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Thursday, March 24, 2011

T3 - Men v. Women: Arguments

So hopefully you've read my previous three Thursday posts about predicting future breakups. If you haven't, no worries, but this post is a wrap-up of sorts to explain what psychologist and researcher John Gottman found to be generalities between men and women when arguing is going on.

While you're writing those heated scenes between your heroes and heroines (come on, I know you've got them), you might want to take note of some of the things Gottman found to make sure your characters aren't acting too far outside the norm.

According to his research, Gottman found that in 85% of marriages/relationships, the guy is the stonewaller. (Read this post here to make sure you know what a stonewaller is.) Why is this so? Simple gender differences.

I found a great explanation of this at Denver Psychotherapy and Consultation Services, LLC, that I'll share here.

"Any nursing mother can tell you that the amount of milk she produces is affected by how relaxed she feels, which is related to the release of the hormone oxytocin in the brain. A women is more able to quickly soothe herself and calm down after feeling stressed.

In contrast, a man’s adrenaline kicks in quite readily and does not calm down so easily. The male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress. For example, if a man and woman suddenly hear a very loud, brief sound, like a blowout, most likely his heart will beat faster than hers and stay accelerated for longer. The same goes for their
blood pressure — his will become more elevated and stay higher longer.

When male subjects are deliberately treated rudely and then told to relax for twenty minutes, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate. When women face the same treatment, they are able to calm down during those twenty minutes.

It’s a biological fact: Men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than are their wives or girlfriends. During relational stress, men have a greater tendency to have negative thoughts that maintain their distress, while women are more likely to think soothing thoughts that help them calm down and be conciliatory. Men, generally, either think about how righteous and indignant they feel (“I’m going to get even,” “I don’t have to take this”), which tends to lead to contempt or belligerence. Or they think about themselves as an innocent victim of their partner’s wrath or complaint (“Why is she always blaming me?”), which leads to defensiveness.

While these rules don’t hold for every male and every female, Gottman has found that the majority of couples do follow these gender differences in physiological and psychological reactions to stress. Given these dissimilarities, most marriages and relationships (including healthy, happy ones) follow a comparable pattern of conflict in which the wife or girlfriend, who is constitutionally better able to handle the stress, brings up sensitive issues. The male partner, who is not as able to cope with it, will attempt to avoid getting into the subject. He may become defensive and stonewall or even become belligerent or contemptuous in an attempt to silence her."

How familiar is that pattern of conflict in your character's lives? (Or even in your own life?) Women are often more the pursuers, trying to bring up those sensitive things, while men commonly are the retreaters. However, Gottman himself said this isn't always the case....just predominantly. That said, I'd wager that using the same rule of thumb in your fiction would be a good idea, as well.

Hope you've enjoyed this series!

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Anonymous said...

You know, I can definitely see this pattern in the relationships I have been privy to.

One exception to this is a couple in which the husband will often pursue a sensitive topic, even demanding that they discuss the topic right then.

When he doesn't like his wife's response, he gets critical, contemptuous and defensive -- all the while accusing her of doing the same.

His wife tries to reason with him and tries to seek an equitable resolution to whatever problem is being discussed, but it's as if he wants to fight, insists on having the fight, to the point of misinterpreting her efforts to express herself and understand him, and then refusing to believe she didn't mean what he assumes she meant.

When she realizes he's beyond reason, she often leaves the room or steps outside, which makes him even angrier. But within about 30 minutes to an hour, he calms down to the point that he can discuss the topic rationally.

She'd really like to know how she can skip the four horsemen and go straight to the rational discussion phase. LOL!

McKenzie McCann said...

That makes a lot of sense. You do see that a lot in reality. Men do seem to be uncomfortable with sensitive issues, that's obvious, but that explains why. It's not about a lack of 'feelings' it's more like a defensive against becoming overwhelmed. Does that mean men are more prone to stress?
Hmm, interesting food for the thought.

Michelle said...

Generally speaking, I'd say that men are more prone to stress and less able to deal with it. In my experience, anyway...

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

glad you ladies found it interesting. :)

Miss Sharp said...

So it's not his fault he's prone to act like a complete jerkwad when

Thanks, Jeannie, this was a great series!

Unknown said...

Women have a need to have their feelings validated, and men respond better to approval than disapproval

I am kim - a child psychologist denver

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.