“He just doesn’t understand sometimes!” … “I don’t feel like I have the support that I need.” “I don’t feel cared for.” … “I am not getting the affection that I desire.”
Let’s face it – having a baby in the household can be stressful. Literally everything in your world has changed (think: anatomy, physiology, hormones, sleep schedule, eating habits, exercise habits, you name it!). All too common, we hear our friends, relatives, and acquaintances say “He just doesn’t understand…” **big sigh**
With all due respect, we know our partners do, in fact, want the best for the family; however, it is true: He just may not understand.
But before we throw the male counterpart under the bus, we best take a minute and appreciate all that he IS able to do. He likely is doing the best he can in the ways that he knows how. He’s wired differently. Quite literally, men and we women are wired differently in our brains, nervous systems, hormone systems, body structures, and then some.
Okay, so this makes sense….
So let’s take a minute and talk about the female hormones that are unique to us and drive our need to connect with our partners, female friends, and close relatives. We have an innate desire to be understood, especially during times of stress.
For women, when we experience stress, we tend towards affiliative behaviors. In other words, we seek social relationships, maybe from our female gal pals, to our pets, to our mothers, and even a male partner. Research suggests the hormone oxytocin is to blame. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone. In short, during a stressful phase/event, our oxytocin levels often rise, spurring biological signaling that we need more companionship and togetherness time. If we don’t get that affiliative bonding time and our oxytocin levels stay high because we are always craving something that we aren’t getting, then we physiologically tank…we may be more withdrawn, our stress hormones go up, we experience more pain, we don’t sleep as well, we report feelings of distress or despair. If we DO receive that affiliative, bonding behavior through companionship (including being understood and making connections), then our oxytocin levels level out, and our physiology returns to a resting baseline so to speak.
In both animal and some human studies, there are lower stress responses if physiological needs are met. These lower stress responses include decreased fight or flight response, decreased blood pressure, decreased pain sensitivity, and decreased stress hormone levels. Thus, stress is lowered when bonding behaviors increase in response to those high oxytocin levels we mentioned, but stress is worsened if those bonding efforts are negative or unmet. This means there is a physiologic risk to women when asking for support and not getting it (eek!).
While we won’t get into the physiological effects of males in today’s post, just know they have a similar cascading of events but it’s different in its drivers and mechanisms. In short, they can have entirely different needs than us. There is more evidence that oxytocin relates to social behavior in women than in men – ie, we crave companionship during stress, and they don’t as much.
We are wired differently. Forever and always.
But don’t despair. Truly, what this means is that it opens the door for conversation between ourselves and our partners. What do I need? And what does my partner need? How can we come together to support one another in order to make a strong team? After all, our male companions may never really know what we’re going through; however, open communication and mindful listening to one another can help establish empathy, which adds support to the team effort (and this goes both ways).
Lastly, something to remember: our partners are only one piece our of support network. They can’t do it all. And nor should we try to do it all. The deeper and wider our support network, the more affiliative we can be in our social support system. Research suggests that given the choice, women will buffer stress by afﬁliating with other women. This sex difference in women choosing to be more affiliative with women remains consistent across 12 cultures! So, basically, women need each other. 🙂
So, are you getting your gal pal time…? Are you investigating where your Web of Support may need a boost? Are you having open and thoughtful discussions with your partner? Are you able to listen to your partner’s needs but also able to express your own?
-Men are from Mars, women are from Venus – John Gray