Tools for Couples Happiness — 29 October 2003
Men and women are from earth

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus , how did they get
together here on Earth?
Studies have shown the early proclivity of boys to engage in behaviors
requiring gross motor coordination _like ball playing, climbing, and
rock skimming, while girls developed fine motor skills such as coloring
within the lines, playing house. Boys engage in aggressive play, while
girls tend to be gentler, developing their nurturing gifts. Girl’s master language earlier than boys and use it extensively as a social tool. Boys
develop math and special relation tasks sooner than girls do. These and
many other developmental variances have long been clear.

Many studies sought to determine whether the differences between boys
and girls were innate or culturally determined. The debate as to nature
versus nurture has been an age long controversy. The prevailing beliefs
are that both nature and upbringing play roles in gender identity.

Behaviorally, there are response styles that typify men and others that
signify women. So, maybe they are really from different planets?

Or, perhaps the varied perceptions, reactions, communication styles and
conducts are perfectly designed to serve the purpose of effective
survival on the same planet. Men were created to develop stronger upper
extremities to be excellent hunters, while women were intended to be
keen observers as gatherers and nurturers of the young.
This brilliant programming served the purpose of compatible task sharing
for survival of the species, while both genders share identical
emotional needs.

My experience as a therapist confirms for me the commonality of men and
women’s needs, desires, hopes, aspirations and delights, even if their
methods of fulfilling them are not alike.

I have also seen numerous examples of role reversal from the
stereotypical depictions. Many men are tender and nurturing, circuitous
talkers, attention seeking and more people -oriented than task-oriented.
Conversely, more and more women are direct, assertive, task oriented,
and less needy for attention than their partners are.

As amusing and sometime helpful, the generalizations about men and
women’s behaviors may be, they also have some deleterious effects. Some
people justify their bad behavior by blaming it on the unchangeable
gender predetermination. “I can’t change the fact that I am a man, and
you know how men feel about dealing with emotions”. Or: “excessive
shopping is on the x chromosome and I have two of those, so I can’t help
it.” Those are unhealthy by-products of gender biases.

The books that foster these notions give couples tools for altering
their language, behaviors and attitudes to better get along with each
other. These are very helpful hints. However, perhaps another
perspective may be healthier?

I propose that we first recognize all people’s common needs and then
have couples share with each other their individual ways of need

All people want to be respected, trusted, loved, physically desired,
appreciated, listened to, accepted, valued, and cherished, to name a few
common needs. People in relationships expect to feel a sense of
belonging, connection, and intimacy. They also want to have fun, feel
supported, and share life to it’s fullest with their mates.

How each individual may choose to receive these partnership gifts is
much more individual than gender based. Some people feel cared about
when given private time, others feel abandoned by the separation from
their lovers. Some people yearn for frequent physical affection, while
others need more shared activities to feel bonded. None of these
preferences are solely determined by gender, nor is gender even a factor
in many of the basic human needs.

By the time people select their permanent life partners, they have
accumulated many life experiences. They have been impacted by: their
original family patterns, early life decisions, school and peer
experiences, jobs, previous relationships, within the context of their
basic personalities. To reduce all these to a stereotypical gender
predetermination is a major injustice to the uniqueness of each human being.

I favor asking- rather than assuming -what each individual prefers and
how he or she can best be helped to reach his or her satisfaction.

A helpful exercise for couples is for each partner to create a list of
ways by which he or she feels loved or cared about. ” I feel loved when
you greet me at the door with a hug”. Each short sentence needs to be
concrete not abstract such as “I feel loved when you understand me”. The
goal is to make it observable and reproducible. By later exchanging the
lists, each person has a menu from which to select two pleasing gestures
every day.

Loving your partner is much more than adapting to a gender difference.
It requires knowing specific ways to please and avoiding distressing acts. The attention has to be tailor-made to assist your mate in having his or
her needs met.

Consider these ideas:

  • You are much more unique and complex than your gender identity.
  • Stereotyping men and women’s behavior and motivations limits us.
  • Men and women share the same basic psychological needs.
  • Each person knows how he can best be pleased.
  • Listing the ways of feeling cared about -helps assure that you will
    receive the love the way you want it.
  • Using gender differences as one tool of understanding is valid.
    Capitalizing on it, as a sole explanation of relationship difficulties
    is unwise, oversimplified and may be hazardous to healthy changes.

If God wanted men and women to live happily together, why did he make
our genders so different from one another? The behavioral differences
are necessary for the survival of the species. But the basic universal
human needs – bond us together.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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