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.