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It seems to be a fact that men and women have behavioral

styles.? Around 50 percent of all marriages in the United

States, including second marriages and so on, end in divorce,

and most clients report trouble in their marriages. It is

believed that the problem boils down to the fact that men are

generally more aggressive and less emotionally attached than

women, and therefore, it is difficult for men and women to

settle differences.? The gender differences between men and

women continues to garner the interest of sociologists and

psychologists because there are some studies which show that

men and women have more in common than they have differences.

For example, Zuckerman (1985) found that the men and women

reported similar life goals, self esteem, interpersonal self

confidence, and self concepts.? Bevir (1996) found that

people of all cultures share the same expressions, and Otis,

Levy, Samson, Pilote, & Fugere (1997) believe that there is

some indication that gender roles are becoming less diverse.

Yet, the divorce statistics remain high and counselors still

discuss marital problems with their clients.? In fact, the

bulk of studies continue to show that there are distinct

sociological and behavior differences between men and women.

Several conflict studies (Brooks-Harris, Heesacker &

Mejia-Millan, 1996; Klinetob & Smith, 1996) support the fact

that either of the two persons involved in an argument who

has gained a position of power will back off from an aversive

discussion.? In other words, the partner in a position of

power has nothing to lose and everything to gain by backing

off from the ensuing communication.? Yet, all three of these

studies report that this does not always mean that men will

back off.?? Often, men will continue an argument whether they

are winning the argument or not, especially if the woman

wants to continue the discussion.? These studies found that

men practice aversion to avoid aggressive behavior. In a

similar study on conflict, Maccoby (1988) found that men use

physical force, such as holding a woman’s arm while making a

point, while women use verbal persuasion.

Culturally, men and women exist in a world where girls and

boys receive different types of attention and are rewarded

for different reactions in social situations.? According to

Ehrhardt & Wasserheit (1991), these early rewards create a

lifelong response to various situations.? In their study,

Ehrhardt & Wasserheit showed the behaviors are influenced by

sex roles and social and cultural values.? Girls are punished

verbally for acting aggressive in making their point and boys

are encouraged for the same behavior.? Girls are rewarded for

acting passively, while boys are rewarded for acting bravely

and with strength.

While this study shows that these behaviors are changed

early, Otis, Levy, Samson, Pilote, & Fugere (1997) found in a

study of 2,060 college students that many of the gender

differences are developed during the dating period, where

women take less initiative than men.? They believe that

subsequent relationships between men and women may be based

on this dating standard.? They state that the reason in the

difference in behavior is that the motives for dating are

different.? “For women, emotional reasons are more compelling

than for men, for whom lust and the quest for sexual

domination are pervasive.? Men also usually perceive sexual

innuendoes in women’s verbal and non-verbal messages,

although this is not the case for women.? Men are more

inclined than women to initiate sexual relations, and they

often resort to strategies like pressure and manipulation”

(Otis, et al., 1997).

This same study found that while these differences are

beginning to disappear in the dating relationship compared to

the results of studies conducted in the 1960s, “gender

relationships are still characterized by an asymmetry in

which women continue to be dominated by men in certain sexual

areas, while in other spheres this asymmetry is attenuated or

even non-existent” (Otis, et al., 1997).

Part of the problem is in nonverbal communication.? For

example, while Otis, et al. found that some of the

differences are beginning to disappear, men may withdraw from

an argument, but they do this to avoid displaying emotion.

While backing off means that the men agree with their

partners, they were unwilling to involve themselves in

discussions or a show of physical emotion for fear of

regenerating conflicts.

? Briton & Hall (1995) have shown that there are

differences in the nonverbal cues given by men and women.? In

their study, Briton & Hall found that women are generally

better at decoding nonverbal cues than are men.? They report

that some theorists attribute this capacity to the fact that

women are more sensitive and more emotionally receptive.? In

their study, Briton & Hall (1995) found that women use cues

such as smiling and laughing and gesturing more often than

men.? They also found that men were interruptive, nervous,

aggressive, and less capable of demonstrating more positive

physical cues (Briton & Hall, 1995).? The authors felt from

their observations that biologically, women may have a

greater capacity for facial expressions as the others studies

show, but they admit this may be based on sociocultural

expectations, rather than biologically gendered responses

(Briton & Hall, 1995).

In a study by Klinetob & Smith (1996), the authors found

that the person who usually withdrew from conflicts was the

initiator.? Klinetob & Smith studied of 90 couples and found

that during the course of a wife-generated topic, the wife

was viewed as the demander, while her husband withdrew from

the discussion.? In contrast, during the course of a

husband-generated topic, the opposite was true; the husband

demanded and the wife withdrew.? The main difference in

gender responses according to the authors was that the men

tended to withdraw more often.? The authors felt that this

was because the man more often obtained the “winning”

position, and the woman wanted to continue the conversation,

while the “winner” did not? (Klinetob & Smith, 1996).

Rubenstein (1994) conducted a study on cooperation between

professionals at a mental health facility.? While Rubenstein

found no significance differences in self-assessment and

objective observations between the genders in relationship to

the area of cooperative effort, there were great differences

in self-perception between the genders about their

professional roles at the facility and how others perceived

them.? This study indicates that perception of gender roles

plays a significant part in working relationships.? Women

were reported as being more receptive by both he men and

women surveyed, while men were considered to be less

receptive to suggestions by women.? Part of the problem in

the Rubenstein study was the fact that men, in fact, held

higher positions at the facility, and the author felt this

may have influenced the outcome.? For example, often the

doctors had no direct contact with nurses and other staff who

were women.

Bevir points out how most research seeks to create a chasm

between men and women when the actual objective and

subjective views held by both genders are similar.? He writes

that Peter Winch identified the results of the research as

contributing to “limiting notions” (Bevir, 1996).? Bevir

believes that this line of thinking only serves to make the

differences apparent, and feels that there is overwhelming

evidence that people share similar emotions about work,

church, school and other experiences.? He states that men and

women have a much stronger necessity to get along than to be

at odds, and that they achieve this (Bevir, 1996).

Despite Bevir’s view, the results of research are

overwhelming that there are differences between the way men

and women respond in conflict situations.? In a 1997 study of

alcoholics in a VA recovery and counseling program and their

wives, Murphy & O’Farrell (1997) found that women “exceed men

in facilitative-enhancing communication, regardless of

alcoholism status” (Murphy & O’Farrell, 1997).? However,

these same researchers suggest that the use of alcohol may be

the cause of the alcoholic husbands’ lack or limited use of

communication since the husbands had severe alcohol-related


The women in this study were also very passive.? The

researchers suggested that the husbands’ verbal or physical

aggression may have been instrumental in the wives’

willingness to concede or defer power to her husband.

However, what they found was that aggressive and

nonaggressive alcoholics differed in their ability to end

negative communications.

Murphy & O’Farrell discovered that by the second lag in a

negative communication, the nonaggressive husbands avoided

conversation.? Physically aggressive husbands always reacted

aggressively, and in fact their aggression escalated

significantly after the second lag in conversation.? In

addition, the physically aggressive husbands continually

responded negatively to their wives’ negative interchanges,

and were not likely to end the conversation.

Because a significant number of the couples had been

married in their teens, the authors suggest that the

husband’s inability to end the negative interchange may be

attributed to early onset male alcoholism, where aversive

conversations became an integral part of the marriage from

its inception.? Even in this context, the authors concluded

that the results suggest that the wives were more

constructive problem solvers than their alcoholic husbands,

especially when aggression was present.

As these studies show, the lessons learned early in life

continue throughout as Ehrhardt & Wasserheit (1991) and Otis,

et al. (1997) posit.? These behaviors are based on reward

systems in place during the early stages of life where men

are rewarded for aggressive and insistent behavior and women

are rewarded for passive and persuasive behavior.



Bevir, M.? (1996, Jan).? Review Essays.? History & Theory,

v35, pp. 391.

Briton, N.; & Hall, J.? (1995, Jan).? Beliefs About Female

and Male Nonverbal Communication.? Sex Roles:? Journal of

Research, pp. 79-81.

Brooks-Harris, J.E.; Heesacker, M.; & Cristina

Mejia-Millan. (1996, Nov). Changing Men’s Male Gender-role

Attitudes by Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model of

Attitude Change.? Sex Roles: Journal of Research, v35 n9, pp.


Ehrhardt, A.A.; & Wasserheit, J.N. (1991, Nov).? Age,

Gender, and Sexual Risk Behaviors for Sexually Transmitted

Diseases in the United States.? In J. N. Wasserheit, S. O.

Aral, K. K. Holmes, eds., Research Issues in Human Behavior

and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the AIDS Era, American

Society for Microbiology, Washington, D.C., 1991, pp. 97-121.

Klinetob, N.A.; & Smith, D.A. (1996, Nov).

Demand-withdraw Communication in Marital Interaction: Tests

of interspousal contingency and gender role hypotheses.

Journal of Marriage and Family, v58 n4, pp. 945-958.

Maccoby, E.E. (1988).? Gender as a Social Category.

Developmental Psychology, v24, pp.? 755-765.

Murphy, C.M.; & O’Farrell, T.J. (1997, Jan). Couple

Communication Patterns of Maritally Aggressive and

Nonaggressive Male Alcoholics. Journal of Studies on

Alcoholism, v58 n1, pp.? 83-91.

Otis, J.; Levy, J.; Samson, J.M.; Pilote, F.; & Fugere, A.

(1997, Spring). Gender Differences in Sexuality and

Interpersonal Power Relations Among French-speaking Young

Adults from Quebec: A province-wide study.? Canada Journal of

Human Sexuality, v6 n1, pp. 17-29.

Rubinstein, G. (1994, June).? Cooperation Patterns of

Israeli Mental Health Practitioners. Journal of Social

Psychiatry, v134 n3, pp. 275.

Zuckerman, D. (1985).? Confidence and Aspirations:

Self-esteem and self-concepts as predictors of students’ life

goals.? Journal of Personality, v53 n4, pp.? 543-560.

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