How are Gender Differences Impacting Your Marriage?

“Why is My Husband so Thoughtless and Uncaring?”

Many wives often find themselves asking this question.

Their deepest wish is that their husbands will finally wake up and treat them like they truly care.

For many women the desire to be loved and feel like the most important person in their partner’s life is at the top of their wish list. They enter into a relationship with a desire to feel secure in their bond with their husband. They want to feel sure they are on their husbands’ mind and have a special place in his heart.

The feeling of being loved is the surest proof of this, and when the feeling isn’t felt, a wife can often end up feeling taken for granted, and can get fearful and angry.

 

Love vs Respect:

 

Of course men and women both want to feel loved, but as the bestselling author of the book Love & Respect Dr. Emerson Eggerichs has offered much convincing proof, men often value respect over love in their hierarchy of needs.

Many men would rather be left alone and unloved in the world than feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone. In fact when forced to choose between one and the other, 74% of men stated they would rather be alone.

This kind of gender difference is not absolute, since at least 26% of men would rather be disrespected than left alone, but it does seem to feed into the general hypothesis that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” as a popular book title states it.

 

Men and Women often Love Differently:

 

That men and women often have different needs is also often confirmed in my own work as a couples therapist. Here I generally find that it is more likely that it is the woman in a heterosexual relationship who feels deprived of love, and angry at her husband for not seeming to care.

The woman often complains of a husband who seems oblivious, checked out, forgetful, or unsentimental, and she often recites example upon example of times when her husband neglected to make her feel loved.

After some time this will make her quite critical of her husband and make her voice her complaints by saying:

  • Why do you never bring me flowers?
  • It wouldn’t hurt you to plan a date once in a while!
  • Why do you never clean up after yourself, I am not your mother you know!

These complaints are often rooted in the woman’s experience of feeling unloved and her doubts about what kind of real estate she holds in her husband’s mind and heart.

The woman in these examples is thinking:

  • Is he even thinking of me?
  • Does he even care what I am feeling?

These questions of course are rooted in the deeper and more existential questions about the woman’s role and worth in the relationship.

She thinks to herself:

  • Do I matter to him?
  • Am I worth loving?

When in her mind the answer to these questions is “no” a primal alarm system is activated, and husbands better watch out!

Now she unleashes her fury and becomes critical, dismissive, and disrespectful.

 

When Lack of Love Leads to Disrepect:

 

The problem of course is that when the woman feels unloved and becomes critical, scolding, or condescending of her husband, her husband ends up feeling disrespected and devalued.

He now thinks to himself:

  • Does she even like me?
  • Does she even want to be around me?

And more often than not, he either raises his voice to tell her she is unreasonable and difficult to live with, or shuts down and goes away or stops listening altogether.

Wearing different lenses than her husband, his wife now thinks to herself, if he responds this way it is surely because he does not care.

And her husband, wearing different lenses than her wife, now thinks to himself, I am inadequate and she does not really like me.

 

How Couples Get Stuck in "The Crazy Cycle":

 

The husband who might have started out being unloving and thoughtless in the mind of his wife, now ends up feeling disrespected. He did not mean to be unloving, but he came across this way to his wife who has different needs than he has. Conversely, his wife did not mean to be disrespectful, but she came across this way to her husband, who mistook her cry for love as an attack on his adequacy as a person.

Since her husband’s greatest need is not to feel loved but to feel admired for his qualities and adequate as a man, the criticisms and scoldings he receives for his little acts of thoughtlessness and unkindness (which to his wife seem deliberate), end up making him shut down and withdraw more from the relationship. For his wife this adds insult to injury, and starts another round of feeling unloved which in turn leads to more disrespect.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs calls this the “crazy cycle”:

Without love... She reacts... Without respect... He reacts... Without love...

the crazy cycle

Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus?

 

The problem in many relationships is that the man and the woman often have two different lenses through which they view their connection.

The woman often ends up being the thoughtful and loving one who frequently has her husband’s needs and wishes in mind when she makes her decisions.

Many women have been trained to be this way through an upbringing in which they would face shame and be ostracized if they did not put the preservation of relationships above their own needs.

When a girl makes a drawing in middle school which she does not like and makes this known to her female peers, these peers are more likely to provide reassurance and try to disproof the girl’s beliefs than to offer a factual reality check and confirm that yes indeed this is not her best work. They have been trained by our culture to value rapport building and the caretaking of emotional needs over and above other concerns such as factual truth or honest feedback.

In addition, of course the evolutionary purpose of a woman is to take care of her offspring, which naturally means that she is naturally inclined to be loving and nurturing.

Men on the other hand have been trained to be independent and strong and to take care of their own needs or even take a bullet for their friend. They live by a code of honor and are actively discouraged by our culture to show vulnerability or admit to feelings of inferiority, doubt, insecurity, or fear.

Rather than talk about these feelings and reach out for support, they go away to lick their wounds, bury them underneath a façade, or resort to alcohol, aggression, or sexual release.

This often makes men and women very different in their orientation to each other and value very different things in their partner. Men often show their love, not by having deep emotional conversations about their vulnerabilities, but by having a desire to be a good provider, be a good problem-solver, or serve as a protector who would literally take a bullet for his wife. He may not really get the emotional proclivity of his wife to feel loved only when he thinks of her and gets her favorite coffee brand at the store, or is considerate of her feelings when he decides to wipe down the kitchen counter.

These concerns can seem silly or trivial to many husbands who might complain:

  • But doesn’t she see how hard I am working to provide for her and our family?
  • Of course I love her, how could she ever doubt that?

Nevertheless, the crazy cycle often takes both partners for another spin.

He doesn’t quite get the ways in which she needs to feel loved and thought of and she doesn’t quite get the ways in which he needs to feel admired and respected.

 

Finding a Way Out of the "Crazy Cycle":

 

Only when both husband and wife take the time to understand what motivates the other person to love and respect, do they finally have a chance to change the crazy cycle into a different and more positive one:

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs calls this the energizing cycle:

His love... motivates... her respect... motivates... his love...

the energizing cycle

If you would like to learn more about stopping your “crazy cycle” and understanding how gender differences might be impacting your marriage, I recommend reading Eggerich’s book Love and Respect, or seeking out couples therapy.

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