When considering relationship issues, I tend to talk about two specific factors. One is attachment styles and the biases and consequent difficulties they create for us. I also look at our blueprint for relationships from our family of origin and previous romantic experiences. However, it’s not the only factor that needs to be considered when examining threats to harmony with our partner. Gender assumptions can result in an almost ubiquitous, unspoken power struggle between couples, as well as an inequality of what’s deemed acceptable behaviour. Despite the progress made in promoting equality, there remains a major imbalance and hushed implied inferiority, not just in the workplace but in our intimate interactions.
It’s apparent in our discourse and in our assumptions of roles, behaviours and reactions within relationships. Women are assumed irrational and emotional, not fit for logic resulting in invalidation. Equally as detrimental, men are portrayed as rational and almost immune to emotion which encourages soul destroying repression and can incur a tragic loss of connection with both partner and children. These stereotypical archetypes are limiting, toxic and result in breakdowns in communication. Thankfully both genders are evolving to challenge these assumptions however there is still significant levels of shame associated in both examples that hinder progress, making it painstakingly slow.
The gender paradigm damages beyond communication however. The commodification of genders is apparent as men are encouraged to be one of the lads, to objectify and dehumanise women, from a tender age. Women learn to equate their physical being as a source of power and can further perpetuate the issue by acting accordingly. The result can have disastrous effects on both genders; women as they neglect to recognise their worth as a and men as they miss out on the intimacy and vulnerability in friendships where locker room talk prevails. That’s not the mention the impact that these relative issues have on the connection in a relationship bringing with them potential feelings of rejection, lack of acceptance and inadequacy.
However never did gender differences become more apparent to me that with the arrival of a child (or at least it did in my case). Pregnancy and breast-feeding biologically determine an unequal distribution of load (literally). I was blessed with a partner that did as much as physically possible to contribute, however there is still an automatic shift towards the mother taking the majority of the responsibility when it comes to decisions regarding the home and child(ren). Maybe its basis is biological however it is also heavily socially and culturally influenced. The current status quo means a complete redefinition of identity for the woman and can result in simmering feelings of inferiority and frustration during the transition. Again, it’s a concept that is evolving however there is still an accepted inequality when it comes to the general household duties which can lead to significant and ongoing conflict in relationships.
I suppose ultimately it boils down to clear definition of role expectations and boundaries from the offset. Often times the initial stages of the relationship is so emotionally charged, that the possibility of gender role issues and expectations feel like something that isn’t important but it is. Entering a serious, long-term relationship is a romantic endeavour however when the honeymoon phases passes, people’s rose-tinted glasses can come off. Although it seems a very clinical way to cement yourselves as a couple, having a serious talk about boundaries, behaviours, future aspirations and expectations should be given priority to save major misunderstanding and frustration down the line. Constant communication is essential. Being vulnerable about your needs and assertive about your boundaries doesn’t come easy however it makes for a solid connected partnership.
Women and men think differently, we feel differently and understanding and addressing this with clarity from the get go can save so much potential heartache. Trashing out topics like communication/conflict styles, triggers, boundaries, dreams , fears, expectations of behaviour and roles within the relationship context may not be the most romantic task however it’s essential in building the foundations for an amazing, life-long experience.