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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Men, Women and Dysfunctional Relating

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 8th 2012

Men, Women and Dysfunctional Relating"When this couple entered therapy they were clearly alienated and angry. There was little doubt that they were headed for divorce. The husband was silent and brooding and the wife was seething with sarcasm and resentment. They had been married for twenty years, had two kids and were financially secure. From the outside, most people would have said they were a successful and happy couple. Obviously, this was far from the truth. Their sexual lives had ended and they barely talked to one another at home. Their marriage was typical of what happens in many marriages across the country. One of her major complaints was that whenever she tried to confront him with her dissatisfactions, he withdrew into silence."

Did you ever notice that men and women often communicate across a canyon of misunderstanding? I am a fan of the books by psychotherapist and well known author Terence Real. In particular his book "How Can I Get Through To You?" presents a helpful discussion of what goes wrong between men and women and how to fix it. From his experience and point of view, men and women relate differently because of the ways they were raised. Boys are taught to suppress their emotions and to focus instead on being aggressive, competitive and independent. In other words, they are raised to be masculine and that translates into being unemotional and strong. On the other hand, women, according to Terence Real, are taught to put their needs aside and to nurture others. Instead of being aggressive they are taught to be compliant. This is the definition of being feminine.

While a lot of this seems to have changed since the women's liberation movement of the late twentieth century, it still shows up in the ways couples relate to one another. In fact, according to Real, this difference is at the core of why there is divorce rate of over 50%. As a result of suppressing their emotions, men lose their connection with their families and wives and become vulnerable to addiction to drugs and alcohol. Women become depressed because they feel taken advantage of by husbands who do not supply their needs. Of course, they are part of the problem because they suppress their needs and wants in favor of children and husbands. They do not ask for what they want only what others want.

Because of the fact that men learned, early on in their childhoods, that they must be aggressive to be masculine, they become arrogant, especially at home. It becomes easy for them to view their wives as weak. The relationship between men and women becomes one of the man believes he must be in control while expecting compliance from their wives. What husbands view as compliance is that, when they come home from work, the dinner table is set and the wife is warm and nurturing. If this is not fulfilled then he becomes verbally loud and verbally abusive. On the other hand, too many women give in to this scenario until they grow so depressed and unhappy with things that they fall out of love with their husbands. Then, husband and wife become silent, withdrawing from one another and becoming more distant. One example of this type of dynamic is that when the wife starts to assert her needs her husband withdraws into silence. Her frustration results in her, once again becoming silent. The road to divorce is then well paved.

Part of the work of marriage counseling for these couples is to help men and women change in the way they interact. In other words, men must learn to give expression to their emotions rather than suppressing feelings until they become explosive and women must give voice to what they want and need rather than suppressing those things.

According to Real men and women must move closer to one another because each has the ability to recognize both the masculinity and femininity in each other.

What are your experiences in your relationship like? Your comments and experiences are welcome and encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

unsure of maybe a switch - Sabrina - Nov 12th 2012

I am unsure if i can apply the above post to our problem, it seems as if i am constantly telling him that i miss something or i feel hurt by something he has done or not done, and he is taking it as if i am constantly putting him down.


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