Have you ever found yourself wondering whether the conflicts that arise between you and your spouse are normal? I’m fascinated by the research on this topic. I find that it helps the couples I work with to discover that much of what bugs them is “normal.” (We all want to be normal.)
In 1989, researcher David Buss published his research “The War of the Sexes: Two Views of the Battlefield.” Buss based his findings on a study of close to 600 men and women in marriages. In general, he concluded that many areas of conflict for couples are the same for both sexes.
But Buss also described areas where men and women diverge sharply over how upsetting certain behaviors are. Here are the male/female differences:
Here are the things that bother wives about husbands:
• Sexual demands. Making her feel sexually used; trying to force sex.
• Condescension. Ignoring her opinions because she is a woman.
• Emotional constriction and excess. Hiding emotions to act tough: drinking or smoking too much.
• Neglect. Unreliability; not spending enough time with her or calling when promised; ignoring her feelings or failing to say he loves her.
• Thoughtlessness. Being unmannerly (belching, for instance, or leaving the toilet seat up); not helping clean up the home; teasing her about how long it takes to get dressed.
And here are the things that bother men about their wives:
• Sexual rejection. Refusing to have sex; being unresponsive to sexual advances; being a sexual tease.
• Moodiness. Acting ''bitchy'' or otherwise being out of sorts.
• Self-absorption. Fussing over her appearance, worrying about her face and hair; spending too much on clothes.
What do you think about these findings? What fascinates me is how prominently sex figures as an important battleground issue and how diametrically opposed each sex’s positions and feelings are.
Buss’s findings bring to my mind my colleague and friend Dr. Barry McCarthy’s statement about sex and marriage.
Dr. McCarthy believes that when sex is going well in a good marriage, couples attribute only 15 percent or 20 percent of their happiness to it. But when sex is going poorly, couples feel as if the bad sex contributes to 80 percent of their misery.
Perhaps these lists from David Buss will inspire you to do a marital inventory of your marriages own strengths and flaws.
You might also want to try my couples questionnaire.
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