I can’t recall how many times I have been asked by clients, who I see either on an individual or couple therapy basis, to explain to them the difference between a man and a woman in a relationship! As always I tend to be very tentative about it, and try not to take sides, as I strongly believe that there is no right or wrong, it is just a different kind of “use” of the romantic relationship all together, and as this new study shows, it could possibly offer a better understanding of what makes men and women tick when it comes to relationships. (The study was carried out by a team at the University of Texas at Austin, and published in Psychological Science).
Men tend to define themselves less by their relationships than by other areas in their lives (namely, work) according to research; but other research suggests that men may actually cling more to their relationships than women do and that their mental health is more tightly tied to their relationships than women’s.
The results of the study may help explain why men are less likely than women to voice unhappiness within a marriage.
Because of this seeming discrepancy, the authors set out to determine just how relationships influenced men’s and women’s opinions of themselves, by asking them a series of questions over three experiments.
The first study sought to discover how much being in a relationship affected one’s self-worth. They asked male and female participants questions like, “In general, how much do you think men and women base their self-esteem on being in a relationship?” and “In general, how much do you think men and women base their self-esteem on the connection and intimacy experienced in their relationships?”
Men did indeed base their self-esteem more on relationship status than women did. But interestingly, other aspects of relationships (like relationship quality) did not have the same effect on men’s self-worth. Men also rated social standing as more important when it came to the benefits that a relationship can offer, compared to women.
Then researchers looked at previous findings and compared them to their own new data.
This second study confirmed that men consistently score higher than women when it comes to relationship status as an important contributor to self-worth.
The first two studies strongly suggested that men see romantic relationships as important to their self-worth, largely because they perceive them as being important to social status.
The third study put this finding to the test, by watching it in action.
The team looked at how people’s use of certain words changed when relationships were “threatened,” or when people were imagining a breakup.
The use of certain words increases when people are concerned about something — terms like earn, achieve, win suggest a concern for social standing; and words like hurt, ugly, nasty reflect negative-emotions; while we, us, our suggest relationship concerns. So the team counted how many times words related to social status came up as the participants were envisioning a breakup and writing about how their lives might be affected by it.
The researchers found that men were much more likely to use words suggesting concerns about social status when envisioning a breakup, whereas women were more likely to use words suggesting concerns about loss of the connection with their partners.
The authors say that they’re not surprised at the results of the study, which may help explain why men are less likely than women to voice unhappiness within a marriage. Since men are, at least on average, less concerned about the interpersonal connection than what the relationship offers for their social standing, it makes sense that they’re also less likely to leave an unhappy relationship.
These results are interesting for what they say about gender differences but bear in mind that these results are also very general, and shouldn’t be used to conclude that men’s single motivation in marriage or partnership has to do with gaining social status.
More research will be needed to understand more of what makes us get into and out of relationships, but the current study does give some insights into different motivations that probably evolved long ago, but can still be relevant today.
Can you relate with the finding of this study? I would love to hear your comments!
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