This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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How do women behave when stressed? How do women with stress act differently from men with stress?
Women under stress respond in a manner that is typically opposite to men’s. While men prefer to retreat and keep their problems to themselves, women seek release by talking them out.
Read about women’s stress responses and what you can do to help your partner cope.
When Under Stress, Women Need to Talk
When under stress, women need to talk about everything that’s overwhelming them so that they can sort through their feelings. So they reach out to those closest to them. Remember, women primarily focus on connection and expression. While under stress, women’s primary concern is to talk to someone they love about every single past, present, and future problem they can think of and get it off their chest. While under stress, women are usually emotionally involved, talkative, and sensitive.
As a woman, it is important to remember your tendency to talk about everything that is overwhelming and bothering you. Be aware of how your complaints might sound like blame to your male partner. Try to be appreciative of your male partner if he listens to you and your stress.
Why Women Need to Talk
There are many reasons women handle stress by talking their problems out. Sometimes the exact reason a woman needs to talk is the same reason a man falls silent:
- She needs to convey necessary information. (While this is only one reason a woman might want to talk, this is the only reason a man chooses to talk.)
- She hopes to explore the topic and discover her stance. (A man stops talking until he knows his stance.)
- She’s upset and needs to talk until she feels more centered. (A man goes quiet to avoid saying something he’ll regret later.)
- She hopes to create intimacy through conversation. (A man withdraws once he feels too closely intimate.)
How Men Respond When Women Talk About Stress
Ideally, a man should understand that talking through problems is a necessary step for women to handle stress. It is unfair to shut your partner down when she needs to vent. Don’t take her complaints as blame or criticism—remember she’s just talking to feel better.
Unfortunately, many men don’t understand that women’s stress response is different from theirs. These men tend to assume that women only want to talk about their problems to assign blame or get a solution (because those are the only two reasons why a man would choose to talk about his own problems). Often, these men forget about women’s innate differences and therefore find it difficult to listen to their partners because they feel attacked.
One thing a woman can do to help her male partner understand that she’s just venting, not blaming, is to show appreciation. When your male partner listens to you talk about your stress, take a moment to say something like “I’m so relieved that I can talk about all of this with you” or “I feel a lot better. Thank you for listening.” You could also remind your partner of the things he has done to make your life better. For example, if you are complaining about the house looking messy, you could take the time to thank him for doing the dishes.
Sometimes when you talk about your problems with your male partner, he will feel attacked and assume that you are blaming him for everything that’s bothering you. If you sense this happening, say these magic words: “It’s not your fault.” (This only works if you truly believe that your problem is not your partner’s fault. If there is ever a time that you do feel like blaming your partner, refer to the chapter “Handle Conflicts Lovingly” to learn how to cope.)
One thing a man can do to help clarify whether or not his female partner means to sound blaming is to communicate and ask questions. When your female partner comes home complaining about never having fun together anymore, don’t immediately assume that she’s blaming you for being boring. Instead, ask “It feels like you’re saying it’s all my fault that you’re bored. Is that how you feel?” That way, you give her the opportunity to take back any blame.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus summary :
- Why it feels like men and women come from two different planets
- How to navigate the gender-based differences in communication
- The 6 things that men and women need in a loving relationship