So many people try to figure out why men and women are so different (and why are we so alike in so many ways!) Gender science looks at how men and women develop, communicate and relate. Understanding what it means in practical reality can be confusing!
Let’s open with a caveat to avoid stereotypes. Not all men and women are the same. But looking at traits that are generally associated with men and women allow us to understand why some couples might have difficulties in understanding and communicating with each other. Okay, with that understanding, let’s assume that there is a continuum that runs from testosterone dominance (classic male behavior) to estrogen dominance (classic female behavior):
Testosterone Dominant <—————————————> Estrogen Dominant
Everyone is somewhere along the continuum. Let’s even presume that most males are more on the testosterone dominant side and most women are on the estrogen dominant side. However men can be estrogen dominant and women can be testosterone dominant. This can affect the style, not the capacity, of partners as they try to communicate and relate. The role of communication is different based on where on the continuum one is.
Estrogen dominant people get high talking about feelings. They talk to connect. It is a way to build a bridge to another person and gratification is sought through participation in processing verbally and nonverbally. Sometimes these folks will talk to talk because there is silence and the lack of active connection can be uncomfortable. Intimacy is achieved through participation. You are paying attention to me and I am paying attention to you. We are engaging.
Testosterone dominant individuals must connect to talk. Simply being in the same space or watching a television show together quietly can be a form of intimacy. Talking is a purposeful activity and when that purpose is achieved, there is no more reason to speak. That doesn’t mean that a lack of interest or lack of intimacy is present. Intimacy is achieved through proximity. We are here together, sharing our time and space.
So what does this mean for couples? I often sit with couples who will talk about communication problems because one partner wants to talk and process while the other seems disinterested or doesn’t have anything to say. Couples begin see communication in general break down because one partner closes off completely and the other partner “chases” for connection. They begin to criticize each other and feel put upon or they begin to feel that they can’t be good enough to meet their partner’s demands. It is important to remember that behind every criticism is a desire. He is so closed off! (I want him to talk to me!) She nags me all the time! (I just want to have a quiet night at home and relax with my partner!)
This often extends to how couples try to make things better. Estrogen dominant partners want to discuss and apologize. The participation is what makes the healing happen. Testosterone dominant partners want a change in behavior – the ability to rewind and do it better (without having to rehash and discuss the problem). As you can imagine, moving forward can be quite challenging!
Couples that are able to strengthen their relationships often tie into these ideas and gain greater insight into their partner’s communication style. Estrogen dominant partners begin to see participation through activity as well as verbal communication; nonverbal emotion becomes as important as stated emotion. Testosterone dominant partners begin to understand the importance of eye contact and more expressed communication. Understanding communication styles and being able to internalize the message that each partner is giving is a real challenge. It takes time, trust and real commitment.
If you would like to learn more about this topic, contact Elliott Kronenfeld at 617-834-4235 or email him at Elliott@insightbrookline.com.