reciprocally with them. Since men tend to be on a different plane, they often have neither the conscious need to connect in this way, nor the awareness of the woman’s need or desire to maintain her bearings toward their relationship through the spontaneous sharing of feeling toned experiences. It is at this very juncture where misinterpretations and misunderstandings so often foster or exacerbate distance instead of foster intimate connections between men and women.


Men, Women and Emotions: Foremost, men and women in relationships need to talk with each other about how each person experiences and communicates emotions. These dialogues need to be without judgment or blame. If we do not understand how the other often feels, as well as how these feelings are communicated, misinterpretations will abound. Resultant confusion and misunderstanding creates unnecessary distance in relationships. Secondarily, men and women need to talk about how the other experiences the other’s emotions, as communicated. In essence, we need to understand how the other feels when certain emotions are communicated. Again, these dialogues need to be without judgment or blame. This step is perhaps the most critical step in the process of establishing real and non-toxic connections in gendered relationships. Again, intimate relationships make us both vulnerable and volatile. How resultant emotions are communicated determines whether we build well-worn pathways to intimacy, or whether hard to find paths become overgrown and obscured with time and experience.

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