Warriors and Lovers

Men and women are different. Anyone who has been in a heterogeneous relationship knows this. In fact, the word heterogeneous means exactly this; "consisting of parts or aspects that are unrelated or unlike each other." No wonder marriage can be so difficult! The way a man and woman argue is one specific way that we are different. Dr. John Gottman, a marital researcher has documented the different physiological reactions of men and women during an argument. Because our marriage, and any other significant relationships where there is an emotional bond or attachment, is critically important to our well being our stress response is triggered when the relationship is threatened. And men and women respond to this threat in radically different ways.

Dr. Gottman found that most men, in the midst of an argument where they are feeling pursued and attacked, or cornered, react as though their wife is a real physical threat. We men tend to gear up to physically defend ourselves like we would if we had to battle a lion or a warrior. Due to higher levels of testosterone, men's physiological arousal is one of heightened vigilance, increased heart rate and blood pressure. We are physically ready for war. Not exactly conducive for resolving an emotional conflict; we are not looking for a hug and an "I'm sorry honey, I really didn't mean that"! At the moment, and for a significant period of time thereafter, men are not physically able to respond in an emotionally connective way.

Amazingly, our heterogeneous other is able to do that. Women have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin, the bonding hormone. When experiencing similar relational stress, women are more inclined to socialize and nurture, not fight. Their natural tendency is to want to connect and give care so they pursue and persist. In the midst of an emotional conflict woman are wired with a greater ability to calm themselves. Men, on the other hand, take longer to settle down and usually need separation and space to do that.

If your spouse, most likely your husband, responds to emotional stress like a lion is about to devour him, then give him time and space to settle down. There is a critical condition to allowing this disengagement; there must be agreement to return and engage at a later time. Many couples will simply remove themselves and ignore what went on because experience tells them the same cycle will repeat. This is disastrous for the long term health of your relationship and you must develop the skills and resources to comfort and connect in the midst of conflict. Appreciating the different ways men and women are created can make a huge difference in accomplishing that.