Are there really differences between men and women? Yes, there are! If you and your significant other have been fighting like crazy, the classic gender differences we’ll explore in this article might be the reason for your squabbles.
In our experience working with couples at Couples Learn, we have found that there are 3 gender differences that come up most consistently in therapy across couples of all ages and races. Often, couples don’t realize their issues are a result of differences between men and women and they think they are the only couple in the world dealing with this particular issue. Or worse, they think their partner is uniquely insensitive and flawed when in reality, he or she is just built differently.
Being aware of these examples of gender differences will help you recognize your partner’s behaviors as a gender specific way of showing love rather than flaws that need to be changed.
Read this article with the intention of gaining a new level of understanding and appreciation for your partner and see how your relationship shifts as a result.
Before we launch right in, it’s important to note that while most men and most women display the tendencies discussed below, not everyone falls into these generalizations. There may be some women that resonate more with the men’s side of things and vice versa. We also recognize there are gender nonconforming indivdiuals that may resonate with both or neither. In some individuals, it’s more about whether you resonate more with masculine or feminine energy than it is your assigned gender.
We encourage you to take what works for you from this article and leave what doesn’t. Every person and every relationship is different and while many problems are similar across couples, there are always slight variations – even when it comes to the differences between men and women.
Examples of Gender Differences Between Men and Women
Difference #1: Men are fixers, women are feelers
Sally comes home from work after a long irritating day at the office, collapses into a pile on the couch and sighs deeply, glad to be home. Sensing that she is upset, her husband John asks, “honey, what’s wrong?”
Sally launches into a story wrought with emotion about how her jerk boss yelled at her today in front of the whole office for something she didn’t even do. Sally went on to say, “I was so angry and embarrassed and felt so powerless to do anything about it!”
John, appalled and upset at hearing how his wife was treated said “did you report him to HR yet? We’ve talked about this before and they need to know how inappropriate he is when he’s upset.”
Sally responds, “no, I’m worried I’ll lose my job if I report him and you know we can’t afford that right now.”
John says “well then it’s time you look for a new job. I am sick of hearing stories like this. It’s not ok for you to be treated like that at work!”
Sally looks at John with growing frustration and says “It’s not always that bad and the pay is great. Plus, we can’t afford to change my benefits or lose maternity leave with the baby on the way. I’m not going to leave my job right now and you know that.”
John, now equally frustrated, says “well if you’re not going to do anything about the situation, I don’t know why you keep bringing it up!”
Hurt and feeling misunderstood, Sally storms out of the room leaving John annoyed and wondering what he said or did that was so wrong.
Sound familiar? Gender differences in communication are very common. Almost every couple has had an argument like this more than once. Many couples think the issue they are discussing is what leaves them both frustrated but it goes deeper than that.
How are men and women different in this example? This is a classic case of the fixer vs the feeler, one of the most common differences between men and women.
John, being a man, wants to fix things. When Sally tells him a problem, he wants to solve it as soon as possible and stop talking about it. Sally, being a feeler, wants to talk about her feelings, not find a solution. She has already decided that the best choice for her and her family is to stay with her job for the time being.
Thus, when something upsets her at work, she wants to be comforted by her man, held in his arms, and told that he understands what she is going through and he is sorry that happened to her. Women want empathy, not a solution.
When a man immediately jumps to problem solving, a woman gets frustrated because she feels like he is not listening to her or doesn’t care about how she feels. She feels rushed and like he is just trying to get the conversation over with as soon as possible so he can go back to doing what he was doing. Ultimately, she feels invalidated.
From a man’s perspective, upsetting and invalidating his woman is the last thing he is trying to do. Men want to protect and help the women they care about and fixing their problems is one way they do it. Men tend to be much more logical and straightforward in the emotional department.
In a man’s mind, if there is a problem, it needs a solution. By offering a solution, he is trying to show that he cares. If he offers a solution, the next logical step in his mind is for his woman to try it. If she rejects good solution after good solution and continues to talk about her feelings, he is going to feel like she is rejecting his help and get frustrated. He can’t understand why she doesn’t want to make the problem go away so they can both go back to feeling happy again!
Sometimes just keeping this example of the differences between men and women in mind when you discuss problems together is enough.
If a man starts to offer solutions and a woman realizes this is his way of trying to help, she might be willing to listen to his solution and maybe even try it since she knows it is coming from a place of love. If the man is offering a solution and she really just wants him to listen, she should let him know.
Better yet, before she even begins the conversation, she can let her man know whether she wants to have a “feelings” conversation or a “fixing” conversation. If she just wants to vent, she can say something like “I had the worst day at work but before I tell you about it, I want you to know I am not looking for a solution. I just need to vent and be held.”
Men, if you’re not sure how to best support your woman in any given situation, just ask. Say something like “wow honey that sounds like an awful experience! I’m so sorry you went through that today. Are you looking for a solution or did you just want to vent?”
Difference #2: Men need space when women need attention
Times of stress are hard. Times of stress are even harder when you feel unsupported by your partner. Unfortunately, there are some innate differences between men and women when it comes to how we deal with stress that can leave both feeling unsupported and misunderstood when they need each other most.
Men deal with stress by disconnecting and distancing themselves until they’ve had time to work through (and often solve) the issue, whereas women deal with stress by talking about it, becoming more involved, and connecting with others. Let’s see how this can play out in another example of gender differences.
Brian and Mary have been married for a year now and while they are very much in love, they have been feeling a bit distant from each other lately. Brian is under stress at work because he is going for a big promotion and taking on more responsibilities in an effort to impress his boss. Mary is dealing with her mother’s dementia and taking care of her several days per week.
Brian comes home from work feeling drained and anxious wondering if he did well on the big presentation he gave in front of his boss today. Mary comes home from a long day of caring for her mother feeling sad that her mother is deteriorating and scared about losing the woman that means the most to her.
Mary remembers that Brian had his big presentation today and greets him at the door with a hug and a kiss and immediately asks him how it went.
Brian tells her “it went well I think” and then sits down on the couch and turns on the game.
Mary, trying to connect to her husband says “I saw my mother today. She barely remembered who I was when I walked in.”
Brian looks at her momentarily and says “oh honey, I’m so sorry” and goes back to watching the game.
Mary tries again, “so did your boss say anything after the presentation?”
Brian answers, “he said I did a good job but you know how he is. He’s so hard to read. Hey babe, I’m gonna catch the highlights of the game for a bit before dinner, ok?”
Hurt and feeling brushed off, Mary says “umm ok, I’ll guess I’ll go prepare dinner then.”
At first glance to most women, it may seem like Brian is being completely uncaring and insensitive. Mary is trying to connect with him and he is brushing her off to watch the game!
In actuality, it’s not Brian’s insensitivity but another one of the most common differences between men and women that’s to blame for the missed connection here.
When men are stressed out, they need time to decompress before they can talk about it (IF they even want to talk about it at all.) Men’s natural instinct when stressed is to pull back, clear their mind doing something easy or mindless, and then tackle their problem and solve it.
Women have the exact opposite reaction to stress. Women want to talk about the problem (in detail) with loved ones and they won’t feel better until they’ve had the chance to do so. Women want to rehash everything that happened and how it made them feel. Once they’ve processed all the emotion around the event or issue, they will then be ready to solve the problem and/or move past it.
So, you might be asking, how are men and women both supposed to get their needs met in times of stress if they have completely different needs??
While there may be clear differences between men and women and their needs in times of stress they can still both have their needs met eventually.
Women might have to settle for waiting 30 more minutes before they get to discuss their feelings about their stressful day and men might have to decompress a little less than desired before interacting with their girlfriend/wife in order to make sure she doesn’t feel neglected. However, with a little compromise and a lot of understanding about the differences between men and women, couples can make this work.
A great action step for women is to ask your man how much time he needs to decompress after he gets home. If he doesn’t know, give him at least 20 minutes after he walks in the door to do his own thing then ask “is now a good time to talk? I want to tell you about my day.”
If he is not ready yet, DON’T take it personally. It has nothing to do with you or how he feels about you. Another great option is to schedule errands, workout classes, or happy hour with girlfriends after work to give your man some time alone in the house before you get home. That way, he will have time to decompress and be ready to attend to you as soon as you walk in the door.
Men, be clear with your woman about how much time you need to yourself after a long day and make sure when you are ready to talk, that you listen to your woman intently, empathize with her, and let her know how much you appreciate her love and support. Need help learning how to listen and empathize effectively? Click here to learn our favorite communication technique to use with couples, the Imago Dialogue.
Learning to live with these gender differences in communication can go a long way toward improving your relationship.
Difference #3: Men need to do stuff while women need to talk about stuff
While there are many ways that both men and women express love, there are certain behaviors that tend to be more typically male expressions of love and others that tend to be more typically female expressions of love. These behaviors are more differences between men and women that can affect relationships.
In general, men feel closer and validated through shared activities. They want to do fun stuff with the woman they love like watch or play sports, outdoor activities like hiking or biking, and of course, sexual activities. Men enjoy sharing experiences that are decidedly active and physical.
Women, on the other hand, feel closer and validated through communication, intimate sharing of feelings and experience, and emotional closeness. Many men tend to find such sharing and involvement uncomfortable, if not, overwhelming. While many women do enjoy physical activities and sex as much as men, they may not derive the same feeling of closeness from it if the experience doesn’t also involve sharing emotions.
Going out and doing fun things together is key to keeping your relationship fun and fresh, for both of you. Staying in and having intimate conversations over a candlelight dinner at home is key to growing and keeping emotional connection in your relationship.
This gender difference can actually be more beneficial than harmful because it adds balance to the relationship as long as you are not always doing what one person wants to do and not the other.
One of the easiest ways to stop these differences between men and women from hurting your relationship is by working together to plan your activities as a couple.
Make a list of activities/date nights that you can share with your partner. Both partners should make their own list. The list should have at least 10-15 items on it and include items from all of the following categories:
- Things you already do with your partner
- Things you used to do with your partner but don’t anymore
- Things you have never done with your partner but would like to
Choose 1 item per week from the list to do together. Rotate which list you choose from each week so that you both get to do activities that make you feel close to one another. These do not need to be extravagant, time consuming or elaborate date ideas (though some can be!) Some examples include:
- make me dinner and dessert
- sit and talk to me about your vision for the future
- go hiking with me
- go to a yoga class with me
- watch the game with me
- take me to a theme park
- ask me about my day and listen actively for at least 20 minutes
It’s great if you choose some shorter activities to do in weeks when you are pressed for time and some longer activities to do when you have more time to spend with each other but make sure to do something together at least once per week that allows you to feel connected to one another. Need some date ideas?
So there you have it! Those are the 3 most common differences between men and women, along with solutions to help you and your partner bridge the gap in communication.
Keep these gender differences in mind as you interact with your partner, especially during times of stress. Once you are able to accept that some behaviors are just a result of the way you or your partner is built genetically, you’ll be more accepting and accommodating when problems do arise.
Still struggling to understand the differences between men and women? Working with an individual therapist or couples therapist can help you navigate gender differences in communication and ensure they don’t hurt your relationship.