Differences Between Men and Women

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Robots representing differences between men and women

In this article, I talk about differences between men and women. The purpose is to help you develop more understanding and even appreciation of your partner. So much conflict and alienation couples experience comes from misunderstanding our partner’s intent. Much of this can be reduced as we recognize gender differences.

Although there are so many ways in which women and men are alike, in terms of our fundamental needs and feelings, there are also ways in which we are, by nature, different. Our anatomy is different. Our brain chemistry and hormonal balances are different. Our orientation towards life is different. Some of our traits are different. This is not wrong or bad. It is simply a fact. Some would say that the differences are due to socialization. Certainly to some extent. But I also believe that attempts to make the sexes androgynous have failed.

For example, women are more inclined to experience life from the heart. They are, generally speaking, more intuitive. They are more aware of feelings, not only their own but those of others around them. They nurture and care for others, build relationships, and seek harmony.

Men, on the other hand, experience life more from the head. They approach life in a logical or practical manner. They pay attention to achievement, accomplishing a task, and solving problems. Competence, power, autonomy and efficiency are important to them.

Let me be clear that these differences are not either/or. Women think, problem-solve and accomplish. And likewise, men have hearts and care about others. Nevertheless, I think most of us would agree that their differences are real.

The Haircut

Here’s an example of two women talking about a haircut that illustrates what I’m talking about (adapted from Secrets to Lasting Love by Gary Smalley):

Woman 1: “Oh, you got a haircut! It’s so Cuuuuuuute!”

Woman 2: “Do you think so? I wasn’t sure when my stylist gave me the mirror. I mean, you don’t think it’s too fluffy looking?”

Woman 1: “On no, it’s perfect! I’d love to get my hair cut like that but I think my face is too wide. I’m pretty much stuck with this style, I think.”

Woman 2: “Are you serious? I think your face is adorable. And you could easily get one of those layered cuts—that would look so cute on you. I was actually going to do that except that I was afraid it would accent my long neck.”

Woman 1: “Oh, now that’s funny. I would love to have your neck! Anything to take attention away from this two-by-four I have for a shoulder line.”

Woman 2: “Are YOU kidding? I know women who would love to have your shoulders. Everything drapes so well on you. I mean, look at my arms, see how short they are? If I had your shoulders, I could get clothes to fit me so much easier.”

Woman 1: “Do you really think so? Oh, you’re just saying that!”

Woman 2: “No, really, I mean it.”

Here’s the same conversation between two men.

Man 1: “You got a haircut, didn’t you?”

Man 2: “Yep.”

Relationship IQ

I think it is fair to say that, by and large, women have a higher relationship IQ than men. In fact, there has been a lot of talk, in recent years, about women as great leaders because of their attention to relationships and more collaborative and inclusive nature.

I appreciate these qualities within my wife. Judy pays attention to relationships and nurtures in ways I don’t. For example, she cares about our living space and wants to make it warm and friendly. One way she does this is by decorating the house for each and every holiday—Christmas, Valentines, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s, Easter, etc.

Truthfully, I don’t have a clue. In fact, I rarely notice that we’ve passed from one set of holiday decorations to the next until Judy takes me by the hand and walks me through the house showing me each item. Just a couple of weeks ago she came to me grieving and explained that she’d just taken down the Easter decorations and it was too early to put up the 4th of July decorations. I mustered every ounce of compassion I could find as I did my best to console her.

Let’s Look at Differences

But now I want to be more specific about our differences. Again, know that these are general tendencies and not universal. But I think the distinctions I’m about to make may be helpful for you to better understand yourself and partner.

The biggest complaint of women is that men don’t listen. Wives want empathy and husbands think she wants solutions. No matter how many times she asks him to “just listen,” he tries to tell her how to solve her problems. (You may have seen the humorous video of the wife with a nail in her head, mocking this dynamic. But, sorry guys. Based on feedback from countless women, the complaint is true nonetheless.)

On the other hand, the biggest complaint of men is that women are always trying to change them. When a wife loves her husband, she feels responsible to assist him in growing and tries to help him improve the way he does things. She thinks she’s nurturing him and he thinks he’s being controlled. What he really wants is her acceptance and respect.

How Men and Women Handle Stress

 Let’s look at how men and women handle stress. When a man gets upset, he becomes quiet and retreats (goes to his cave) to think it over and come up with a solution. When he’s found a solution, he feels better and comes out of the cave. If he can’t find a solution, he needs to do something to forget his problem like read a magazine or watch TV. This is hard for a woman to understand and accept. She resents him for not being more open and communicative.

When a woman is upset, she wants to talk about it. She talks to feel better and would appreciate it if her husband would just listen and validate her feelings. In fact, she has as much right to talk about her feelings as a man does to go to his cave. If she doesn’t feel understood it’s difficult for her to let go of her stress or hurt. The problem is that the more women talk the more a man feels like she is holding him responsible (blaming him). He doesn’t realize she is talking to feel better. And she doesn’t know how much all the details frustrate him. He would like her to get to the point more quickly rather than going on and on.

Different Needs

The needs of men and women are also different. Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed. When a man doesn’t feel needed, he becomes passive and less energized and gives less to the relationship. On other hand, if he feels appreciated and needed, he is able to give more. Not to feel needed is a slow death for a man.

Women need to feel cherished and supported. When a woman doesn’t feel cherished, she becomes overly responsible for the relationship and eventually burns herself out by giving too much. She feels cherished when she receives empathy, understanding, validation, and compassion.

Fears

Let’s talk about their deepest fears. A fear of men is being found inadequate. They need to hear that they are trusted and admired. On the other hand, women fear rejection. They need to hear validation and compassion.

Men are like rubber bands. They go away but they come back. Then they go away again but they come close but then go away again. They alternate between intimacy and autonomy. This is not a decision. It just happens. Women misinterpret this to mean, “I don’t love you.” A man needs to say, “I’ll be back” when he goes to his cave.

A woman is like a wave. Her self-esteem rises and falls in a wave motion. When she feels really good, she may reach a peak, but then her mood may shift and the wave comes crashing down. When the wave hits bottom, she needs more love. But her husband assumes her moods are related to him and feels blamed. He really needs to listen to her even if he doesn’t understand. He must realize he can’t prevent her from bottoming out. He needs to hear her say, “It’s not your fault.”

Common Mistakes

Here are three common communication mistakes women make:

  1. Try to help a man improve his behavior by offering unsolicited advice. He doesn’t feel loved because he doesn’t feel trusted.
  2. Don’t acknowledge what he has done but complain about what he hasn’t done. He feels taken for granted because she doesn’t appreciate what he does.
  3. Correct his behavior and tell him what to do as if he were a child. He feels unloved because he is not admired.

Here are three common communications mistakes men make:

  1.  Minimize the importance of her feelings and needs. She feels unloved because he is not devoted to her and doesn’t honor her as special.
  2. Listen but then get angry and blame her for upsetting him or for bringing him down. She feels unloved because he doesn’t respect her feelings.
  3. Instead of listening, saying nothing or just walking away. She doesn’t get the reassurance she needs.

Miscellaneous Differences Between Men and Women

If we talk about personal identity and meaning, women want relationships and connection. Men want competency and achievement.

Women value a sense of community in their relationships whereas men are more likely to value independence.

How do men and women like to connect? Women want verbal communication and men value shared activities.

Women are afraid of not being loved and men of not being good enough.

Women want to handle conflict by getting it out in the open. Men are more likely to avoid and withdraw. Women want their husbands to open up and men want their wives to back off.

Women are more expressive and men are more withholding.

When it comes to solving problems, women want to explore options and men want clearly defined rules.

Application

My purpose has been to clarify the differences between men and women. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, these differences are generalizations and not universally true for all relationships. Nevertheless, they are pretty common. My hope is that by understanding them you can feel greater appreciation for your partner and even modify your behavior and communication to take into account his or her way of thinking.

So I want to recommend that you talk about this article with your spouse/partner. Review these differences to know what you think, how they apply in your relationship. No doubt they won’t fit you perfectly. More important is that you communicate and, as you do so, grow in understanding and unity.

And my best to you as you continue this journey of building a fulfilling relationship.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

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