Couples - why small changes can make a big difference

Current research and MRI scans are now providing evidence supporting what men and women have always known - that our brains function differently. So we now know there is a physiological reason for our differences regardless of our background or conditioning although these factors are relevant and need to be acknowledged. Depending on the hormone balance in the womb from conception some women will have more male brain characteristics and vice versa but the stereotype male/female behaviour is defined by our brain function.

SOME EXAMPLES please note this is a general view and does not apply to all men and all women. Even when it is usually applicable there will be some occasions when men or women change their usual response patterns. However, if we bear in mind that the male/female thought patterns and responses differ this can greatly improve communication and understanding

Women use both sides of the brain when processing information whereas men use predominantly their left brain. Consequently men are more focused on facts and women will remember more about the emotional content. Women are more in touch with their own feelings and therefore interested in the feelings of others although men will analyse and remember more factual information.

A consequence of this is that womens conversation tends to revolve more around people and human behaviour and they may feel men are being insensitive and uncaring when they don't remember or appear disinterested. Men may feel the same when women are less than enthusiastic about analytical factual information. Misunderstandings can be avoided when we understand our different interests come from our different brain function. Women often say if he loved me he would understand what I need without my having to tell him when he needs specific clear factual information and can be genuinely confused by innuendos and hints.

Women prefer to talk through problems or situations reaching their conclusion by sharing and empathic responses. Men prefer to think through things alone and clarify their options before discussing.
Women may therefore accuse a man of not listening when he offers advice and solutions and men will resent suggestions that he needs to talk when he wants time alone to think

Men need greater stimulus to start on a project although they will then take more risks and enjoy deadlines and competition. This could explain why they have tended to achieve more senior positions than women who are more risk averse, less competitive and prefer to work as part of a team. Women are less focused on doing one thing at a time so can appear to achieve less although they will be more aware of what is happening on an emotional level with the people around them.

By understanding each other's approach to getting things done (in the workplace and at home) we can use our different skills to create harmony rather than conflict.

When stressed or upset men are more likely to become angry whereas women tend to become withdrawn or depressed.

Women need to understand that this anger often masks deep underlying painful feelings which may not be directly related to her. In our present culture many people are suffering from stress which increases the strain when a relationship is not at its best.

Exploring these differences and how couples can communicate effectively is one aspect of couples counselling.

Another common cause of conflict especially when there is an attraction of opposites is that the characteristics which draw people to each other can eventually cause the problems which drive them apart.


An extrovert gregarious person may be attracted to someone who is quiet and reserved. Once the initial romance fades this can have a damaging effect if one wants to socialise more than the other.

If someone has always had to be careful with money they may be attracted to a generous person who spends freely but if this leads to financial hardship it can be difficult to redress the balance which is likely to cause arguments about how joint finances are used.

One partner may initially like someone taking charge and organising their life but later on this may be perceived as over controlling and restricting

Strong emotions block rational thought leading to arguments and misunderstandings. One way of talking through difficulties in a balanced calm constructive way is to ask each other:-

What 3 things would you like me to start doing?
What 3 things would you like me to continue doing?
What 3 things would you like me to stop doing?

Therapy will help to lower high emotional states making it possible to clarify the real cause of the problem and to work out a strategy for change.

The Human Givens approach also focuses on the emotional needs we all have and how a couple can help each other get these needs met. Many relationships suffer when one or both partners expect most of their needs to be met by the other. Expectations of living happily ever after can never be fulfilled unless men and women understand their differences and how to get their own needs met in an appropriate way.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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