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Things weren’t always so bad for Marlene and Mark. At one time they cherished the closeness they felt—all their friends used to marvel at how close and connected they were. They can still vividly recall the good times, but instead of comforting them, these memories of the closeness they once had now fill them with sadness and a deep sense of loss. They often wonder how they got to this lonely state. Their story is all the more sad because it is so common.
Marlene and Mark arrived at their chronic state of disconnection without either of them doing anything wrong. Marlene has never grasped that Mark, like most men, has a heightened sensitivity to feeling shame and inadequacy. (How could she? His impulse when he feels shame is to hide, so he can’t tell her about it. Instead, he disguises it with annoyance, impatience, or anger.) She does not understand that each time she tries to make improvements in their relationship, the overriding message Mark hears is that he is not meeting her expectations—he’s failing her—which sends him into the pain of his own inadequacy. While trying to ward off feeling like a failure, Mark is no longer sensitive to Marlene’s fear of being isolated and shut out. In the beginning of their relationship, he sensed her need for connection and wouldn't have dreamed of shutting her out. But now he has no idea that each time he rejects her overtures or raises his voice in anger—purely to protect himself—he’s pushing her further away and deeper into the pain of isolation.
It’s so easy for couples to slip into this pattern, because the different vulnerabilities that so greatly influence the way men and women interact with each other are virtually invisible. In the beginning of the relationship, the falling–in–love chemicals our brains secrete make it easy to focus on each other’s more subtle emotions. But once the effects of those chemicals wear off—within three to nine months—we need to make a more conscious effort to protect each other’s vulnerabilities. To do this, we first need to understand the different vulnerabilities of men and women and how we manage them in our relationships.
How We’re Different: Fear and Pain
The differences that underlie male and female vulnerabilities are biological and present at birth. Baby girls, from day one, are more sensitive to isolation and lack of contact. No doubt this sensitivity evolved as an important survival skill designed to keep the female in contact not only with her offspring but also with others in the group who would offer her protection. In the days of roaming predators, the only hope of survival was to help one another ward off an enemy. A woman or child left alone was sure prey. So over the millennia, females developed a kind of internal GPS that keeps them aware of closeness and distance in all their relationships. When a woman feels close, she can relax; when she feels distant, she gets anxious. This is why a baby girl can hold your gaze for a long period of time. She is comforted by the closeness the eye–to–eye contact provides. It also explains why, left alone for the same period of time, a girl baby will fuss and complain before a boy baby. This heightened sensitivity to isolation makes females react strongly to another person’s anger, withdrawal, silence, or other sign of unavailability. It is more frightening to her to be out of contact than it is for a male. This is not to say that males prefer isolation or distance; it's just that females feel more discomfort when they are not in contact.
Men have a hard time understanding a woman’s fear and the pain associated with it. One reason is that a woman’s fear provokes shame in a man: “You shouldn't be afraid with me as your protector!” This is why he gets angry when she gets anxious or upset. But there’s another reason men just don’t get women’s fear. They don’t know what it feels like. Research shows the single biggest sex difference in emotions is in the frequency and intensity of fear—how often you get afraid and how afraid you get. Girls and women both experience and express far more fear, as measured in social contexts and in laboratory experiments that induce fear. Newborn girls are more easily frightened than boys. Girls and women are more likely to feel fear in response to loud noises and sudden changes in the environment. They have more anxiety and worry a lot more than boys and men. Women have a markedly higher fear of crime, even though they are far less often the victims of it. They are more likely to think about the harmful consequences of their behavior, which helps them avoid most risky behavior. They suffer more phobias and greatly exceed men in fear of medical and dental care. The fact that they go to doctors and dentists more often may be a tribute to their courage (ability to overcome fear) or a result of their general sensitivity to anxiety and worry, which could make them fear the consequences of not going even more.
Another reason that females have more fear of harm may be that they feel more pain. The scientific data suggest that women suffer quite a bit more physical pain than males, not counting childbirth. As early as two weeks old, girls cry louder and more vigorously than boys in response to mild pain stimulus. The higher anxiety levels of females only ratchet up their sensitivity to pain. Around 90 percent of chronic pain disorders afflict women. Men have a hard time empathizing with the pain and fear of their wives, both because they're conditioned from toddlerhood to suck it up, and because it doesn’t hurt them as much!
How We’re Different: Hyperarousal and Shame
Although boy babies feel less fear and pain than girls, they have a heightened sensitivity to any type of abrupt stimulation, which gives them a propensity for hyperarousal, that is, hair–trigger reactions. Male infants startle five times more often than female infants and are provoked by a much lower stimulus—a loud stomach gurgle will do it. (You can observe this difference if you visit a neonatal nursery in a hospital.) A male’s hair–trigger propensity for hyperarousal has a distinct survival advantage. Due to his greater strength and muscle mass, the male is better equipped than the female to fight off predators. Since the primary predators of early humans stalked and attacked stealthily, males needed to respond with fight–or–flight behavior in a fraction of a second.
Because of their high sensitivity to arousal, newborn boys have to guard against the discomfort of overstimulation. This is why boy babies have to take eye contact and other intimate contact in small doses. If you have a boy and a girl, you may have noticed this difference. Your baby girl was able to hold eye contact almost as soon as you brought her home from the hospital. You could gaze into her big eyes (she widens them to draw in your gaze) for hours on end. But your little boy was less likely to hold that kind of eye contact before six to nine months of age, if at all. When you looked deeply into his eyes, he probably looked down, then back at your eyes, then up, then back at your eyes, then down the other side, then back at your eyes, then up the other side, then back at your eyes. He was interested in you—or he wouldn’t have kept looking back—and he certainly wasn’t afraid of you. His intermittent attention was his way of staying in contact with you without becoming overwhelmed. It’s important to note that this is a function of his sensitivity to arousal, not his ability to focus, as many parents mistakenly infer. Boy babies can focus on you if you do not look directly into their eyes, and they have no trouble focusing on inanimate objects.
When it comes to relationships, women often mistake this guarded response, which many males retain throughout life, for lack of interest or even loss of love. Most of the time, he hasn’t lost interest; he’s merely trying to avoid the overwhelming discomfort of a cortisol dump that comes with hyperarousal. Cortisol is a hormone secreted during certain negative emotions. Its job is to get your attention by making you uncomfortable so that your discomfort drives you to do something to make the situation better. The pain a woman feels when her man shouts at her is caused by the sudden release of cortisol. A man feels this same discomfort when he is confronted with her unhappiness or criticism. He may look like he is avoiding her, but he is essentially trying to avoid a cortisol hangover for the next several hours.
So how does the male propensity for hyperarousal translate into hypersensitivity to shame? First of all, boys and girls both experience shame, which is a stop–and–hide response. The root meaning of the word shame is “to cover or conceal.” When you’re embarrassed you want to crawl into a hole, and a child feeling shame wants to cover his face because he can’t bear to look at you. If you are playing with a boy or girl infant and you suddenly break eye contact and turn away, he or she will experience the physical displays of shame: reddened face, contorted facial expressions, writhing muscles, and other signs of more general distress, especially if he/she was interested in or enjoying the eye contact. In this way, shame is an auxiliary of interest and enjoyment—babies have to be interested in something or feel enjoyment to experience shame when it stops abruptly. (We learn to label this abrupt drop in interest or enjoyment as “rejection,” which is what you feel when your interesting phone conversation with a friend is abruptly interrupted by his call–waiting.) Because little girls are more comfortable with longer periods of eye contact, caregivers tend to stay engaged and break contact with them less often, meaning little girls experience the shame response associated with abrupt disconnection far less often. On the other hand, if parents or caregivers don’t understand a little boy’s need for smaller doses of eye contact, they will break the intimate contact abruptly when the little boy looks away, constantly reinforcing the shame response, which is amplified by the extra kick of cortisol that the response produces. Males who experience this over and over develop a hypersensitivity to shame. Studies show that parents gaze into the eyes of their little girls (and talk sweetly to them while doing it) 50 percent more than they look into the eyes of their little boys. With their sons they laugh and make nonverbal utterances, wave toys in front of them, tickle them, or pick them up to shake and roughhouse with them. Both kinds of play are of high quality—children and parents enjoy them immensely. But they are qualitatively different. Little boys need the intimate contact—albeit in small doses—just as much as they need the active play. Little girls need active play as much as they need intimate contact.
Intimacy is riskier for little boys when they have consistently felt shame in conjunction with it—if I like it too much, the boys learn, they’ll take it away, because I don’t do it right. From the very beginning, many little boys don't feel like they can measure up in intimate relationships. Little girls can hold eye contact, while little boys are easily overwhelmed and have to look away. The eye–contact gap is especially sad because eye contact is our principal source of intimacy throughout our lives. Boys and men are deprived of the very intimacy that would help them overcome their vulnerability to shame. If you have a baby boy, you must understand that he likes eye contact, but you have to be more patient with him and not start tickling him when he looks away from you. The best thing you can do for your infant son to help him manage shame in the future is allow him to feel the comfort of eye contact gradually, at his pace. Keep looking at him, and you should notice that he will stay focused on your eyes for longer and longer periods. Just being sensitive to the invisible differences in male and female vulnerabilities can shift your perception and deepen your connection—without talking about it.
How We Avoid Fear and Shame
Most of the time a woman's fear and a man’s shame are unconscious—outside awareness. You can live a lifetime without ever hearing a man say, “I feel ashamed when you get scared of my driving” or a woman say, “I want that Gucci bag to keep my fear of deprivation at bay.” Instead you will see the tip–off indicators of fear and shame: resentment and anger (blaming your shame or fear on someone else); materialism (providing illusions of status for a man and security for a woman); people pleasing (doing things detrimental to the self to gain the admiration or approval of others); obsessions (thoughts you can't get out of your mind); and compulsive behavior like impulsive shopping, overeating, and binge drinking. All the above have temporary pain–relieving effects that work for both shame and fear.
It is not our innate differences in fear and shame that drive us apart; it is how we manage the differences. If you manage them with criticism, defensiveness, withdrawal, or blame, your relationship will fail; it’s as simple as that. If you manage them with the inspiration to improve, appreciate, connect, or protect—as you'll learn to do in this book—your relationship will flourish. But it will take conscious attention for a while to overcome the force of habits that began forming very early in your life.
From early childhood, girls avoid fear by building alliances and forging emotional bonds—there is comfort and strength in numbers. Without thinking about it, Marlene reacted to her unconscious fear of isolation by seeking more closeness from Mark and her friends. This predominant female coping mechanism is called tend and befriend.(*) Women respond to stressful situations by protecting themselves and their young through nurturing behaviors—the tend part of the model—and forming alliances with others, particularly women—the befriend part. Women bond around helping one another through troubled times. The more they talk about their troubles, the closer they feel.
Because emotional bonds serve as a woman's primary source of comfort, it appalls women when men try to cope with stress in ways that seem to threaten emotional bonds, for example: distraction (work, TV, computer, hobbies); status seeking (work, sports, acquiring expensive toys); emotional shutdown (if you feel nothing, you won’t feel inadequate); anger (if you numb the pain you won’t feel it); and aggression (if you exert power and control, you won’t feel the powerlessness of failure and inadequacy).
What women have an even harder time understanding is this: For the average male, relationships are not a reliable source of comfort. A man’s greatest pain comes from shame, due to the inadequacy he feels in relationships; therefore, going to the relationship for comfort is like seeking solace from the enemy. Talking about the relationship, which is guaranteed to remind him of his inadequacy, is the last method he would use for comfort, in the same category as choosing a bed of nails for a good night’s sleep. This is why he often goes to a fight–or–flight response to ease his distress and not to a heart–to–heart talk with the woman in his life. Fight or flight is the male equivalent of tend and befriend.
From the Hardcover edition.
Even thought there was only one chapter that I felt was exceptional, I found the book worth reading and worth the money.
Specifically, you get through quite a long read and you come to a chapter that starts out by says something to the effect that since you have gotten this far, you might as well get the secret to a happy marriage. Then you are told that hugging and kissing with each other 4 to 5 times a day (on waking, one leaving each other in the morning, on greeting each other at night and just before going to sleep) is how to improve your marriage without talking about it.
Up until that point the book is filled with interesting explanations as to why men "don't want" and "are trained" not to want to be "talked to" as a way of improving a relationship. There are lots of other such things in the first part of the book that explain why learning communication skills may not be the best way of solving a marriage/relationship problem. This is quite different from many relationship counseling approaches and I found very refreshing.
A thumbs up but I wouldn't use this as my primary book for solving a relationship problem. There are other books I would recommend for people concerned about their marriage.
17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 21, 2011
PLEASE READ THIS BOOK! I read this book in 2009, and I often lend it out or recommend it to other women. I learned that my husband does not see many situations as I do, and I learned how to respond to and respect that. I really do see him differently now, and I think about his actions and words differently. This helps me sort through things when we argue. (Married 12 yrs). The book addresses men and women separately in different chapters. The heart of the matter lies in shame and fear. The fear side relates to feelings of women, and I completely identified with the writing on this issue. The shame side relates to men's feelings. I read the book before my huband did, and sometimes I would stop and say, "Do you really feel this way.." and I would read him an excerpt. He agreed completely with these statements. Basically, your husband feels shame/failure when you are upset or ranting/complaining, and this leads to a husband who lashes out harshly or backs away and won't talk (which is very frustrating to many women and thus leads to a vicious cycle of fighting). After I read the book I felt compelled to type up a summary of the items I wanted to focus on in the future in order to improve our relationship--so that I could refer to it from time to time: The "Power Love Formula" gives one a set of steps to follow each day to keep his/her relationship stronger and more connected. Also, the nightly shame/fear shake out is a nightly embrace without any words/talking about the day. The time during the embrace allows one to let go of all the junk that's happened that day and to remember that the connection with one's spouse is above all of it. It kind of brings one back to center with his/her spouse. On the subject of connection, the book explains that women should "step into the puddle" with their husbands by being emotionally attuned to him when he is upset and realizing that it is not usually comforting to most men to TALK about the issues (which is the opposite of most women) (for men the book explains that they must realize that talk IS comforting to their wives and is IMPORTANT), and that the woman should stop and think about how she would have reacted to her husband in the very beginning of their relationship (before any baggage was created). Often the power of touch is very great for a man, and just touching his arm, hugging him, but then giving him some space or time, will be much appreciated by him. However, she could be available to do something he is good at which can replace his sense of failure with a sense of competence and mastery. Before talking to your husband about an issue, imagine feeling close to him, think about how you would feel if these were your last moments, and/or of a time when you were proud of him. Again, the power of touch is important. The discussion should be non-accusing and non-blaming. The book said that men may need to fidget when you talk---this was an eye opener for me because it would drive me insane for my husband to do this! It was insulting to me until I read this part. The book explained the fidgeting is because emotions can be more physically uncomfortable for him due to greater arousal level and blood flow to the muscles (this is fully explained in early chapters with studies of baby boys vs baby girls, etc...). The above is mainly from the chapters addressing women, but rest assured the chapters addressed to men are wonderful too, and they ring
14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 31, 2010
After a really promising relationship crashed & burned, I was complaining to a guy friend of mine about how I'd been hurt. Problem was, he knew the guy who had just dumped me, so he knew he wasn't "just some jerk who's afraid of commitment." He gently recommended this book, saying it had helped him & his wife understand each other a lot better. I wanted to punch him in the face. Understand, I'm not a kid. I was married for over 15 years and could probably get a degree in psychology from all the books I've read about relationships and all the marriage counseling I went through with my husband. But there I was...divorced and now alone AGAIN.
I read the book only out of respect for my friend. I hated to admit it, but it really did give me some great insight into what went wrong. And guess what--a big part of the problem was my obsession with "great communication." I tend to think of men as being insensitive to women's needs and fears. But then I caught myself reading about men's needs & fears and thinking, "well that's dumb, he needs to just get over it." WHAT!!?? Ouch. Maybe I need to work on that. I could point to some irrational behavior on the part of my ex in response to what I thought of as his dumb fears...but I could also see a lot of irrational behavior on my own part, in response to my fears which he probably didn't understand, either.
We women tend to think of ourselves as the relationship experts and think men are clueless. Well, men ARE clueless, but we are just as clueless in our own way. That was very hard to swallow, but I feel like I have some more tools now to help me be a more compassionate person and a better partner to someone down the road. And I even feel like I can understand my sons a little better now, too--bonus! I'm recommending this book to all my friends.
12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 27, 2013
Men, Men. Why are most books and advice telling women how to please men. Maybe more men should do some reading and learn about women. We want affection, emotional involvement, time spent sharing and someone whos has a clue about what we want in bed. Try learning about us for a change.
6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2012
I'm about halfway through the book and I'm so exhausted by all the stuff I'm supposed to do and relearn that it seems easier to divorce his *** and move in with a girlfriend...
6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 9, 2009
At a very critical point in my marriage, I presented this book to my husband to read. He read it first and was so comforted to know he wasn't alone - the book is very anectodal, which also makes it easy to read and relatable. He felt that after 20 years together, he finally had an understanding of where I was coming from and no longer felt so resentful. I had the same experience after my turn at the book. Men and women approach relationships differently and have different expectations. This book really put this into perspective and gave us some very easy to use tools to reconnect. It is still a journey, but I now feel we are at least walking the same path. I have recommended this book to so many friends - even those in healthy, positive relationships.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2011
After reading this book, I could finally see things from my husbands point of view. By helping me to understand the real differences between men and women, our minds and emotions, I have been able to modify how I react in situations to stop a fight before it starts. I know what to expect from my husband. Actions that used to hurt my feelings don't anymore because I finally know what they really meant to him. An added bonus from reading this book I have been able to apply what I learned to raising my son as well. He is a seven year old man in the making and I know more of what he needs now too.
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2007
I'm not sure I would recommend this book. It's a lot about how talking does more harm than good, specifically that ¿having a talk¿ evokes shame. This is because you know that if you were doing things right, there would be no need for a ¿talk¿. Yet reading this book can feel like ¿having a talk¿ ¿ the worst one you can imagine. You will find out you¿ve been doing many more things wrong than you could ever have imagined on your own. Also, I wish the authors would detail more about their credentials. Are their theories based on research? What have their peers said about their theories? What is their educational background - what degrees from what schools? What is their professional experience? It¿s a powerful book, being read by people in deep distress. I would like to know that they have solid credentials as they take on this subject matter with this audience.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2010
This book is good in that it asks you to look at yourself and see the things that YOU are doing that trigger the very things that you don't like about your mate. It also teaches you to try to understand and think like your mate. The corrections come from within which is why you can "Improve without talking about it". Its not a fix all, but definitely gave me some insight on some things that I need to work on.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 6, 2012
Although I have not read this book yet, I am trying to read through all the comments and insight to see if its something I need. What I am having a hard time understanding, from what people are saying, is its seems that we as women have to be the ones to read the book and change the way we are and not the other way around. If women like to talk and men dont why is that we need to be the one to make the full change and learn to communicate with acutally communicating and men dont have to communicate. Maybe thats not the way the book is but thats what I am getting. As a 36 yr old married women for almost 10 years and 2 kids, yes I like to try and talk to my husband. There are tons of issues between us now and I dont see how us NOT talking it through cant help alittle. He has no idea whats in my head and I dont know his head either. So how are we to not get all our cards on the table if we keep quiet all the time. my husband has done some pretty crapy stuff to me over the last 4 years and I have been veryyyyyy forgiving but I feel by not talking, he is simply patting himself on the back that he got away with everything and its water under the bridge. Not the case. I am confused.Alot. And not sure where to go from here and weather this book will help me or make me want to through it in the ocean. Any thoughts from those who have read it.?
2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2011
As i read this book i decided to try things that were mentioned...and they work. My relationship feels fresh and filled with honest love again. We are re-connecting. Great book, dont be ashamed to read it, youll be glad you did!!
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2011
Right away in the first several pages there were many "aha" moments for me. I saw myself so clearly in the discription of womens feelings and reactions, our marriage dynamic almost mirrors this book. My husband has agreed to read it too, and tell me if it accurately describes him too. We will proceed from there. I have to say though that even without that confirmation, my attitude toward him and the feelings i am projecting have been modified and I have already noticed a positive change for us. Thank you Pat and Steve for writing a book that may very well be the savior of our marriage!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 4, 2011
It did for me. I don't think like a guy, I think like a girl. Sometimes, that is the problem. This book delves into the differences & how to catch yourself & overcome these bumps in the road of your marriage. I'd highly recommend it to anyone, but esp women!
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Posted December 30, 2010
I wish i had these tip before I was married, they really help when done with practice, and great read for those looking to improve their marriage!
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Posted October 3, 2014
Posted March 17, 2014
Posted October 4, 2013
I wish I'd known about this book years ago. I went to a relationship therapist who recommended we read this book. I decided to read it first without mentioning it to my husband. It contains such basic information about the complex differences in how and why men and women act and react in such different ways, and gives examples. Within the first two weeks of reading and using the knowledge I was given, the atmosphere in our home is completely different; not perfect, but so much better. I realized how much I impacted the attitudes of everyone in the house. My strong will and independent nature comes across as threatening and insulting, and this book showed me why. I'm still the same person, but by working on me first, I've seen remarkable changes in my husband. I hope one day he'll read this, but not yet; I'm still reading and working on me. Simple changes can make a huge difference. Ladies, you owe it to yourselves to read this book! It's one of the nicest, peace promoting things you can do for your relationship.
Posted January 6, 2013
This book is a must for anyone feeling a distance in their relationship! It is filled with great advice that when you think about it was right in front of you the whole time! Anyone who is married or ever plans to be married read this book if you want the tools to help your marriage last.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2012
This book is totally worth reading. Its not a miracle book. This book will not be helpfull if you are reading it with an angry heart. You need to have an open mind n open heart, n throw away all pride. Expectations play a major role on the fate of a marriage...both parties may have had unspoken expectations, so both may have been disapointed through out the marriage. When ppl get married they make the mistake of thinking they are entitled to so many things or they feel they deserve to be treated like this or like that. Marriage is about choosing to love the other person selflessly, its about loving them because u want to. Not whether they deserve it or not. Love is not keeping track of the spouses wrong and all the times they are forgiven. If you are keeping track of how much you have forgiven ur spouse, then u probably havent truly forgiven him with all ur heart. This book helped me realize perseptions can be deceiving, and expectations can be the path to disappointment. When you truly love someone you throw away pride, and become willing to be the first to bend, the first to be humble, the one to be willing to examine self and see where there is room for self improvement. No one is perfect, so there is ALWAYS room for improvent, even if the spouse is the one making the "big mistakes"Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 16, 2011