What People Don't Understand About Each Other

Resolving conflict in a relationship through mutual understanding. There is a common belief in our culture that similarities are good for relationships and differences are problematic. Couples often think the issues in their relationships are due to their differences, such as "I'm a night owl, and she likes to go to bed early." I find it somewhat amusing when working with a heterosexual couple in therapy who believe their different hobbies or habits are the source of their relationship issues. It rarely occurs to these couples that being of different genders might play a role. Men and women sometimes see the world differently, act differently, and feel differently. These differences are largely learned rather than innate, but they are significant.

The problems in heterosexual couples often don't stem so much from their differences; they are more often the result of men expecting women to be like men and women expecting men to be like women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Couples often try to bridge the gap by being careful with their words or learning to "mirror" each other when speaking. These approaches can frustrate and upset couples because they only address superficial misunderstandings and don't get at the deeply rooted misconceptions between men and women.

A key thing women often don't realize about men is that men can sometimes feel afraid in intimate relationships. One of the most important things men don't understand about women is that most of what women do in the relationship reflects their efforts to get closer and feel more connected.

It might seem odd to think of some men being afraid of women. What are men afraid of? Here are a few examples:

  • Men are often afraid of being overpowered and controlled by women. Men might accuse each other of being controlled by a woman or, more specifically, controlled by their need for a woman.
  • Men often fear not being good enough emotionally, in relationships, and sexually. Men are inherently narcissistic lovers, but in surveys, men say satisfying their partner is very important. Pleasing their partners is not just an expression of generosity but also a reflection of men's strong need to be validated through sex. As the saying goes, "Women need to feel loved to have sex. Men often associate sex with feeling loved."
  • Men are often afraid of being abandoned. Some men are physiologically more disturbed by conflict in close relationships than women, and it takes them longer to recover because, deep down, they are often afraid their partner will leave them. This is why, after a breakup, some men feel an urgent need to find another partner.

In many relationships, women often feel unhappy with the lack of closeness and suggest spending more time together to strengthen their bond" or "I wish you would open up and Can you share more about your current situation?" Men often feel responsible for women, leading them to react strongly when women express any form of unhappiness, men often hear that as criticism, as an indictment of their inadequacy as a man. Naturally, men often respond by withdrawing to protect themselves. Women often interpret men's withdrawal as evidence of their lack of interest in being close, so they dig deeper and pursue their partner more, which, of course, only leads to men withdrawing even further until the couple is locked in a escalating pattern that leaves each of them feeling frustrated and disconnected.

Couples can escape this cycle and achieve a deeper, more fulfilling connection if both partners contribute. Women can improve their relationship by realizing that their partner isn't withdrawing due to disinterest but because he's afraid of making mistakes with her. Men can do their part by resisting the urge to withdraw and learning to stay emotionally engaged with their partner and talk things through. To learn not to use withdrawal as a defense, men need to become more comfortable with conflict in their relationships and learn to see conflict as an opportunity to connect rather than as a threat so their fear of conflict doesn't trigger their abandonment anxieties and lead them to withdraw.

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