Saturday, August 5, 2006

Boys and girls, men and women (1)

Do wives really want husbands to share their feelings and thoughts with them?
 
Girls play with dolls, boys play with guns.

Since I grew up with five sisters older than me, I played with dolls (the paper kind where you had to color the dolls and their various clothes and accessories, cut them out and mix and match them all). My sisters and I also played with miniature plastic spoons, forks, cups and plates, cakes made of mud, setting up an imaginary house for an imaginary family.

But since I also grew up in a compound where the next door kids were almost all boys, I played with guns, or more accurately, with rubber bands and paper bullets we used in waging war against the boys in a nearby house. My fellow boys and I imagined ourselves as knights in shining armor while we were dressed in jackets and helmets we borrowed from the older guys in the compound who had graduated into the more manly sports of go-karting, scooter racing and girl chasing. I remember one time when we opened the old, rusty side gate of the compound, and we charged down the road shooting our paper bullets against the next door boys who had barricaded the street with large boxes.

I passed by that old compound a few weeks ago, traveling on an FX taxi from Stop and Shop, Sta. Mesa, Manila on my way to Pasig. The ancestral house had been torn down in order to give way to a proposed townhouse project. And the boys of my childhood years? Some are still there, some have moved away to distant countries. Most have gotten married and established families where their sons and daughters are now the ones playing with guns and dolls. Still others have gone through tough times in their lives and relationships.

How women measure the quality of a marriage

Jenet Jacob, a social science fellow of The Heritage Foundation, in reviewing the work of W. Bradford Wilcox (please see the July 2, 2006 post), states, to wit,

Men’s ability to emotionally connect is the most important factor when women evaluate the quality of their marriages.
Emotional connection is achieved through conversation and the sharing of feelings, thoughts, ideas and plans between a man and a woman. I remember one sermon by Ptr. Chuck Swindoll in his “Insight for Living” radio program where he mentioned that women love it when men show emotional vulnerability, some cracks in their armor.

Most women would say that their number one problem is trying to make their boyfriend or husband open up and share things with them. When it comes to this issue of emotional connection and sharing, most of the time men come out looking like they are more to be blamed than women. As the title of a David Clarke book puts it, “Men are clams, Women are crowbars.” Women, it seems, are perennially trying, cajoling, pleading, pressuring, nagging their men to open up and share their feelings.

There may be some truth in this. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot in their book “Relationships” (copyright 1998; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA; reprinted in the Philippines by Christian Literature Crusade and available at National Bookstore branches), in pages 64 to 67, state some of the differences between men and women:
[1] Men are not as in touch with their emotions as women are.

[2] Men are more independent than women are.

[3] Men are more abstract than women are.

[4] Women focus on the here-and-now more than men do.

[5] Women are not as competitive as men are.
As you can see from the list above, men do have problems with expressing their emotions. If you want to read more about the works of Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, their website is www.realrelationships.com.

H. Norman Wright, in his marriage manual “How to speak your spouse’s language” makes the following observations on the differences between men and women:

[1] A man has to think about his feelings, analyze them and collect what few words he has in his emotional vocabulary in order to express them.

[2] Men need to think about their feelings first in order to express them. Women can feel, talk and think at the same time.

[3] The connection between the left and right hemispheres of a woman’s brains is a superhighway with 40% more nerve connectors than a man’s brains. This explains why girls pick up language skills earlier than boys. Because of this difference, men are single-minded and focused, while women are multi-tasking.
(In our terms, the connection between the hemispheres of a woman’s brain is a superhighway, an NLEX or SLEX, while that of a man is a crowded eskinita.)
Thus we can see that a man’s inability or reticence to share his emotions with his girlfriend or wife, to a large extent, may be due to brain differences, family upbringing and cultural values. But there also may be some reasons or factors for this inability or reticence where the blame (if I can use this word) totally lies with the woman. Uh oh, I am treading on sensitive matters here. But please let me explain …

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs has written a best-selling book entitled “Love and Respect” (copyright 2004; Integrity Publishers Inc; published in the Philippines by Church Strengthening Ministry Inc and available at National Bookstore branches). I love this book and I respect Dr.Eggerichs' views and insights. He states in page 256, to wit,

As a rule, a wife wants more emotional intimacy only on subjects that increase feelings of love between her and her husband. When the husband shares any kind of “dark side” struggles, let’s say with sexual temptation, she grows uncomfortable, or even hurt and angry. She may instruct him to be silent and to change. In other words, be like a woman: “We don’t lust for men’s bodies, so don’t you lust for women’s.”
It is quite all right for her to share her struggles with body image, weight control, fears, and worries. The husband is to listen and empathize with her on these subjects. She feels so much better afterward because, in her mind, this increases feelings of love between them. The problem, of course, is that he doesn’t struggle with body image, weight control, fears, and worries as she does. He has different struggles. Because his wife does not have those same challenges, however, his male concerns usually don’t count when it comes to emotional intimacy.

So the husband clams up, especially after being scolded. This, then, contributes to the wife’s conclusion that he cannot be emotionally intimate. In actuality, she has told him not to be open. She has a high standard of what emotional intimacy is, but it must entail energizing the love between them and releasing her burdens. If he communicates something that isn’t energizing and it creates a burden for her (i.e., sexual temptations he may have when he sees attractive women), he is out of line.

So, tell me, what’s a guy to do? He responds to his wife’s insistent requests to open up and share his emotions, thoughts, ideas and struggles. But when does, he gets shot down in mid-flight and told to be quiet and say no more about it. Why? Because as Dr. Eggerichs says, “As a rule, a wife wants more emotional intimacy only on subjects that increase feelings of love between her and her husband.”

Secular psychologist John Gray in his book “Mars and Venus, Together Forever” (copyright 1994, 1996; first published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by Vermillion, an imprint of Ebury Press; available at National Bookstore branches), pages 199-201, in talking about “emotional role reversal” makes some very interesting observations about how women sometimes feel when boyfriends or husbands do open up emotionally. Among other things, Gray says:

[1] When a man shares how upset he feels when she talks about her feelings, sometimes a woman reacts by feeling, “I didn’t realize he was so sensitive. Now I have to be careful all the time. I don’t feel safe saying anything to him.”

[2] When a man shares openly about all his problems in response to her talking about hers, she reacts by feeling, “He has enough problems. I don’t want to burden him with mine. He is just too needy.”

[3] When a man shares his deep feelings of insecurity and his need to be loved, she reacts by feeling, “I care about his emotions but I feel like I can’t be me around him.”

[4] When a man shares his hurt feelings and cries more than she does, she reacts by feeling, “I am embarrassed by this, but when he cries all the time, I can respect his feelings but I lose all my romantic feelings for him.”
So, tell me, what’s a guy to do? Do wives really want their husbands to share their thoughts and feelings, problems and struggles with them, or not? Maybe your boyfriend or husband has tried to open up to you in the past but since you shut him down in mid-sentence as it were, he no longer feels safe in sharing his unique set of needs, fear and struggles with you.

The portion I quoted above from Dr. Eggerichs’ book (his website is www.loveandrespect.com) comes from his chapter discussing a man’s sexuality, his desire for sexual intimacy with his wife, and his struggles with sexual temptations because of his visual orientation. In pages 257 and 258, Dr. Eggerichs wisely counsels wives, as follows,

If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have. When you shame him, punish him, or deprive him, he feels dishonored for who he is. If your husband feels that you do not respect his struggle, his desire for you, and his maleness, he’ll pull back from you. But he needs you; you knew that before marriage. As you recognize his need and seek to meet it, you will find him reaching out to meet yours.
In other words, it’s a quid pro quo situation. Wives want emotional intimacy in sharing their concerns, hopes, fears and worries with their husbands. Well and good. But men, as we have seen above, are different from women and have their own unique set of needs, fears and struggles. Wives, as Dr. Eggerichs wisely counsels, should be ready and accepting and forbearing when their husbands do open up and share their own fears and worries and struggles.

Or perhaps I should say it this way. Girls should really learn how to play with guns, rubber bands and paper bullets. Boys, on the other hand, should play (very, very occasionally only, okay?) with dolls,miniature plastic spoons, forks, cups and plates, cakes made of mud, setting up an imaginary house for an imaginary family …

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