It's a Guy Thing-Or Is It?

Article excerpt

The problem of men and women successfully communicating with each other has to be one of the most essential problems in relationships. Since psychotherapy is a relationship, it may reflect these same communication problems regardless of our best intentions. Many of us were trained years ago, prior to the growing dialogue on gender and language. Recent research findings on the difference in the left and right brain hemispheres of males and females demonstrate how this affects learning, perception, and language. Biological differences can give women and men different views of the same situation. Denying real differences can only compound the confusion that is already widespread. Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics and author of You Just Don't Understand, says "men and women speak differently, with different purpose, and different but equally valid styles of interacting" (1990, p. 17).

In the last 15 years, a number of best sellers have focused on the biological differences between men and women and how to bridge that difference linguistically. John Gray's (1992) Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, hit home with millions of readers, so much so that Gray has published 14 books on this theme. Couples connect with his basic tenet: Men are focused on achieving status and avoiding failure. Men are "doers" and want to solve problems and feel competent. Women are focused on achieving involvement and avoiding isolation. Women relate, connect, and want to feel loved. They focus on intimacy and love, whereas men focus on independence and status. Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy (we are close and the same) and independence (we are separate and different).

Other male authors have picked up on this theme and have published books to help women understand their male loved one and how to get more of what they want from a man. David Deida's (1997) It's a Guy Thing is an attempt to help women understand why men react negatively to them. Deida speaks of the masculine and feminine energies and discusses that how they are expressed can make or break a relationship. Michael Gurian (2003) went a step further and took a friendly look at the male brain, calling it the "science of manhood" in What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man's Mind Really Works. Gurian, a sociologist and psychologist, goes into great depth about the biology of male emotion and male identity and how this is expressed in relationships. He makes an interesting observation that not all men fall into the "male identity" category. Those men whose thoughts and actions are more integrated with female ways of being are an exception to the rule and are called bridge brain men. Bridge brain men are better able to understand women and are much easier for women to relate to because there are more common language, purpose, and viewpoints. Gurian suggests that perhaps all men are moving toward this more evolved biology.

Paul Coleman (2002), in his excellent How to Say It for Couples, gives numerous examples of how to say and how not to say things for every conceivable situation. However, he acknowledges differences between male and female needs by frequently giving different advice depending on the situation. For example, when dealing with a moody and irritable partner, he says, "A man should gently probe for what's wrong when a woman is in a grumpy mood. He should persist a little even if the woman doesn't seem to want to talk. A woman should back off if told 'I don't want to talk about it' or 'nothing is wrong" when she knows something is wrong" (p. 345). John Gray (1992) would say that the woman should honor the man's need to go into his cave, and the man should honor the woman's need to feel cared about and loved. …