Vive La Difference! Do you know what makes your partner tick?

There's a lot of talk out there about differences between men and women - blogs, books etc that put forward ideas about how we may be hardwired differently. 

The truth is - it's not about being male or female. However, our upbringing, life experiences, and yes, our gender too, do shape how we learn to percieve the world and respond to others.

Many of us fall into the error of assuming the way we see things, and perhaps more importantly, the way we process information, is the same as how others do. Or we think that ours is the best way - that our partner, child etc should try to see things as we do! This is a recipe for at best - profound misunderstandings and miscommunication. At worst, it can cause a sense of disconnection and entrenched conflict that never seems to get resolved, however we come at it.

Some helpful ways to think about these differences are:-

* What is my/my partner's/my child's 'love language'? This is an idea developed by Gary Chapman. He suggests that there are five different ways we may complete the sentence "I feel most loved and cared for when my loved one ....." For some of us, it's all about physical affection (including, but not limited to sex!). For others, kind and loving words are what we need. Others need quality time, gifts or having our loved one do something for us. What's important is we learn what our partner's/child's love language is and gve them that, rather than giving them what would help us, then feeling upset that this is not being appreciated as we woud like! For example. if my partner needs hugs, and I show him I care by telling him how much I appreciate him, he may still feel disconnected and that his needs are not being met.

* Early experiences in life shape what we perceive as 'dangerous' and this guides us (usually outside of our conscious awareness) to quickly react to things that remind us of those early dangers. The things I consider as dangerous may quite different to yours. For example - if I've grown up in a family where voices were never raised, except very occasionally when someone was so angry they were about to become aggressive or even violent, then whenever you raise your voice to me I automatically respond as though you are about to hurt me. Another example may be - I've grown up in a family where everyone spoke loudly and over each other, but when things went quiet it was time to worry - I was in big trouble then! Whenever you go quiet, I get scared - what have I done wrong? Are you about to punish me in some way? It's never helpful in this situation to tell a partner they 'should' be less sensitive to our raised voice or our silence. What's more important is that we understand and have compassion towards sensitivities that may be beyond our control to change. However, where this is causing serious problems with connecting and good communicating, counselling may be needed to assist processing of difficult past experiences as well as to improve skills in creating safety together.

* As a woman, I can't really understand what it like to be a man in the world. As a man, I can never fully appreciate what is like to be a woman in the world. As adults, even though we were once children, we cannot fully get what it like to be a young person in today's world (NOT the same as when we were growing up!). Gender, age and culture bring different meanings to the way we experience things. What's most important is we allow our partner and our kids to be the expert on their lived experience, and not presume to know better than they do about what life is like for them.

Differences need not be a deal-breaker! We need to work on respecting these differences and working with them, rather than making judgements that privilege one way of being and experiencing over another. Of course, when it comes to safety, different views about what is and is not alright cannot necessarily be accommodated - for example, if you think it's OK to hurt someone physically when they have upset you, I may respect this different view, but still be unable to feel safe with you (and therefore not be able to stay in an intimate relationship with you).

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