Understanding your other half
Navni Chawla explores how a man and a woman in a relationship can understand each other better by knowing each other’s language, inner world, and psyche.
“When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences, then love has a chance to blossom.”
—John Gray, Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus
It is a non-arguable fact that men and women have brains that are wired differently. Blame it on biology! Scientific studies reveal that there are brain differences in men and women, which translate into behavioural differences. Men and women might have different emotional, psychological, and physical responses to the same situation owing to their different brain structures, physiology, hormone-receptor interactions, genetic variables, and neural circuits. These are mostly sex-based differences. However, masculine and feminine traits are also very individualistic in nature and are influenced by many other factors such as social environment and constructs, gender distribution, patriarchal mindset, and the prevalent culture.
Broadly, men and women have stark differences in the way they think, feel, respond, personalise experiences, and perceive stimulations like stress and pleasure, which are discrete for both. Hence it is natural for disagreements, conflicts, and disputes to arise in a relationship. This creates a need for both men and women to really understand each other for the relationship to succeed. Now, how does one do that?
Taking one step at a time
Understanding the opposite sex takes a lot of self-work, inquiry, thoughtfulness, listening to one another, patience, awareness, watching one’s ego, and the actual application of skills that resolve interpersonal issues. Jyoti Chawla, an entrepreneur, a wife, and a mother, who has been married for 30 years, shares, “It is important to listen to your partner consciously because things often start going downhill when there is a communication problem between two people. If you listen intently to your partner, it is so easy to see the subtext of what they are trying to say or not say, their needs said or unsaid, their underlying issues, habits, and patterns. A lot of stuff becomes clearer, and then, through a healthy conversation, the things that need attention can be addressed. This is the first step towards healing your partner and the relationship.”
Our innate need as human beings to connect, belong, share, love, and be loved makes us sign bonds and form relationships and partnerships. The essence however remains pure and selfless love. Needs play an important part too in a relationship. To understand the opposite sex, one must be well-versed with their own needs, desires, and interests, and also those of their partner. Then, expressing those needs to one another is equally important and the next step in understanding each other. Radha Khandelwal, a relationship expert, says, “Aggression arises from unfulfilled needs, especially when they go unexpressed between partners. Suppression only leads to volcanic eruptions over trivial matters due to bottled-up volatile emotions and bitterness.”
How men and women think
An analogy that could be used to explain how men think is that of a computer desktop with one window open at one time. Men work on one thought at one time. When it’s done, they close it and move on to working on the next thought. With women, their thoughts are like ten windows open simultaneously. Most women don’t have the ability that men have to just close out thoughts or feelings that are bothering them. “Stop thinking about it, don’t let it bother you” might be really good advice to give to men, but it just doesn’t work for women at all. It’s difficult for most women, if not all, to just shut the bugging thoughts and make them go away. Instead, women have to take some action to make them go away. So, if a man helps his partner close the windows hovering over her mind by sensitively telling her “Do you have an open window? Let’s do something to resolve it,” it comforts a woman and makes her feel supported and understood in that relationship. That earns a man huge brownie points and makes his partner feel loved. Similarly, if a woman gives a man space while he is processing something in his head privately, he might appreciate it more than having constant conversations about it. Women can often be more far-sighted and see the bigger picture, while men can have a tunnel-vision thought process.
Scientifically, a woman’s brain size is 14 per cent smaller than a man’s, but women have shown that they use their brain more efficiently than men do! Men tend to rely on the grey matter of their brain more, which comprises processing control centres in the brain, while women use the white matter more, which serves as a means of communication between various grey matter units. The functional differences of both grey and white brain matter make men more proficient in spatial and visual skills, and women, in verbal and other sensory skills related to sight, smell, taste, sensitivity, and colours.
Another notable difference between a man’s and a woman’s thinking ability is similar to the one mentioned earlier: men are more focussed on the task at hand, whereas women ace multitasking like pros. It’s a common phenomenon where we see women juggling multiple jobs at the same time, whether it’s managing a home and family, or her profession. It’s true because, while a man uses one part of his brain (a hemisphere) to tackle one task at a time, a woman can use various parts of her brain (both hemispheres). Therefore, she is able to attend to many tasks simultaneously.
How men and women respond to a problem
Women’s emotional component, i.e., the ability to link thoughts and situations with emotions and feelings is way more than a man’s. In times of crisis, while a man would mostly whirl his logical wheels to fix the problem, a woman would take her own sweet time to emotionally process the issue before she steps up to act. It is necessary for a woman to be in tune with her emotional self, while a man might just shut down his feelings and prefer to keep it all in.
Another difference in their response to a conflict or a challenge is that women like to talk about it in order to resolve the issues at hand, but men often evade having heavy and confrontational conversations. For women, having elaborate and deep conversations on all things is more meaningful. For men, sleeping on a conflict is a more effective way to solve it.
How men and women differ in their physical needs
Physical intimacy can mean different things to men and women. Men are very visual and are easily aroused by simply seeing a sexually explicit image, whereas, for women, it takes a combination of things like text, mood, environment, feelings, smell, and touch, to get them aroused. For a woman to be physically intimate with a man, she needs to trust him and have a strong emotional connection with him. Although in the urban milieu things might be changing, a deeper need for emotional connection cannot be ruled out in women.
For most men, sex is an end in itself. It is easier for a man to go for casual sex than a woman. A man seeks more variety in sexual experience than a woman, who is more focussed on finding a committed partner for herself. However, the advent of dating apps seems to have changed the scenario, and more women can be seen hooking up guilt-free in non-committal relationships. Yet for a woman, sex goes beyond being a physical need as it metamorphoses into her soft vulnerability, which she shares only with someone she has emotionally bonded with and can deeply trust. However, both men and women have a deep need to feel desired by their partners. It is important for both to keep the sparks alive by letting each other know how excited they feel in each other’s company.
How men and women view parenthood
Naturally, women have strong motherly and nurturing instincts. They are the caregivers in a household and are more empathetic towards all living beings. Women are seen to have more patience and higher pain thresholds and tolerance levels (period cramp pains and child labour pains), right from the beginning, which prepares them well to be competent mothers. Men love playing with their kids as long as they don’t start weeping or pooping in their diapers. Upon the first cry, they will happily hand over the baby to the mother.
Women are blessed with more sensitivity than men; hence, babies too feel more secure in a mother’s embrace. Men usually are more concerned about taking care of the expenses that come with having a baby and providing well, conventionally. Being different in their own ways, co-parenting can be beneficial for the child. For example, fathers like to play with their children and challenge them, thereby shaping their inner confidence, while mothers pay attention to details like instilling good values and building moral character. Together, by complementing each other’s skills, both parents can enrich the child’s personality, thereby shaping its destiny.
How men and women view the world
The worldviews of both men and women differ from each other because society has defined gender roles since age-old times. While men are expected to be dominating, competitive, ambitious, breadwinners, and leaders, women are mostly expected to be soft, supportive, sacrificing, selfless, and even submissive. Hence, we see that there is a greater need infor men to prove their masculinity and dominance in the world by chasing money and power. And women feel compelled to act in ways that make them fit into societal structures and gain the approval of others. However, it is safe to say that both the worldviews and the gender roles are evolving. Today, we have women leaders in different areas, and men are being prompted to learn housework too. Yet research reveals that women have a more holistic view of life than men. They have an innate quality of taking along others and promoting collective growth, unlike men who generally focus on their own exponential growth rather than that of others. To quote the late H. H. Swami Veda Bharati, “The already feminine have nothing more to learn; the flower need not seek the status of a stone.” And, “The feminine is considered a more complete whole than the masculine.” For this reason, women are more spiritually attuned than men.
How men and women view money
The attitude towards money and spending habits differ in men and women. Studies show that women are more price-conscious shoppers than men. They have an inner calling to save money for any future needs or investments. They are always on the lookout for sales and discount coupons, whereas men might care less about such things. In fact, sales were mostly created keeping women in mind, to attract hordes of them to markets, malls, and shopping centres.
In terms of financial goals, debt-repayment is the topmost priority for women, whereas planning a vacation followed by paying credit card debts are men’s financial priorities. However, men tend to take more interest in investments than women do. Men are more likely than women to be investors. When it comes to putting money in the stock market, men tend to have more confidence in their knowledge than women do. But men can rely on women’s instincts to forecast potential sources of income in the future, studies say. There is a saying that goes, “Women shop, but men buy,” which hints towards the fact that for women, while shopping is more of a recreational activity (sometimes even therapy), for men, it largely implies making a purchase and getting out.
How men and women forge friendships
Although male friendships may not be as intimate as female friendships, they are considered to be less fragile than the latter. While men bond over shared activities like playing, watching sports, or hopping clubs, women crave emotional bonding in friendship. For men, friendships are mostly casual, whereas for women they are quite personal and valuable. In friendships, while women tend to share their deepest secrets, feelings, and closest emotions with one another, men tend to gloss over it. In fact, a man would prefer sharing his innermost feelings with his female friend, wife, or girlfriend. Men are better at maintaining friendships longer than women, as they do not break them off easily over arguments or fights. Also, men still consider their friends close even after not staying in constant touch, whereas women are quick to assume that the friendship is over when the contact is lost.
Yin and yang
Opposites are often complementary. Feminine and masculine energies fill each other’s missing jigsaw puzzle pieces. And therefore, one completes the other in so many ways. Even after stark external and internal differences, men and women can make each other’s life quite wholesome. When they both operate from a place which is grounded, loving, understanding, and respectful of each other’s individuality, perfect relationships have a chance to flower.
It is said that relationships work on the give and take formula. But when the focus is more on giving by both, the man and the woman involved, then the sheer nature of the relationship changes. Sometimes, even without saying much or asking for something, partners sense what the other might be wanting. That is a heavenly state to reach in a relationship.
The most important thing that a man wishes his partner knew is how much he loves her. And once he learns to put that across well through his words and actions, it already solves so many things in a partnership. Vice-versa, for a woman learning to receive that love and also giving it back to him in ways he would understand it better, makes that relationship a win-win for both.
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