You arrive home fuming. You are angry about something that happened at work. You need to unload. You need a friend who will listen without judging. Instead, your partner gives you an earful of advice. The first thing for which we need to forgive our partners is for being men, according to The Proper Feeding And Care Of Husbands by Dr Laura Schlessinger.

We all know that men and women think and behave differently. Unfortunately, women often need or expect their male partner to react in the same way as their female friends and this can be the cause of great frustration and misunderstanding. Without a thorough understanding of the differences between men and women and without making room for these differences, our relationships are a lot less likely to survive.

Difference between men and women
"Women define and value themselves by how successfully they love and relate. Men define and value themselves by how successfully they achieve and accomplish," says Barbara de Angelis, author of What Women Want Men To Know (Thorsons). Gender roles in primitive times cast considerable light on our modern-day dilemma. "Men assumed the role of provider and protector, while women specialised in nurturing and homemaking," explains John Gray in Mars And Venus:

Men and women duties
Together Forever (Vermilion). The men went out as hunters to provide for women and children, while women took care of the home and raised the children. The man's task as hunter was results-orientated, while the woman's role as nurturer was focused on relationships and emotions. This makes it easier to understand why he wants to help you find a solution to a problem, while you want to talk about it so that you can first deal with your emotions on the subject, before resorting to action and doing something about it.

In other words, the man as hunter wants to shoot down the problem, while you are focused on soothing the painful emotions associated with it. The significant difference of focus between men and women also spills over into other aspects of our lives, such as the vastly different way in which men and women deal with stress. Once again, this can be traced back to primitive times, John says.

Modern man can often be found sitting in front of the television, relaxing after a hard day's work. Men often need time alone to regain a sense of being in control, which in turn helps them cope with stress. A woman, on the other hand, often wants to talk about her feelings. She is so aware of her own need to talk about things that she can hardly imagine someone would want to deal with it in any other way.

When a woman doesn't understand a man's need to be alone after a long day, she might misinterpret his reluctance to talk to her in various ways, for example that there's a problem in the relationship, or that he doesn't trust her with his feelings. Consciously or unconsciously expecting a man to think, feel and behave like a woman, is not only unfair to both parties, it is highly unlikely to succeed.

So what's a woman to do?
Your attitude determines your quality of life. Your understanding will determine the quality of your relationship, says Dr Schlessinger.

New direction
Here's how to change your approach:

  • Understand and acknowledge that men and women are different. The greatest stumbling block is often expecting them to think and react similarly, says clinical psychologist Janet Bytheway. Once we recognise these differences, we'll be in a better position to deal with them in a realistic and practical way.
  • Make sure he knows exactly what you want and need. "He loves me so he'll know' is a common miconception and source of frustration in relationships, according to Janet.
  • Respect your partner's personal style. Don't be tempted to project your own needs onto him by trying to drag conversation out of him when he wants to be alone. Rather agree that he can have some free time after work, while a specific time is set aside for you to talk.
  • Remember that men express their love in practical ways, such as getting your car fixed or buying you something for the home.
  • Respecting your differences and making an effort to understand your partner might not always be easy, but it will be worth your while as you discover that these differences are a source of harmony, rather than conflict.