Men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than their wives according to leading researcher on marriage and family Dr. John Gottman. He found that men are more physiologically reactive to relational conflicts and stress than women. One reason Gottman believes this to be true lies in our evolutionary heritage since males whose bodies reacted quickly and sustained vigilance were more likely to survive and procreate. Women learned to calm down quicker since their job was to nurture and enhance the survival of their children.
This explains why women tend to pursue conflict while men tend to avoid the discussion. Men tend to either shut down, become defensive, or lash out all in an attempt to end the argument. We also tend to move quickly into problem solver mode to curtail the discussion when women may prefer to simply process the issues without seeking a solution. All relationships have conflict, but couples have different styles for dealing with their conflicts. Understanding our differences and accepting that we tend to approach conflict differently can be helpful. Our gender differences can contribute to marital problems, but don’t cause them.
So how do we solve conflict if we approach it so differently? For starters, accept your differences and stop assuming that your partner should respond in the same way you do. We’re wired differently, think differently, feel differently, and react differently. Marriage is complex and not appreciating that our personalities, values, and lifestyles vary can complicate our ability to deal with conflict. In fact, Gottman believes that most of our marital arguments cannot be completely resolved. The best we may achieve is agreeing to disagree.
How can men and women deal with conflict more effectively since it’s unavoidable? Read next week’s blog to learn strategies to accept, cope, and work through conflict without destroying your relationship. Believe it or not conflict can actually result in a greater connection and more intimacy.