Gender Differences in Relationships

Men, Women and Intimacy

In the long run for humankind, which of the following is of greater significance?  The relationship between east and west; the relationship between north and south; the relationship between liberals and conservatives; the relationship between men and women?

At a recent workshop I conducted on men, women and gender differences in intimate relationships, I asked women what angers them about men and the way men behave.  I got the following responses:  their need to dominate, they don’t listen, they don’t try to understand, they’re superficial, they expect women to be like them, they’re stoic, they shut down under conflict, sexual harassment, they see women as sexual objects, rape, incest, need to always compete, non-communicative, non-committal, they want to be mothered, their need to always prove themselves, they’re righteous, their separateness, they’re afraid to feel, they’re quick to anger, sloppy, violent/abusive to women and children, they resist spirituality, they’re afraid of women’s power.

When men were asked about what angers them about women and the behavior of women, they responded with the following:  they’re manipulative, stuck up, self-righteous, angry, verbally castrating, they’re not very nice, they want perfection, they don’t say what they mean, they assume they know everything about relationships, they expect to be taken care of, they’re jealous, they tell you how you should feel, they’re needy, demanding, they want to be the boss, they’re too neat, when they are wounded by men they never seem to look at their part in what happened, they expect us to know how to love without us ever having learned, they have so very little self assurance, they’re too meek, they don’t try to understand men.

When women were asked what they like and appreciate about men, they said:  They’re strong, gentle, heartful, their muscles, appetites, cuddliness, their furriness, ability to cut through the BS, their sense of humor, willingness to love, when they’re honest about their shortcomings, their strength, sexuality, fire, they’re fun, their tenderness, their ability to be vulnerable, loyalty, they play, they’re smart, secure and courageous.

When men were asked what they like and appreciate about women, they responded:  Their shape, their bodies, their roundedness, cooking, responsiveness, softness, spiritfulness, willingness to make a gentle space for a home, their strength, compassion, wisdom, groundedness, their nurturing, sensuality, honesty, their ability to bear children (40% said if given the biological capacity to do so, they would like to bear children themselves), motherhood, their grace, their ability to laugh at themselves, their ability to cut through the BS, intimacy, integrity, compassion, passion, they’re mysterious, their patience, loyalty, intuition.

Let me acknowledge that men and women are very different.  Let me also acknowledge the caveat to that statement:  that we are far more alike than we are different.

Historically, women have been depicted as inferior to men, but many women think of themselves as superior to men.  They believe it will be feminine values that will eventually save the world.

My sense is that love between men and women is impossible as long as either are considered inferior by the other.  If you see the other sex as inferior, you’ll have a hard time respecting the person, and therefore you’ll find it very difficult to love him or her.

Men and women often express their emotions differently, and men and women often feel strongly about different things.  The biggest problem each sex has with the other is:  “Why don’t you see and do things the way I do (the right way), and see the error in what you’re doing (the wrong way)?”  Many men and women are struggling with each other because they haven’t yet learned how to tolerate their differences.  In truth, most of us can’t live peacefully with ourselves, let alone with someone else.

We can improve our relationship with the other sex by expressing what we want and need in any given situation.  This requires us to speak more honestly, not just saying what’s painful, but being more skillful at telling the truth.  That involves learning how to tell the truth in a way that is most helpful to another person, which requires skillfulness in your speech.

We need to be both honest and kind at the same time.

It takes enormous courage, spirit, vision and commitment to break out of the models you’ve grown up with.

Incidentally, approximately 95% of the 400 workshop participants listed the relationship between men and women as the one they consider that has the greatest significance for the future of humankind.


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