Equal Doesn't Mean the Same: Men and women need different things in a marriage. Understanding that helps marriages thrive!

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s on how our quest for gender equality can backfire if we don’t acknowledge that the genders are NOT the same.

When two teenagers started dating sixty years ago, they followed a script. He would hold the door open. She would listen to his stories. When those same lovebirds walked down the aisle a few years later, grandmas would give the girl last minute advice about how to keep a man happy: don’t turn him down in bed. Keep a nice house. Keep dinner ready. And he’d hear some advice of his own: tell her you love her constantly. Tell her she’s beautiful. Cherish her.

When two people get married today we don’t give sex-specific advice. We give general advice, like “love each other always”, or “don’t go to bed angry”, or “keep your friendship fresh”, all of which is wonderful.  But we’re rather uncomfortable saying that men and women may have specific things they can do to make a marriage better. The idea that the sexes are different reeks of sexism. If you say women are more emotional, you’re perpetuating that myth that women can’t be trusted with decision making! If you say men long to be the protector, you’re perpetuating the idea that women are weaklings!

But what if, in our quest for gender equality, we may have inadvertently made it more difficult to maintain a healthy romantic relationship? Too often our quest for equality has been characterized by a quest to eradicate any perceived difference. And perhaps that’s one reason many marriages flounder.

Today, when two people get married, there’s an assumption that love is enough to see them through. There’s not an underlying cultural message that men need to figure out what women want, or that women need to figure out what men want. We don’t talk about how women desperately need to feel loved, and how men desperately need to feel respected and affirmed. We don’t talk about how important sex is to a man, and how important affection is to a woman. To point out differences is to be sexist. And so we assume that the other person should react just like we do.

Then these two poor souls end up together and wonder why they’re not connecting. If love keeps you together, and you don’t feel together, then obviously the love has gone. But what if it’s not true? What if it’s just that men and women need different things from relationships, things that our grandmothers were comfortable talking about, but we think are archaic and sexist to even bring up?

I have no urge to go back to the days when women were expected to keep a spotless house, never talk politics, and constantly pamper their men. I love living in a house where my husband is as quick to load the dishwasher as I am, where we share financial decision making, and where we both care for the kids.

Nevertheless, I am also constantly reminded that my husband and I do not approach love in the same way. It’s hardly surprising; we have very different bodies, so why should we not also have different emotions? Many couples would benefit tremendously by trying to figure out what their spouse really needs, rather than blaming each other for not loving enough.

Last week, among the dead in the Colorado shooting were Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alex Teves. All three men died jumping in front of their girlfriends, shielding them from the bullets. All three women survived. While I am in awe of their actions, and incredibly saddened that the world lost three such honourable people (among the other victims), I cannot say that I am surprised. Hardwired into men is a desire to protect. That’s a good thing, and we shouldn’t be trying to downplay it because the sexes are supposed to be the same. In a split second, without real time to think, those three men proved that the sexes are different. And as a woman, I am very humbled.

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