Relationship Friendship — 19 October 2015
The Social and Emotional Bonding Between Women

The connection between women has it’s own unique style with biological, survival, and health benefits that have evolved throughout the years and are distinctively different from male bonding.

Both men and women are aware of the variances in their relationship style with each other and with members of their own gender. Some men are bewildered by the bonding, affection and emotional intensity between women that greatly differs from their bonds with their male friends. These styles are not only socially and temperamentally different but are hormonally pre-programmed for the survival of both genders.

In “Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: “Tend-and-Befriend” Not “Fight-or-Flight”, researchers Shelley E. Taylor and Associates at UCLA wrote, “We suggest that females respond to stress by tending to offspring and protecting them from harm is enhanced by befriending other females and affiliating with social groups to reduce risk.” These behaviors vary from males’ physiological programmed stress reduction through “Fight-or-Flight” responses in service of physically protecting their females and their offspring. Thus, the flight response to stress is inhibited in females, to enable the survival of the female and her offspring under conditions of stress.”

In “Female aggression among the great apes: A Psychoanalytic Perspective”, Researcher Reijo Holmstrom found that “Females reliably show less physical aggression than males, but as much or more indirect social aggression in the form of gossip, rumor-spreading, and enlisting the cooperation of a third party in undermining an acquaintance.”

The oxytocin hormone that instills maternal bonding prompts mothers to seek social support and connection with other females in service of the perpetuation of the human species. Women have been hormonally programmed to nurse and nurture their babies as they sought the sisterly connection and support of other females. They may also have learned to selectively isolate and alienate some females through social ostracism when they sensed that these women were not helpful in enhancing the welfare of the young.

Though life circumstances of females today are very different than those of previous generations, the physiological and protective programming of safeguarding the wellbeing of babies and children are as deeply embedded in the physiology of mothers today as ever.

Though the cultural and social need for bonding between women today varies greatly from the past, the physiological programming still dictates intimate connections, verbal and instructional sharing, emotional disclosures and intense affectionate bonding between females for the survival of the young and the wellbeing of adult females.

The intimate bond between women often perplexes some men, who are physiologically programmed to view other males with great caution.

Men and Women:

  • Accept that social connections within the genders are uniquely different and are physiologically programed to assure the survival of the species.
  • Support both the protective stance of Fight-or-Flight and the nurturing Tend-and-Befriend styles as healthy, well designed, hormonally programmed, gender specific modes of securing humans safety and survival.
  • Be grateful to your mate for his/her unique contribution to family safety and health.

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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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