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Mars versus Venus
2:43pm Monday 11th February 2008 in Health
Like many parts of life relationships have difficulties from time to time and many couples and individuals choose to see a relationship counsellor for professional support to help them through a challenging time.
There are obviously many reasons as to why relationships experience difficulties and why couples and individuals seek relationship counselling.
However it is often at the point of greatest difficulty that there is the most potential for the relationship to move forward. This is probably because one or both people feel the need to address issues that may have been causing dissatisfaction in the relationship for a long time.
If both people are willing to address the issues that are identified in counselling and give sufficient time to the process by regularly attending sessions it can be an opportunity for the couple to work through their problems and experience a new and accelerated sense of satisfaction, contentment and happiness.
However relationship counselling is not always about a couple staying together. Sometimes one or both people have either previously decided before they come or during the ongoing counselling that they do not want to stay in the relationship.
Having a counsellor to guide them through what often is a very sensitive and painful process can feel extremely supportive.
One of the most common reasons that couples want to see a practitioner are communication difficulties between them whether they be a a same-sex or different gender couple.
Miscommunication between women and men can frequently be attributed to style rather than deliberate obstruction on the part of one or the other.
One of the areas of conversation that women and men both often seem to find puzzling and frustrating is when one is describing to the other something that has happened that perhaps has felt stressful to that individual.
Women often complain that they don't feel listened to in the way that they want because the man gives them a solution and actually what they really want first and foremost is to just be able to express their feelings and talk about it and be heard in a way that feels empathic.
Men are often confused by this because they tend to approach the situation differently and try to get rid of a stressful situation mainly by problem-solving, so that it gets resolved or goes away.
Equally, sometimes women get confused when a man talks about something that sounds stressful to him. She may show what feels to her like support or sympathy and he seems to be unaware of her efforts to show solidarity by sounding grouchy or making a dismissive comment or shortly ending the conversation.
What is happening?
Well, the answer may lie in the assumptions and preferences that we all have as human beings about how life works. Some of these seem to show patterns of being specific to women and men.
Many women seem to approach conversations and relationships as an opportunity to maintain closeness and intimacy through meaningful discussion and negotiation and the disclosure of feelings. This gives a sense of being part of a network or community and keeps feelings of isolation and aloneness at bay.
Often men feel threatened by conversations which may lead them to revealing or talking about feelings, because in some cases they feel awkward or weak. They also give a lot of importance to independence and being able to act autonomously in situations.
So when women and men experience repeated frustration in certain types of conversations that lead to misunderstanding, it may be because those conversations reflect values and styles to both that are core and essential to their view of themselves, their relationships and how they like to communicate - which they presume the other also shares.
It is in this presumption that the other shares the same approach that the misunderstanding occurs.
Finally, it may be timely to issue a caveat here that we are not talking about every woman and man responding in this way.
We may be describing a general pattern that, when identified, may be accurate enough of the time to help women and men to understand and appreciate the other's view. This will lead both to a more satisfying communication - and to a more satisfying relationship.
Nick Haynes is a relationship counsellor who works in private practice seeing couples and singles and also runs seminars and workshops on relationship and communication issues. He sees clients at the Bell Trees Clinic in Oxford and can be contacted on 01865 200365 or by viisting the website: www.relationshipcounselling4u.co.uk