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What Men and Women Don’t Understand About Each Other

Resolving conflict in a couple through mutual understanding.

Key points

  • Couples assuming that their partner thinks the same way they do often leads to conflict.
  • Women don't understand that men may sometimes be frightened of them.
  • Men don't understand that much of what women do in relationships is aimed at getting closer.
Source: Mohamed_hassan / Pixabay
Source: Mohamed_hassan / Pixabay

There is an idea prevalent in our culture that similarities are good for relationships and differences are a problem. Couples often think the problems in their relationships are attributable to their differences, like “I’m a night owl, and she likes to go to bed early.” I’m always a little amused when working with a heterosexual couple in psychotherapy who thinks their different hobbies or habits are the cause of the problems in their relationships. It never seems to occur to these couples that being of different genders may contribute. Men and women sometimes see the world differently, behave differently, and feel differently. These differences are largely learned rather than innate, but they are substantial.

The problems in heterosexual couples often do not stem so much from their differences; they are more often the result of men assuming that women are like men and women assuming that men are like women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Couples often try to bridge the gap by being careful with their words or learning to “mirror” each other when talking. These strategies can frustrate and upset couples because they only address superficial misunderstandings and don’t get at the deep-seated misunderstandings between men and women.

One of the most important things women don’t understand about men is how they may sometimes be scared of women in intimate relationships. One of the most important things that men don’t understand about women is that most of what women do in the relationship reflects their efforts to get closer and feel more connected.

It’s counterintuitive to think about some men being afraid of women. What are men afraid of? Let me give you a few examples:

  • Men are often afraid of being dominated and controlled by women. Men may accuse each other of being controlled by a woman or, more precisely, controlled by his need for a woman.
  • Men are often afraid of being inadequate emotionally, interpersonally, and sexually. Men are stereotypically self-centered lovers, but in surveys, men say pleasing their partner is most important. Pleasing their partners is not just an expression of generosity but also an indication of men’s strong need to be validated through sex. As the old saying goes, “Women have to feel loved to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel loved.”
  • Men are often afraid of being abandoned. Some men are physiologically more distressed by conflict in intimate relationships than women, and it takes them longer to recover because, deep down, they are often afraid their partner will leave them. This is why, after a breakup, some men feel an urgent need to seek a new partner.

In some relationships, women often feel dissatisfied with the level of intimacy in their relationships, and they approach their partner with their ideas for getting closer, like “We should spend more time together” or “I wish you would open up and tell me more about what’s going on with you.” The problem is that men are taught to feel responsible for women, so whenever a woman expresses any kind of unhappiness, men often hear that as a criticism, as an indictment of their inadequacy as a man. Not surprisingly, men often respond by withdrawing to protect themselves. Women often interpret men’s withdrawal as evidence of their lack of interest in being close, so they get more emotional and pursue their partner more, which, of course, only leads to men withdrawing even further until the couple is locked into an escalating pattern that leaves each of them feeling frustrated and alone.

Couples can break out of this pattern and get to a much deeper and more satisfying understanding of each other if both men and women are willing to do their part. For women, understanding that their partner is not withdrawing out of a lack of interest but because he is afraid of getting it wrong with her can lead to major shifts in the relationship. Men can do their part by resisting the temptation to withdraw and learning how to hang in there emotionally with their partner and talk things through. To learn not to use withdrawal as a defense, men need to learn to become more comfortable with conflict in their relationships and learn to see conflict as an opportunity to connect rather than as a threat so that their fear of conflict doesn’t trigger their fears of abandonment and lead them to withdraw.

Excerpted, in part, from Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men’s Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships.


Diamond, J. (2017). The one thing men want more than sex. Good Men Project.

Ogas, O., & Gaddam, S. (2011). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire. Dutton/Penguin Books.

Weiss, A. (2021) Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men's Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships. Lasting Impact Press.

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