Question: How do men and women differ emotionally, and are these differences caused by cultural influences or genetic factors?
Dr. Dobson: No doubt, some of the differences in masculine and feminine characteristics are culturally induced. It is foolish, however, to discount the impact of genetics, physiology, and inborn temperaments in understanding the sexes.
The reproductive capacity of women results in greater needs for security and stability. In other words, because of their sense of responsibility for children, females are less likely to take risks and gamble with the future. Related to this is a woman’s emotional investment in her home, which usually exceeds that of her husband. She typically cares more than he about the details of the house, family functioning, and such concerns.
There is typically a healthy tension between a men and women. He likes excitement, change, challenge, uncertainty, and the potential for huge returns on a risky investment. She likes predictability, continuity, safety, roots, relationships, and a smaller return on a more secure investment.
These contrasting inclinations work to a couple’s best advantage. She tempers his impulsive, foolish tendencies, and he nudges her out of apathy and excessive caution. These genetic tendencies have far-reaching implications. Medical science has not begun to identify all the ramifications of sexual uniqueness. We see the wisdom of the Creator in the way the sexes interrelate at this point.
The sexes also typically differ in competitive drive. Anyone who doubts that fact should observe how males and females approach a game of Ping-Pong, Monopoly, dominoes, horseshoes, volleyball, or tennis. Women may use the event as a backdrop for fellowship and pleasant conversation. For men, the name of the game is conquest. Even if the setting is a friendly social gathering in the host’s backyard, the beads of sweat on each man’s forehead reveal his passion to win. This aggressive competitiveness has been attributed exclusively to cultural influences. I don’t believe it. It is a function of testosterone and the working of the masculine brain.
There has been an effort to homogenize the personality traits of boys and girls. Boys have been encouraged to play with dolls and tea sets, and girls were given trucks and tools. It doesn’t work. To the irritation of mothers with feminist beliefs, boys turn out to be depressingly masculine, and no amount of “cross training” changes that fact.
These items are illustrative and are not intended to be exhaustive or to represent a scientific delineation of male and female differences. It is clear from even this cursory examination, however, that God made two sexes, not one, and He designed them to fit together hand in glove. Neither is superior to the other, but each is certainly unique.
Question: What advice would you give to a woman whose husband just won’t respond to her emotionally? That’s my situation. He is a good man, but he’s not romantic, and he’d rather keep his thoughts to himself. How can I deal with the longing inside me?
Dr. Dobson: Some men will never be able to meet the needs of their wives. They don’t understand how women think and have never been required to “give” to anyone. Those who are married to these unromantic and noncommunicative men must decide what is reasonable to expect and how they can forge a meaningful life together.
My advice is that you attempt to show him, without nagging or becoming angry, how you are different from him and what your unique needs are. Work to change that which can be improved in your relationship, explain that which can be understood, resolve that which can be settled, and negotiate that which is open to compromise.
Create the best marriage possible from the raw materials brought by two imperfect human beings with two distinctly unique personalities. But for all the rough edges that can never be smoothed and the faults that can never be eradicated, try to develop the best possible outlook and determine to accept reality exactly as it is.
The first principle of mental health is to accept that which cannot be changed. You could easily descend into depression over the circumstances in your life. But you can also choose to hang tough and be contented in spite of them. The operative word is choose.
Can you accept your husband just as he is? Seldom does one human being satisfy every longing and hope in the breast of another. Obviously, this coin has two sides: You can’t be his perfect woman, either.
Both partners have to settle for human foibles and faults and irritability and fatigue and occasional nighttime “headaches.” A good marriage is not one where perfection reigns: It is a relationship where a healthy perspective overlooks a multitude of “unresolvables.”
Question: Is the felt need for sex the same in both males and females?
Dr. Dobson: Many men and women differ significantly in their sexual desire. Research seems to indicate that men can become excited more quickly than women. Men are primarily aroused by visual stimulation. They are excited by feminine nudity or partial nudity.
Women, on the other hand, are typically much less visually oriented than men. Certainly, they are interested in attractive masculine bodies, but the physiological mechanism of sex is usually not triggered by what they see; women are stimulated primarily by the sense of touch and by romantic allure.
Thus, we encounter the first common source of disagreement in the bedroom: He may want her to appear unclothed in a lighted room, and she wants him to caress her in the dark.
Second, and much more important, men are not very discriminating in regard to the person living within an interesting body. A man can walk down a street and be sexually stimulated by an approaching female, even though he knows nothing about her personality, her values, or her mental capabilities. He is attracted by her beauty itself.
Women, on the other hand, are much more discriminating in their sexual interests. They less
commonly become excited by observing a good-looking charmer or by the photograph of a model; rather, their desire is usually focused on a particular individual whom they respect or admire. A woman is stimulated by the romantic aura that surrounds her man and by his character and personality. She is drawn to a man who appeals to her emotionally as well as physically.
The failure to understand the differences between males and females can lead to unnecessary frustration and guilt. Obviously, there are exceptions to these characteristic desires, but the fact remains: Sex for men is a more physical phenomenon; sex for women is a deeply emotional experience.
The Most Important Ingredient in a Lasting Marriage
If I had the power to communicate only one message to every family in America, I would specify the importance of romantic love. It provides the foundation for a woman’s self-esteem, her joy in living, and her sexual responsiveness. Therefore, men who are involved in bored, tired marriages—and find themselves locked out of the bedroom—should know where the trouble possibly lies.