In the last article, I developed the theme ofworking together. We saw how the most effective way to achieve harmony and fulfillment in marriage is to undertake the vital task of caring for and striving to understand the other. In this final continuation, I wish to illustrate a point that is important to be aware of when working towards mutual respect and cooperation. It is the idea of the natural differences between men and women.
Perhaps a significant factor that makes harmony so difficult is the gender difference. It already puts the couple at a disadvantage before they even try to communicate. Indeed, men and women are diametrically different. When one recognizes these differences and appreciates their spouse’s needs, this will allow them to work together most smoothly. We are a team and wish to help out our teammate so that we can perform best together. This is done by acknowledging that we are different, and have different strengths to offer. Many people erroneously think that their personalfeelings, opinions and preferences are the only possibilities for a healthy person to have. This thinking causes them to nullify any other person’s opinions. “If I wouldn’t be hurt, embarrassed or upset in that situation, then you have no right to be either!” However, the art of productive interaction with others is to strive to respect, validate and be sensitive to other perspectives outside of our own. A man and woman see the world differently; a sensitive spouse will learn to acknowledge and work with this reality.
My point here is to stress that once this is acknowledged, we will be more sensitive and aware of how these potentially anger-triggering differences play a vital role in our relationships.
In the New York Times bestseller “You Just Don’t Understand”, Deborah Tannen illustrates common things that trigger misunderstandings as one spouse was ambiguous in their communication and the other misread the cue. For example:
- When she asks “what would you like?”, this is not necessarily a request for information, as a man tends to sees it, rather, it can be an opening for a discussion.
- To Josh, “checking with his wife” means asking her permission, which to him implies that he isn’t independent, and it is thus childlike. To her, it shows respect and that their lives areinterrelated. Both must know this, communicate their feelings and recognize the other’s needs.
- Her questioning him for details can be seen by him as a challenge, requiring a counter. She sees it as a request for understanding (information) with girl-style polite engaging. If both people strive to comprehend each other, these issues can be discussed, and then fixed or avoided altogether.
In the powerful book “Boys and Girls Learn Differently”, Michael Gurian brings out the undeniable physical differences between genders that invariably affect their respective emotional and psychological temperaments. His findings are obviously not the concrete, only possibility for every person, as we are all different and operate differently. However, these were the results of careful scientific study and at least deserve some thought, as they represent many deep-rooted diverse strengths and tendencies. Here is a partial list of these differences:
- There are many brain differences between the genders. The male brain stem is at rest and is thus quicker to respond physically. The amygdale is larger in males thus making them more aggressive. Males comprise over 90% of all cases of hyperactivity.
- The arcuate fasciculus develops earlier in females, thus, they speak in sentences earlier. The female brain is more developed in the broca area which is responsible for speech development. The cerebellum provides smoothness, balance and speech and is more developed in females. The frontal lobe effects emotions and communication skills; the female’s is more developed. Werencke’s area links language and thought. This area is highly active in females. 99% of females have comprehensible speech and vocabulary by age three. This is only achieved by males at age four and a half.
- The cerebral cortex provides higher intellectual functions and memory. The male’s is thicker on the right, thus he is right-brained dominant. The female’s is thicker on the left. The left hemisphere affects language, writing, consciousness, self-image, denial and listening. The female is superior here. The right hemisphere helps tone of voice, music, spatial discernment and visual memory. Males use this more. Female use both sides more than males use both.
- The cerebrum allows one to multitask; the female’s is always active! Female toddlers can multitask more freely than male toddlers.
- The corpus callosum connects both sides of the brain. The female’s has a better connection between both sides. This may give them greater focus on practical application.
- The hypothalamus of the male brain is denser and constant, it produces lust and anger. Pituitary glands are larger in males thus increasing their fight-or-flight instinct!
- Regarding the occipital lobe, females see better in lower light, males in higher (melatonin in females cause them to have greater sensitivity to brightness).
- The parietal lobe perceives bodily sensations, pressure, pain and temperature. The female’s is larger, thus, they experience greater sensations. The male’s is smaller, thus, they often excel at ignoring pain.
- The thalamus regulates one’s emotional life and physical safety and monitors what is happening outside of the body. Females process faster here.
- Males develop testosterone which causes action and can escalate to aggression. Females develop estrogen which breeds hormonal changes and the desire for feelings and bonding.
- Males are more easily angered; females are more easily saddened.
- Males are often more restless as a fetus, whereas females are less active.
- Male are generally larger than females.
- Males have less serotonin (which is a relaxing agent).
- Male toddlers prefer mechanical or structural toys; females prefer soft and cuddly toys.
- Males look at objects for a shorter time but are more vigorous, whereas females gaze longer but are less active.
- Males gaze at their mother for half as long as females do.
- Females at one week can distinguish a baby’s cry from background noise, whereas males do not respond yet. Females at four months can distinguish people’s faces on photos, whereas for males it takes longer to achieve this.
- Females prefer sweets more than males do.
- Males have better narrow and depth perception. Females have better peripheral (side-line) vision.
- Males have a 25% higher mortality rate at infancy than females. This is being studied further.
- Males in kindergarten focus on individual games. Females focus on group activities. Males ignore newcomers until they prove their worth and value. Females welcome them warmly! Males prefer games that require bodily contact and competition. Girls prefer taking turns and indirect competition.
- Males prefer stories of excitement and action while ignoring victims. Females prefer stories of human dynamics and feelings.
- A male toddler’s good-bye to his mom takes around 30 seconds. A female’s takes 90 seconds!
- Males express emotions through actions. Females express feelings through words!
- Males in grade one through third are more able to separate emotion from reason that their female counterparts.
- Males are 50% more likely to be held back in eighth grade than females are.
- Males in High School focus much on personal career choice. Females focus more on personal relationships.
- 69% of H.S. males offered “fighting” as the best solution to an argument. The majority of females opted for “walking away” or “talking about it”.
All of this illustrates quite vividly the great gender difference that a couple much deal with. We believe that Hashem gave us all different strengths to offer and a happy couple will learn to appreciate the other’s strong points and thereby build a beautiful partnership together. (For further reading I suggest two books that offer relevant information regarding these facts: “Reviving Ophelia” and “Raising Cain”.)
This is not meant to scare anyone! My point is to stress:
- The first key to a successful marriage is to acknowledge that men and women are in fact very different!
- The second task is to learn how to communicate with and how to understand and respect the opposite gender! The most important trait needed for this is patience and sensitivity!
I hope that through the last two articles I have illustrated the importance of striving to work together and understand the other person. Through this, we can accomplish beautiful and fulfilling achievements.
One most useful suggestion for how to navigate through all of these potentially dangerous pitfalls and miscommunications is to find someone wise with experience and much sensitivity. When something is unclear to us or we need help, we can then talk to them and seek to improve our marriage. Anyone can succeed, it is in your hands!