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How Men And Women Respond To Stress

How Men And Women Respond To Stress

Men are from Mars, women are…ignored.

Why do men ignore their partners sometimes? And why does it happen during crucial moments in relationships? Men certainly can appear to be on separate planets from their partners at times, but the reason has more to do with DNA than it does with being mean or uncaring.

You may know about the body’s ingrained stress-response systems:

  • The “fight-or-flight” response
  • And the “rest-and-digest” responses.

Clinically speaking, these are referred to as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems…all part of the body’s autonomic nervous system. As humans, we developed these for survival and as man-woman roles traditionalized, we each took on tasks that made the family unit better suited for survival. Women nurtured the offspring (breast fed) and men hunted and gathered food (larger muscle systems). Although both genders had the same stress-response system, genetically speaking, specific family tasks brought about different stressors in both women and men.

As a result, different ways to handle stress developed: women became master multitaskers, and men became master compartmentalizers.

As civilization pruned away the old stressors—bears, broken ankles, and bacterial diseases—new stressors slowly replaced the old ones. Eventually, a wider array of less intense stressors, shared by both men and women, became evident. There are now so many of these that we can never get away from them all. Politics, crime, health care, family dynamics, money, traffic…our stress-response systems remain in a constant, low-level idle that never really turns off. Because of this, it’s easier to tip the balance and send our stress-responses into overdrive!

How men respond to stress

As master compartmentalizers, men have the innate ability to push aside a distracting problem and push forward toward a determined goal. It’s an act of separation and storage—handy for hunting and gathering but not so much for empathizing in a relationship problem.

How women respond to stress

As master multitaskers, women have the innate ability to think about multiple possibilities simultaneously. It’s an act of interconnectedness and building—handy for socializing and relating but difficult for pushing things aside and ignoring.

You can imagine that if separating and ignoring has worked for you for so long it would become the natural coping skill when stress levels reach overdrive. The opposite is also true if your natural tendency is to become more interconnected and relational. As the stress levels increase for both genders and our responses are allowed to trigger off free of accountability, we end up on…different planets.

Ignoring causes disconnectedness in relationships

Ignoring could eventually lead to a serious relationship problem. Most of the time, however, just being aware of the process is enough to get a natural compartmentalizer to stretch himself to more of a relationship builder…and a natural multitasker and relationship builder to allow for some space. After all, our stress-response systems are all built the same, and we naturally want to be in harmony with each other.

It’s all about mutual cooperation and balance. Becoming conscientious of the ingrained stress mechanisms allows us to be more in control of our behavior and, ultimately, get everyone on the same page…or at least the same planet.

  VERIFIED EXPERT
Chris is a licensed master social worker who works for a private counseling group under the supervision of an LCSW. He helps adults and adolescents with problems such as anxiety, depression, transition issues and family issues. He makes use of cognitive behavioral therapy and motivating interviewing techniques to help his clients. He has completed his Master of Science degree in Social Work from The University of TN College of Social Work.

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