Intimacy: Men and Intimacy
Are men and women really different? Absolutely! Let's look at five key differences between men and women that most dramatically affect intimacy. Note that these findings are generalizations and summaries that apply to most men or women, but not to all men or all women.
1. Men Communicate Facts; Women Communicate Emotions
Studies show that the average male uses about 12,000 words a day, the entire day, and most of those are spent relating to people at work or on the job. They will talk at length in the workplace in order to successfully complete an assignment, project or task. But the focus is typically on facts. Here's a few ways men gobble up their brain's average word count:
o Giving instructions to other employees
o Giving input to co-workers
o Debating the current challenges of their job with coworkers at lunchtime.
o Talking to customers
o Talking to his boss
o Giving input at business meetings
o Making business phone calls
A woman, on the other hand, averages 25,000 words. Now these aren't just any words, but words that must truly impact the heart within her and the hearts of the people around her. In other words, when a woman spends her day in the workplace, generally there are few opportunities for her to really dig in and use her allotment of words.
o Lengthy conversations with other women
o Phone calls to friends, sometimes to describe for upwards of an hour the details of one single event.
o Story-telling to children
o Recapping stories she has read or heard on television.
A woman wants meaningful communication, memorable conversations, and instead she gets a few words, mainly focused on the facts. This is because a man's brain operates so very differently from hers. And it's this very truth that often makes it difficult to establish and maintain intimacy. Why? At the end of the day – whether the woman works in an office or in the home – there is a huge difference in word counts between the man and the woman. A man has spent nearly all his words. He comes home tired and drained, looking for a place to recharge for the next day's battle at the office.
A woman, however, is just warming up. She has thousands of words left to speak and since her husband's word count is depleted, the conversations often wind up sounding like nothing more than question-and-answer sessions. This reality continues in the bedroom as well. Whereas a man typically pursues actions over words, his wife will most often want to connect relationally through talking before engaging in sex.
2. A Man's Identity is Achievement-Oriented; A Woman's Identity is Relationship-Oriented
A man's sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results, through success and accomplishment. In general, men are more interested in achieving goals and proving their competence rather than people and feelings. Men rarely talk about their problems unless they are seeking "expert" advice. The bottom line is that for many men, their self esteem is career and achievement related. Certainly achievement in the bedroom is no less important to a man.
On the other hand, women value love, communication, beauty and relationships. A woman's sense of self is defined through their feelings and the quality of her relationships. Women spend a lot of time supporting, nurturing and helping each other. They experience fulfillment through sharing and relating. The bottom line: talking, sharing and relating is how a woman feels good about herself. This is why a woman is more likely to judge the sexual relationship based more on the quality of the marital relationship than on her sexual achievement.
3. Men Are Solution-Focused; Women Are Feelings-Focused
Basically, men have a much more difficult time relating to their own feelings, and may feel very threatened by the expression of feelings in their presence. This may cause them to react by withdrawing or attempting to problem solve. On the other hand, women want empathy. They often just want someone to sincerely listen to them. Women want to have their feelings validated. Instead, men often try to change a woman's mood when she is upset by offering solutions to her problems, which she interprets as discounting and invalidating her feelings. This difference between men and women can exacerbate sexual problems in the marriage. Whereas the man wants to simply "solve" the issue, his wife will want to first be heard and understood. Instead, of solving the problem, the woman's desire is to have her feelings and emotions validated.
4. Men Want Activity; Women Want Relational Connection
If you mention intimacy to a man, they most likely will imagine a host of things that fly in the face of what you're thinking about. Here are a few differences in the way women look at intimacy, feelings, and emotions:
o Deep emotional connection
o Daily time sharing their heart
o Daily time hearing the heart of the one they love
o The ability to cry easily and together at emotional moments
o A sensitivity to know immediately when feelings are hurt
o An understanding of each other's dreams and goals
o Closeness of the heart and soul
Men have very little idea about these concepts of intimacy. Their brains are soaked in testosterone, remember. This means that they are fact-focused. Intimacy means something entirely different to most men. Take a look at this list:
o Deep physical connection
o Hand-holding, hugging, kissing
o An understanding of each other's physical needs
o The ability to communicate physical needs
o Physical time alone together
o A sensitivity to know when physical needs are present
These two lists illustrate a very important difference between men and women. When defining intimacy (a deep emotional connection), according to renowned sociologist Dr. Deborah Tannen, most men and women do not see eye-to-eye on intimate matters. In other words, men and women define intimacy very differently.
Women usually view intimacy as "deep talking" or connecting through words. This is why my wife does not usually feel "intimate" when we watch TV or "do" something. Instead, she feels a strong connection when we talk or communicate at a deep level, sharing feelings and needs. On the other hand, men usually view intimacy as "doing things" or connecting through activity (e.g., TV, sex, wrestling, or whatever). This is why I do not feel "intimate" when we are merely talking. Now, you get me talking while I'm fishing or playing ping-pong, then I feel connected because of the combination of action and words. This difference certainly impacts a couple's sexual relationship. Men often view sex as a way to secure intimacy, in that the activity of sex leads to a feeling of intimacy with his wife. On the other hand, women view sex as a consequence of the relationship, in that a good relationship leads to a desire for sex. It's no wonder sex is one of the top conflicts in marriage—look at the difference in how sex is used in the relationship. The man uses sex to feel an intimate connection with his wife, while the woman uses an intimate connection to have sex. We are so different!
5. Men Want To Win; Women Want To Bond
Along with the differences we've already discussed, men are generally much more competitive. They want to win even when all that's at stake is the family Scrabble title. They want to notch a victory or find a solution or invent something. For example, when it comes to shopping, men generally see the outing as a time to conquer. Women, on the other hand, see it as a relaxing time to chat and catch up on the week's news or browse shop after shop to see what fashions are in style. This same mentality in reverse is why most hunters are men. You probably think men hunt to help cut back on the meat bill, right? Wrong. Sure a man enjoys bringing home a month's worth of dinners and providing for his family. But he could do that at the supermarket just as successfully.
Hunting, though, fills that recreational need to win. Women, though, are more likely to get emotionally involved on a hunting trip. A woman will see a herd of deer while out hunting with her husband and she'll see Bambi, Bambi's mother, Bambi's friends and family members. Bambi's young sweet girlfriend.
She sees relationships and interaction and strong relational bonds between the deer.
A man sees a trophy catch. He pictures the deer strapped to his truck and he thinks, I'm one shot away from victory.
I've actually known couples where in this situation the woman jumps up and screams out a warning to the deer. "Run! He's going to shoot!"
In Conclusion: The Key is Understanding
The more you know about each other's differences, the more empathy and compassion you both develop. The better you both grasp the idea that…
o his brain is soaked in testosterone; her brain has only been lightly sprinkled with testosterone
o he desires to speak less than you and wants to communicate facts; she desires to speak more than you and wants to talk about her emotions
o his identity is often based on achievement; her identity is often based on relationships
o he would rather solve a problem than talk about how he feels about the problem; she would rather talk about how the problem feels than how to solve the problem
o he wants to do something rather than talk about it; she wants to connect on a deep, emotional level
o to him, winning is more important than bonding; to her, bonding is more important than winning
Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families.
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