Couple talking from the heart
In previous articles I discussed our shadow side and how we are attracted initially to our partners because they exhibit the parts of ourselves that we had to repress to survive childhood. In this article I will seek to explain how the biological and cultural differences between the sexes affect intimate relationships and how to integrate split off parts within a relationship.

The biological and cultural differences between the sexes are often the source of conflict in relationships. Children are socialized to be “men” or “women”. If we are to have fulfilling relationships where each person feels valid then we need to integrate the energies of the opposite sex that we had to give up – our denied and lost self – in order to be accepted by our caretakers and the environment.

Men and women differ biologically – if we can understand those differences we can go a long way to resolve conflict in our relationships with understanding and empathy rather than blame.

When men acknowledge and develop their split off female energy in themselves and women allow their masculine side to emerge they no longer need to get what is missing in themselves from their partners and they no longer see each other as the enemy.

Women generally complain that men are domineering, don’t show their feelings, don’t communicate; Men complain that their partner is too emotional, too demanding and they talk too much.

If we are to acknowledge and embrace our Denied and Lost Self and to understand our partners we need to do this in a dialogue  in couple counselling rather than individual therapy.

Biologically men and women are different. There are physical differences – men are generally taller, have more body hair and are stronger than women. Another crucial difference between males and females is hormonal – the presence of estragon in women and the significantly higher level of testosterone in men. These hormones have an impact on health and on brain development as well. These biological differences in combination with cultural reinforcement and stereotyping result in divergent ways of perceiving and approaching the world.

Most men communicate to give and receive information or to resolve problems. For women, generally conversation is a means of interacting and expressing their feelings. Women often want a sympathetic ear when they express their frustrations to their partner and all too often men go into “fix it” mode. Men don’t converse just for the sake of conversation. This can often leave their partner feeling rejected because biologically they are drawn to intimacy and connection.

It is often difficult to accept those biological differences without making value judgements “how can you not like ballet?” “How can you eat oysters? They are disgusting!” These differences in taste are often disparaged. Judging and blaming lead to a breakdown in communication and intimacy. What we need to be cognisant of is that our partner is not us, we are individuals and want to be validated and accepted for who we are.

When we intentionally and consciously seek to understand our partner’s world we expand our horizons and it helps us to get in touch with our shadow side. Dialogue is a crucial relationship skill which can be difficult when discussing emotive issues in the absence of a Counsellor.  It is suggested that a couple initially practice it by simply listening, without judgement and with open curiosity in order to  get an understanding of the other.

The benefits of dialogue are:-

It shows respect for our partner’s different perspectives
It assumes equality – moving away from right and wrong, good or bad.
We can learn from it and not go to our default settings of blame, hurt and anger
It narrows the gap between partners
It dissolves differences
It invites our partner to “share their world” with you

The goal of the dialogue is understanding and can be initiated by the following sentences:-

“How do you feel when…….(eg you are criticized/ignored/misunderstood)”
“What do you do when you are…….(eg scared/threatened/feel vulnerable)”
“When you…………. (eg don’t talk/are unaffectionate/are silent) the story I make up about your behaviour is…….(eg I am not good enough/you don’t love me) and what I do then to protect myself is………..(eg withdraw/drink alcohol/sulk/withhold sex)
“And the affect this has on our relationship is………..(eg we are disconnected/lose intimacy/lead parallel lives)

Without dialogue we cannot relate to another person’s internal reality; we only relation to our version of it which means that we are relating to ourselves. With dialogue any problem can be contained and resolved.

The dialogue provides safety for each person to be vulnerable and those old stereotypical ways of behaving can dissolve. We need the empathy and understanding of our partners to help us to reclaim the energies that we gave up in the socialization process, rather than expecting them to make up for our missing selves.

Read Juliana E. Birkhoff’s article  Gender, Conflict and Conflict Resolution here 
Read Laura V. Hyde’s article  Healing through Your Relationships here


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