If you’ve ever read best-selling author John Gray’s book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, then you know he believes communication styles between men and women differ significantly and it affects everything from emotional needs, to modes of behavior, to coping mechanisms and stress. He also claims these commonly occurring conflicts between men and women are similar across culture.
But do his theories translate into military life? Do military life stressors impact a couple’s communication styles more so than civilian couple’s life stressors? According to Gray, the two populations have way more in common than not.
“Men and women shouldn’t blame each other or ignore their differences,” Gray said. “We should embrace them and focus instead on achieving equality and diversity. (Military couples are no different).”
A marriage counselor and lecturer for more than 35 years, Gray has worked extensively with the military community and believes the top three differences between men and women—whether civilian or military—are our emotions, how we cope with stressors, and our different emotional needs.
Though Gray is careful not to generalize or stereotype gender behaviors, his observations seem to resonate with a vast majority of Americans who tune into his live 90-minute daily online chat.
So how do these top three differences manifest between men and women? Here’s what he had to say based on his experiences.
Women talk about feelings while men offer solutions
“Women tend to talk about their problems to feel better,” said Gray, who has published 25 books. “They gather together and talk their way to feeling better. Men find distractions like exercising to help them calm down first.”
Gray said many times a woman simply wants to talk about a stressful day or experience, or about something that upset her. However, men see this urge to talk things out as a woman asking for his help in solving what he thinks are her problems. This can invalidate how she feels and may lead to arguments. Men in turn become frustrated because they’re only trying to help. Hence, the number one complaint by women is, “I don’t feel heard,” Gray said.
A man’s deepest fear is that he’s not good enough or that he is incompetent
Gray said when a soldier in combat faces danger it causes extreme stress and thus strong negative emotions. Therefore, when he returns home and his spouse is stressed out and upset, he may misinterpret it because of his experience. PTSD also complicates their communication.
“Men under moderate stress tend to demonstrate less emotional stress than women,” Gray said. “So when a spouse displays strong negative emotions over (what her soldier perceives) as a minor matter, he’s is likely to think she is making a big deal about nothing and in turn overreact to her distress.”
The scenario continues: She says she isn’t upset. He thinks that she is and tries to help. An argument ensues to the point where he feels like the enemy. “He then becomes emotional,” Gray said, “and this activates combat related stress that (may) have been dormant since returning home. He’s now also faced with issues he didn’t resolve in combat.”
What does he do? He goes to his “cave” and wants to be left alone, while she wants to bond, be validated and talk it out. These two different coping mechanisms may lead to further conflict and misunderstanding.
Moreover, “Men tend to process what’s inside better by seeing themselves in someone else,” Gray said. “Women process better when someone else sees (themselves) in her and they make that connection.”
Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed; women, are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished
According to Gray, another major difference between the sexes is our emotional needs.
“Acts of consideration and attention is important here,” he said. “That is, kindness, attention and affection—men and women react differently.”
For example, the attention of her partner increases a woman’s fulfillment. Gray said conflict arises in general because many men don’t realize these little acts of expression score higher with women than a big one-time event.
“A guy will do better to bring his partner one rose 24 different times,” said Gray, “than to give her 24 roses at once. It’s not that one great big thing but small acts of affection that counts more.” Gray said it’s different for men. For a soldier it’s the appreciation and acknowledgement of his accomplishments i.e. fulfillment comes from being recognized with military medals and awards.
To overcome these differences, Gray believes men and women need to recognize these conflicts for what they are and take it into consideration when dealing with each other. For her, being upset and talking about her problems is a form of sharing and sign of love and trust. For him, feeling that she isn’t trying to change him, makes him more likely to ask for feedback and advice. When he goes into his cave that’s his coping mechanism and not an expression of how he feels about her. With this type of understanding and validation, couples are less likely to defend, argue and react. To increase cooperation, Gray said both men and women need to seek and understand the source behind each other actions and remove ego and insecurities.