When Venus Crosses Mars - Time 10/11/99
Fri Oct 8 17:31:21 EDT 1999
from: Smart Marriages
This piece features Peter Fraenkel, Howard
Markman, Pepper Schwartz and others.
When Venus Crosses Mars
by Francine Russo
Time Magazine--October 11
There were five couples--all in their 20s and 30sin the workshop run
earlier this year by Peter Fraenkel, director of PREP Couples Program at
New York University's Child Study Center.
Fraenkel noticed something curious: when four of the men showed an
eagerness to share theirfeelings more extensively with their partner, the
response was, in effect, "What is this guy's problem? He's so needy."
"I care how he feels," explained one of the women, a 37 year old
administrative assistant. "But it's boring to talk about your problems
for two hours. Let's fix it and get it over with."
After years of begging men to be more emotional -- like women -- is it
possible that women are finally getting tougher -- like men? Fraenkel
that on the cutting edge of gender evolution, ironically, each sex may be
sliding into some of the other's former roles.
"Men have been encouraged to actualize their more feminine side to be a
healthy male," he says, "and independence has become an important
emotional statement for women."
While the sensitive '90s guy has grown larger in our cultural
consciousness, more and more women have been entering the corporate
workplace and imbibing its values. "They've learned to keep their own
counsel and are proud of themselves," says Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist
at the University of Washington. They're just as likely as their male
counterparts, she says, to react with "What's all this whining? Just get
the job done."
None of this surprises Howard Markman, whose book Fighting for Your
Marriage represents years of research on couples communication. All the
data in the field, Markman declares, run counter to the Men Are from
Mars, Women are from Venus stereotypes.
"When men and women talk in a safe setting," he says, "they find they're
more similar than than different. Men can be just as intimate and
positive as women."
Roger Lake, a family therapist in San Francisco, is working with a
couple in their 40s on issues he says he would never have encountered 10
"She's a 'warrior' who's insistent on getting ahead with things," says
Lake. "He's a CEO who's trying to wake up to his feelings. But she'd
rather see him as a big strong guy than a guy scared of many things." Her
discomfort is similar to that of other women Lake has seen; they find
their partner's emotionality unmasculine.
"Women have overtly embraced the idea of feeling, nurturing men," says
William Pollack, author of Real Boys, "but inside, they still have the
same models of men they were brought up on."
In fact, tradition-minded women can be just as discomfited by this shift
in male roles. In part, they may fear seeing their husband's
vulnerability exposed, all along they've been comforted by his stoic
assurance. "Don't worry, honey, it'll be fine."
What men say, though, isn't the only problem--it's how they say it. When
these guys finally open the emotional floodgates, the intensity of their
expression can be jarring. Compared with women, who typically have
explored the subtleties of their inner life from the cradle on, many men
are inexperienced at this, express their feelings clumsily and sound to
their wives like, well, babies.
Most men have not allowed themselves to feel frightened or ashamed since
they were children. Roger Lake explains, "When they try to get in touch
with these feelings, they turn into little boys." Though women may not
react well to this transformation, he advises, "The first thing you see
isn't what you get. Keep talking."
Women also need to see their mate's sudden outpouring from another
person's perspective. Not only has he bottled up these feelings for
years, but he probably releases them only with her. It's just not fair to
call these guys needy, Schwartz says. "These women are still being
'needy' with their girlfriends. They've gone to lunch, they've bitched
and moaned on the phone, and now they're done, while they are probable
their husband's only emotional
outlet." Most men, she points out, would not feel safe confiding in other
men, and they'd feel disloyal talking to other women. So she suggests
that women be a little more understanding when their menfolk open up.
"It's like when you've already eaten and you watch a starving person wolf
down food, you think, 'How gross.' It doesn't look good from the outside.
But God knows, we've been
asking for it.
Lee Morton, 42, a pilot from Brownsburg, Ind., thought he'd give it a
He was reading Men Are from Mars...in the living room, while his wife
Patty, 42, a mother of two and a former engineer, was watching basketball
in the family room. "We were going through lots of stuff with babies and
houses," Lee says, "so I thought I'd try to explain my feelings and ask
what she was feeling."
"All of a sudden he walks in the room, " Patty recalls, laughing, "and he
wants to know, Am I happy?"
Her answer? "Get out of here. I'm trying to watch the play-offs!"
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