You know what would be good for relationships? If every one that ended included an exit interview. Just imagine how productive it could be for everyone to clarify their thoughts and feelings about where things went wrong, and what to do differently in the next relationship. When men and women end their relationships, most of their interviews would boil down to one common denominator: My partner didn’t understand and respond to my most important needs. The feedback would sound something like this: “She didn’t give me enough [insert need]” or “He didn’t care about the fact that I [insert need].” In relationships, people often get so busy trying to get their own needs met that they forget about the unique needs their partners have, too.
Never is the issue of unique needs more relevant than when understanding the differences between men and women. At root, men and women have the same basic needs: to be noticed, to be loved, and to have a purpose in the relationship. Yet it’s how men and women go about getting those needs met that bears the crucial differences.
The need to be noticed
I’ll share a quick example that will highlight the way men and women have the same need to be noticed, but go about getting that need met very differently.
When most men have a bad day, they need their girlfriend to notice they’re upset. This could be accomplished by the girlfriend simply asking, “Are you okay?” In such a scenario, the guy usually utters a few quick words about his bad day, and then he prefers to move on as opposed to processing his feelings further. On the other hand, most women tend to be more verbal and emotionally expressive than men. When most women have a bad day, they often want to come home and talk about it in detail with their boyfriend.
The need to be noticed is one of the most important needs any man or woman has in a relationship. When people don’t feel sufficiently noticed, they will become depressed, angry, or confused, and may even start cheating on their partner.
The need to be loved
Men and women have the same basic need to be loved and cared for, though men and women often show their love differently. For example, many men won’t talk openly about the range of their loving feelings for their girlfriend, telling themselves, ‘She knows.’ On the other hand, many women I’ve counseled over the years share their loving feelings openly. Women in relationships often wish they got a little more expressiveness in the emotion department from their male partners, but women must understand that one of the ways men like to show love is through actions – not words. A guy tells himself that showing love means taking his girlfriend on a trip, getting her a special gift, or taking her to a nice dinner. Again, men believe that actions show their love better than words.
The need to have a purpose in the relationship
In a perfect world, both partners in a relationship would share each important role in a relationship equally. But in reality, the chips rarely fall into such neat order. Typically, for example, one partner will be more of a nurturer, financial provider, or social organizer than the other — and the list goes on.
For two people to feel happy in a relationship, each partner must feel needed. Each partner must trust that they have a purpose or function in the relationship that is necessary, acknowledged, and appreciated by the other partner. When men or women don’t feel needed and don’t have a clear sense of their role in the relationship, they will often start feeling unhappy, defeated, or even empty.
Men and women often differ in the roles they take on in their relationships. Historically, men have identified more as financial providers and occasional home repairmen, as coaches for their kids’ sports teams, and so forth. Women, on the other hand, often manage things at home, offer more emotional nurturance, and take on a role as the family planner by managing bills, planning events, and organizing the couple’s or family’s social life. Given these differences, it is critical for all men and women in relationships to understand their own unique purpose in the relationship, as well as to acknowledge the unique roles and purpose of their respective partners.
Ultimately, men and women have more similarities than differences, which is why many relationships are happy ones which last for years. The more aware men and women can become of what makes each gender unique, the better male-female relationships will be in the future. In other words, there’s still hope!
What do you think the biggest differences are between men and women in relationships?
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.