It was that simple to me: girls and boys are both human; we have the same wants and needs and that means we should be able to relate to each other on nearly every level.
Sometimes it really does seem like men and women are from two different planets- especially when the two are in a relationship.
But seeing as we are comprised of the same material and living on the same planet, why is it that we have such difficulty relating to each other? And not just why, but how can those of us who are in relationships remedy this seeming incompatibility?
The following article will attempt to address these questions. Let's begin with a brief analysis of two interesting facts related to gender-based cognitive differences:
That being said, a study performed at The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia analyzed the mental skills of nearly 2,000 healthy people and came up with an interesting finding. While it seemed that most of the women involved in the study made incredibly quick connections between the right and left halves of their brains, the men seemed to make incredibly quick connections between the front and back regions of their brains. This implies that, generally speaking, women are able to make quick connections between presented facts and their implications while men are especially adept at activities requiring use of motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
So, while men and women have the same brain, there seem to be gender-based differences in the way way certain regions of the brain are used. What's the reason for this difference? Studies show that hormones may be the cause.
The aforementioned study at The University of Pennsylvania revealed that even an embryo's brain development is affected by hormones. Interestingly though, an analysis of the mental circuitry of girls and boys under the age of 13 revealed similar "wiring" among those studied, regardless of their gender. This implies that during puberty hormones become so powerful that they contribute to the actual rewriting of said teen's brain. From what we understand, the brain continues in this rewritten state on into adulthood.
So, there you have it- though men and women have the same brain, their individual hormone levels play a big role in influencing how various sections of the brain are utilized. But are differing hormones levels the only reason for the seeming difference in the way females and males see the world? Not quite. Cultural norms also play a large role in cognitive development and functioning ...
For example, despite last century's women's liberation movement and the more recent efforts of modern day feminists in most societies there is still a cultural expectation that women fulfill the role of the subservient, "other-oriented" caregiver who supports the needs of those around her. This is why little girls are often presented with toys (i.e. baby dolls and play kitchen sets) designed to stimulate empathy or caretaker/nurturing tendencies. As this is the case, a 2011 study of male and female professionals in the United States/Canada region revealed that unlike their male peers, the majority of female professionals interviewed described struggling with intense feelings of guilt, anxiety, and worries of letting others down in their efforts to be successful in the workplace. It's important to note that most of the men surveyed did not report similar feelings of guilt.
These findings seem to be a direct result of the cultural expectation for women to be other-oriented not only in the workplace, but at home. This leaves many women feeling trapped in a sort of emotional tug-of-war. As they go about their day, the person they truly are- a woman who knows what she wants and needs out of life- struggles with the person who society expects her to be- an "ever-present and thoroughly selfless caregiver." These ideals of what a woman should be, which are frequently reinforced by the media and political arena, have a strong effect on the way most women think and feel.
Certainly, men too often find themselves in a similar predicament- struggling to meet the impossible standards set by a cultural ideal of what "masculinity" means.
So, between the influence of our oft-fluctuating hormones and the unrealistic gender-related expectations that our own culture sets, it's no wonder that both genders often find themselves somewhat anxious. And when we're anxious, even a simple conversation with our significant other can lead to a huge misunderstanding. When this happens, what can two hormonal and anxiety-ridden adults do to bridge the gender-related communication gap?
Dr. Bella Elwood-Clayton, a sex and relationship expert suggests the following, "Men and women often find themselves having difficulty communicating with each other--especially when things get heated. Respective of gender, it's important to speak calmly, really listen to the other person's perspective and take a time out if needed."
As Dr. Elwood-Clayton mentions, the key is to remain calm while encouraging your partner to say what's on their mind. A trick to keeping your calm may be to remember that the ultimate goal is to understand your partner's perspective. After all, the aim isn't to win an argument but to understand the person you love.
Suppose you've taken the above advice and made your partner feel comfortable enough to express their feelings and the next thing you know they're expressing a belief or argument that seems flat-out ridiculous or even offensive?
Well, there's a method to every madness, it just takes a bit of detective work to figure out what that "method" is. In other words, you've got to do your best to understand why your partner has taken this particular point of view. And sure, the conclusion they've come to may seem wrong, but if you care about someone, you'll want to understand how they think. This is where empathy will help.
Empathy can be described as the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes so we can relate to their feelings. It's what enables us to understand why a person does what they do and thinks the way they think. When we understand someone, not only does this diminish our anger with them but it also makes it much easier for us to persuade them to see our point of view.
So, even though your partner's argument may be inaccurate, calmly and respectfully asking them questions will allow you to see why they feel the way they feel. Armed with this understanding, you'll be better equipped to win them over.
Patience is Key
Dr. Elwood-Clayton goes on to suggest, "Rather than expressing a litany of "crimes," try to pick one issue to discuss. Don't expect miracles to happen overnight, but do focus on small efforts made by your partner." In other words, the road to mutual understanding is long, so taking it slow and being grateful to your partner for every effort they've made to remain beside you is your best bet.
In conclusion, science seems to show that men and women aren't all that different. Sure our hormones influence the way we think and cultural ideals play a part in our perception- but we have the same kind of brain and with a little empathy, it is possible to bridge the communication gap!
In your experience, what's helped you to communicate effectively with your significant other? Let us know in the comments below!
For more relationship advice, connect with Dr. Bella Elwood-Clayton on Twitter @BEllwoodClayton
What Women Wish Men Understood...
In an online survey, we asked women what they wish men understood. And here are only some of the responses:
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In an online survey, we attempted to ask men what they wish women understood. Here is the one response we received: