When I am working with couples, the men may talk a lot about wanting to be appreciated and having a partner who can help them; they seem to want loyalty and they want to engage in activities like hiking or biking, or they want women to be at their side on their journey through life toward success. Men sometimes want to solve a problem or fix something, while women may want to feel acknowledged and validated. Many women talk about connection and being cherished: they want to know they can count on their partner to be there for them.
While men and women can value and engage in mutual activities, they sometimes have preferential differences. Many women feel closer and validated through communication, dialogue and intimate sharing of experience, emotional content and personal perspectives. Some men find such sharing and involvement uncomfortable, or even overwhelming. (Of course, there are many couples for whom the exact opposite is true.)
Some research suggests that women have four times as many neurons that connect the right and left hemisphere of their brains. If accurate, this physical evidence supports the idea that men rely more heavily on their left brain to solve problems than women do. Women, on the other hand, may have more efficient access to both sides of their brain and could have greater access to their right brain, which is associated with creative problem solving. Women may have a more enhanced ability to multitask than their male counterparts, which would allow them to solve more than one problem at a time. As women have gained more equality in the work force, we are seeing a new generation of women CEOs who are using their ability to function in multiple areas at the same time, to show that interconnectedness in the workforce is a successful combination.
Women are sometimes intuitive and may think globally. They might consider a myriad of sources of information, which can be described as simultaneous. They may take a broad perspective, and view elements in an assignment as interrelated and interdependent. Some women may have some difficulty with complexities that may exist in some future context and may have some trouble separating their personal experience from experiential problems. These are generalizations, to be sure, but the differences between this way of thinking and the traditional approaches are getting some traction in the workforce.
Men sometimes tend to hyperfocus on one problem at a time, or on a limited number of problems at a time. Some men might have an enhanced ability to separate themselves from problems and can intellectually minimize the complexity that may exist to make them more manageable. Many men are generally more left-brained (logical thinkers) and therefore more linear, sequential and will view tasks as independent from one another. Men may tend to minimize and have difficulty with subtleties. Some males may work through a problem repeatedly, talking about the same thing over and over, rather than trying to address the problem all at once.
Of course, male artists, writers, poets and priests are perfectly capable of emotion, imagination and philosophical awareness. Women, as well, are entering more and more into the realms previously held sacrosanct by men, like competitive sports, mathematics and management.
With all these general dissimilarities, how in the world do relationships work at all? The answer is to understand how these rough variations are related, instead of seeing them as dealbreakers or divisions. We can view these differences as desirable, because differences can mean complementary skills, and the balance between differences makes for healthy and productive partnerships.
We can view conflict as inevitable because of people’s essential differences—regardless of their gender—instead of an indication of a fundamental flaw in our relationship. As men and women embrace their distinctions, it allows each person to learn the language of their partner, so that communication can thrive and strike a healthy balance between their different worlds. When men and women unite instead of compete, they become a working partnership. Vive la différence.