The Emotional Battle Between The Sexes

While it is not the case for every individual person, generally there are gender differences when it comes to emotions. Perhaps this issue is most common in heterosexual intimate relationships. Today I want to focus on these gender differences that are associated with emotion. Throughout this blog I will speak about gender in terms of ‘men’ and ‘women’. However it would be more accurate to say those who are predominantly masculine/feminine in orientation. For simplicity’s sake I will just state ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

Gender Differences With Emotion: The Battle Begins

Men and women in Western culture have very different conditioning when it comes to expressing emotion. It may also be the case that men and women have different “felt experiences” when it comes to emotions. However this is more difficult to ascertain. It is like asking a person who has been blind from birth to express how they understand the colour green. We simply cannot experience another person’s inner felt experience of emotion!

In regards to expression of emotion, generally women are more comfortable with what is viewed as vulnerable emotions such as sadness and fear, while men are more likely to be comfortable with expressing anger when they are hurt. However these social trends are harming both genders. When anger masks sadness or sadness masks anger, the emotional expression does not allow for appropriate felt emotions to properly guide that person through the life experience. Beyond that consequence, there is yet another reason for learning how to feel and safely express appropriate emotions… Our relationships between men and women also the price.

Women are more likely to be judged by men as ‘too emotional’, while men are more likely to be judged by women as “emotionally insensitive”. This is one of those relationship issues that is so common it is cliché. But what is really happening here?

At The Heart Of The Battle

There was a psychological experiment that aimed to test the difference between the felt experience of emotion and emotional expression in young boys. The psychologist got the boys to look at images that ranged from mundane to emotionally provocative. They also got their mothers to watch them through a one way window and gauge how emotionally affected their son was buy each image. At the same time the boys were monitored for their physiological arousal for each image, to assess what they were feeling on the inside. What they found was that there was a huge difference between what their mothers perceived the boys to be feeling, and what the boys were actually feeling. So we can gather from this experiment that boys at a very early age are taught to hide their emotions. This discrepancy is generally not found in girls.

Given results like these it is not surprising that men react to women’s emotions the way they do. Not only would it be hard to stay disconnected from their own emotional reactions when a person around them is connected to theirs, but also, in relationships men often see their role as the one who “makes their woman happy”. So they would be incredibly emotionally uncomfortable, trying desperately to keep their emotions hidden and at the same time feel like a complete failure because their woman is crying. As a woman myself, I am no expert on men, all I am doing is piecing together bits of psychological information and matching it with men’s lived experiences that I hear about as a psychotherapist.

On the other hand, it is also not surprising that women often become deeply hurt in intimate relationship when their man attempts to cope with her emotions by dismissing them, minimising them, trying to fix them or to control them. Women often feel put down, disrespected or rejected when their male partners try to “get rid” of their emotional expression, or even their felt experience of emotion. Women end up feeling like there is something inherently wrong with them for feeling their emotions, which tends to only add to a deep seated shame for being a woman.

Resolving The Battle In Conscious Relationship

The key to resolving this dilemma in intimate relationship is to understand this vital gender difference, and learn how to respect and honour each other for those differences. It is men’s ability to compartmentalize his emotions and put aside the emotional landscape of interpersonal relationships, that enables him to focus on one thing for a sustained period of time and create material things or govern countries. While women do these things too these days, these careers require that we are in our masculine to carry them out. So whether you are a man or woman, you need to disconnect from body-felt emotion and be in your head to carry out masculine tasks. Men are quite naturally very good at this. As a side line, women in the work place are still more likely to be the ones who are concerned with the emotional landscape of the work environment, while men are focussed on “doing the job” at hand. Women who can appreciate their man’s masculine presence in their relationship are generally going to have healthier intimate relationships.

On the flip side, it is a women’s connection to their bodily-felt-emotional-selves that can flow and ebb with the emotional landscape of interpersonal relationships, that attracts men in the first place. She brings him out of his head which helps him to feel!!! Feminine wisdom of the emotional reality helps women to nurture, empathize and guide interpersonal relationships. The feminine is connected to the Earth, nature and other people. She can feel what is happening around her. She feels her man’s interest or lack thereof… she feels their connection or the absence of it… she feels the dance of the relationship! This is a powerful wisdom, that if respected and honoured can help both parties co-create a beautiful intimacy. Men who are consciously aware of her wisdom in her body-felt-emotions will have a far easier and more fulfilling time in their intimate relationship with their woman.

For both genders, to honour each other they have to understand and appreciate each other’s differences regarding emotions. Men can learn to listen to women’s emotional wisdom as a guiding force in their relationship dynamic. She will be very aware of the increasing distance in their relationship where he may be oblivious. Likewise, she could understand his lack of comfortably and understanding of emotion (both of his and hers) and allow him to open up slowly in his way. Perhaps she could hold the space for him through physical touch, appreciation for what he does and by not asking him too regularly to express his emotions. She may need to ask a little bit because otherwise he is likely to not step forward. He does need to be willing to step forward even if it is uncomfortable. Another masculine trait is to “not fix what is not broken” and will ignore emotional aspects of the relationship if he can. So he might not realise the importance of expressing himself without some guidance.

Another important aspect of working with emotion in conscious relationship is for each person to understand and honour their own emotion. For her, it is very important that she learns to validate and honour her own emotion, as traditionally in Western society the Feminine and emotion have been very injured. The more she trusts in her body-felt-wisdom and feels supported for it from her male partner, the more she will find her self-assurance and will shine. He will then feel good about himself because he is helping her to “feel happy and appreciative”.

Maybe this is what they mean by “give and take” in intimate relationships. Opening your mind and heart and walking in your partner’s shoes for a while could help you discover what it could be like to be on the receiving end of your reaction to emotions or the lack thereof.

How comfortable do you feel with your emotions in your relationship?

How do you and your partner communicate about feelings in your relationship?

12 Responses to “The Emotional Battle Between The Sexes”

  • Great Vanessa – I think you have given a great example of the differences between the genders here – especially for women to understand where men are coming from – good stuff!

  • Terry Bishop:

    Vanessa, you are a blessing!… dancing with such eloquence in a place where other angels just get lost. Love your provocations and the roadmaps you offer to find our way out of the maze.

    One part of this puzzle for me has been an awareness of the stories I construct within myself to make sense of my emotion. So the emotion feels like a raw energy… a sudden flame that appears and then shimmers in resonance with whatever is going on around or within me. But then if I am to express that emotion in words, I need a construct of meaning around it. Turns out though that there are 10,000 constructs I can put around any given emotional flame, and each one can seem compellingly true. This has often confused the beejeebies out me.

    I’ve noticed too that the first story that arises spontaneously with the emotion is often not the most useful or helpful, and with a little contemplation, I can find a better story that tells me something profound about what is really going on. The first story is usually connected to an overlay from the past, which can prevent me from tuning in to the truth of the present. I guess those moments where I might seem withdrawn is just me spending time in my cave, looking for a meaning to hold an emotion that serves love or peace or some other desirable outcome. I really value patience from others in those moments, and I am the first to admit that I am not always quick or even successful in finding the story I seek.

    It has been difficult for me at times to respond in a constructive way to the emotion of my women friends (and some men friends too!) who are expressing that emotional energy through a story that manifests blame or shame or guilt or denial or some other form of pain. When the one I love is burning hot and quite attached to a particular story of pain, it can be a bit like sitting in a bonfire, which ain’t too comfortable! If the flame burns too hot for too long, and the story is doing it’s best to hold me responsible for what she/he is feeling, I find myself with no option but to retreat to a safe distance. If I were a wiser person, I could sit in such flames until the end of time and not get burned, but I find that is especially difficult when the other is an intimate partner in continuous and sustained eruption who WILL NOT contemplate the deeper truth of the story being told.

    I’ve had variations on this conversation with men friends through the yaers, many of whom are deeply emotional beings who have gotten into the habit of bludgeoning their emotions with reasoning before giving them a chance to fully arise. That can stifle the flame, which is another way of staying it can suppress the emotion. As you note in your blog, we are conditioned from an early age to do this, but more and more I find men friends who are taking the risk and expressing a story connected with an emotion, even though we know it is not up to our own standards of insight and clarity.

    For me and most of those other men, all we want is peace, and turbulence in the infinite ocean of emotion disrupts that, so we try to liberate (or avoid) emotion when we can. What is now clear to me is that trying to push a wave back into the sea never works! Got to let it fully rise and crash into the shores of my awareness if I am to truly find freedom from the endless storm.

    gee whizz… sorry for SUCH a long reply, but this particular topic has been burning in me for about as long as I can remember. Thank you for the opportunity to get some of it off my chest.

    • Wow!!! Where do I start? Thank you for your wonderful comment and the time and effort it took to write it! You are right, it is very challenging to translate between emotions and thought (of understand the wisdom behind the emotion). I think when women are not gossiping, this is what they are doing… integrating and understanding their emotion! That’s why they talk for hours… it’s hard work! And very confusing!

      I love the way you have taken the time to witness into yourself and try to work out what you are feeling … it takes courage and a lot of guys do want to just avoid the messy confusing world of emotion. And I can totally understand what you mean by the bonfire getting too hot!!!

      I had an interesting experience with a woman once! I think she liked me more than friends but I was not interested in her in that way. I wanted to honor her as a person, but she kept cornering me and asking me how I felt. And she was being “emotionally intense”!!! Bit by bit I started avoiding her until I “felt the fear and did it anyway”… I confronted her about the nature of our friendship, stated a few boundaries and given she was hurt, I drove her to her home. I felt like such a guy!!!! I even did the hiding behind being busy on the computer trick!!! But I feel blessed, because she gave me some insight into how some guys may have felt about me in the past… it was an eye opener!

      Thank you so much for your comment… I’m looking forward to our conversations on this topic!!!
      Lots of love
      Vanessa

  • Another AWESOME and incredibly useful article for those wishing to create conscious relationships Ness :) Thank you!
    Will be sharing FAR and WIDE, with all my clients AND all my buddies in FB world :)

    Thank you, thank you :) xx

  • Really liked this one Vanessa. It was so interesting about the experiment with the boys and mothers.
    Madonna

  • Paul Mischefski:

    Hi Vanessa,

    A very important article. From my experience this whole area can be a major area of misunderstanding and misinterpretation in a lot of relationships.

    A lot of modern relationship training programs dictate that men should “hold space” by remaining in their hearts, while it is the role of the feminine to “be in her chaotic emotions”.

    For a lot of people this does not work, for one simple reason: It is rarely explained that there is a big difference between emotions and true feeling. Emotions being a reaction to life’s events and whatever is going on internally, while feelings are often a more balanced, heart-based response that can also be open to intuitive insight and solutions.

    More and more men’s work is about finding that stability in remaining heart-based, and listening to the intuition of the self. This is men listening to their own “feminine” aspect, the intuition, and giving it a balance between the heart and the “head” that provides clear solutions.

    One of the biggest life healing processes I ever experienced many years ago was having a good Spiritual mentor who kept reinforcing the difference between feelings and emotions, and the importance of individuals having their own balance between head and heart, whether they be man or woman.

    Like many people I know, I had a mother who was ruled by her emotions in my early life. She was highly reactive and controlling with it and often her intuition was way off track simply because it was coming from her reactive emotions, rather than what her heart was sensing. There was no factual basis to it and it set up dysfunctional patterns in her family and social network of “appeasing” behaviour aimed at placating her reactiveness and lack of reasoning. Over the years I have seen some very destructive behaviour and “shadow” coming from people with emotional reactiveness and a lack of personal responsibility for it. There was a good reason the catchphrase “emotional intelligence” was developed.

    If there was one important thing I learned in life it was to create balance between my own heart and head (thought and feeling), to discern and sit with the difference between my own feelings and emotions, and to develop and listen to my own intuition as my guiding force.

    Personally I would not defer my own intuition or intuitive guidance to that of a woman (or another man) simply because their intuition may be regarded as being better. I will listen to their intuition and hold space while they communicate their insight, and I will then share my own insight equally.

    I see a lot of balance and productivity in relationships when men and women listen to each other’s insights equally and formulate direction and solutions from there. There is equal wisdom in both male and female insight.

    There has been a lot of call over the past few decades for men to “get in touch with their feminine side” and a lot of men have found that balance with being more aware and in touch on a feeling and intuitive level.

    There has been very little call for women to find their own balance with their inner masculine, the part that can put reasoning and direction to a lot of emotion and feelings. A lot of Spiritual teachers are saying this is the next shift that needs to happen, the individual balance of Yin and Yang.

    When two people have this balance and wholeness, they can hold their own space and work together much more effectively.

    Warm regards,

    Paul.

    • Hi Paul… thank you for your insightful comment!!!

      I appreciate your constructs that you have shared around emotion. I believe we are very limited in our language when it comes to describing and understanding the internal-felt-experience of emotion. Your distinction between emotion and feeling is interesting. I agree what you are describing in terms of emotion and feeling are different things. Intuition is a sort of “energetic sense feeling” while emotions are… anger, sadness, guilt, shame, jealousy, fear, joy etc… etc…

      Your mother (like many people) was stuck in an unhealthy emotional pattern, I’ve seen this too! And you are right, in these patterns emotional reactions are destructive and manipulative (although the person stuck in them often has minimal conscious awareness of the pattern). Emotional intelligence is what we can learn by healing those patterns.

      Totally agree that no-one should hand over their intuitive truth to another!!! We are all experts on ourselves… no-one else can tell anyone what their emotional reality is or how they should understand themselves. Whether male or female, it is up to each of us to align ourselves (heart and head) and feel into our intuitive truth.

      I have a sense there is more I want to share in response to some of your later statements but I’m going to have to sit with it and chat more about it, to find what my feeling is… I would love to talk to you more about this topic! There is something about different processes for men and women RE emotions. There is so much we can learn from each other as men and women!

      Lots of love
      Vanessa

  • Paul Mischefski:

    Hi Vanessa,

    Many thanks, a worthwhile discussion I think.

    I know many men, self included, prefer to sit in quiet contemplation and “sit with” their feelings or feel into a situation, and solutions and insights often surface from this reflective space.

    I have seen it often where this is misinterpreted as “not knowing how to express feelings, or emotions” when actually it is taking the time to allow that energy to take form and structure and give it a voice.

    For me this works far better than an outpouring or venting of emotions.

    I know some women who take this contemplative approach also, and they are wonderful to be with. There is a sense of inner peacefulness and ability to stay calm and await the solutions, even in times of inner disarray or upheaval.

    I think people can support themselves and others a great deal by holding this inner space and being present for themselves and others. One can be solution-oriented and still be working from the heart, for the highest good.

    Blessings.

    • Hi again Paul, I am really loving your comments…

      I agree that emotional reacting is not taking responsibility for the emotional pattern that underlies the reaction, nor their influence on other people. I do think however that their is more than one process for working through emotions. The preference for sitting with emotions in contemplation is great. Processing emotions responsibly through conversation or through safe emotional expression can also be appropriate for different people or different situations. You are right that being present with the emotion and self-awareness are essential ingredients for working with emotion in relationship.

      Have a fantastic night
      Vanessa

Leave a Reply