In previous parts of the “Save Your Marriage” series, I discussed some of the problems that arise in relationships. This week, I will cover another one of the disturbing conflicts in any relationship – being trapped by stereotypes about gender.
In married life, there will always be obstacles threatening the stability of the marriage. Working through personal perceptions and interpretations is the key to overcoming such challenges.
Shortcut to divorce
Men and women perceive emotions, communication, sex, fidelity, work and money differently. They think the way they do because of the way they have been socialized and because of the way they have been shaped by their parents’ perceptions. From a very early age, we are “programmed” to believe that there are such things as “typical male” and “typical female” behavior. If you want a demonstration of how early this starts, look at your kids playing “shop” and consider how you choose baby clothes. Is it true that all baby girls love pink and baby boys love blue? No. Yet, most parents, when buying clothes, do not want to risk going against the grain by swapping colors.
Endless messages such as these are received during childhood and turn into beliefs and values that couples take into their marriage later on in life. Each party to a couple has his or her own “programmed” definition of what is typical, what is acceptable, what is tolerable and what is intolerable in a marriage relationship. Each of them may think that there is a particular way to show love to men that is different from the way you show love to women or that all men love sports and all women love jewelry and, without knowing, such gender beliefs can become a shortcut to divorce.
All men are… and all women aren’t…
There are many traps encountered over the course of a marriage that you may fall into. Adopting a stereotypical outlook about your partner is one of them and the truth is, many couples nowadays have to consciously resist many stereotyped messages that they are bombarded with, by older generations, magazines, advertisements, TV and all other forms of media. It takes courage to block off such messages and say, “No, my husband is not like that” or “No, my wife is not like that”. So you see, staying married requires a whole lot more courage than getting divorced.
Media and perception of gender
We adopt many of our beliefs from the media. This is why the ideal weight for men and women has changed so much over the years. Through the media, people came to the belief that women should aspire to have a Barbie-like figure (did you know that if Barbie were a real woman, she would not be able to stand up?). The “ideal” changes over the years while we make and adopt new standards that the media continues to support.
The media also tells us that money is important above all else. This ideal is so well supported that we have come to believe that money is even a priority over happiness. If you let this ideal become a belief and consume you, then your marriage is destined to fail. There is no economic or financial interest in marriage: it is a union of people, not of resources.
Apart from body image and financial gain, here are some other stereotypes that are promoted through the media that can cause people to “reconsider” their partners in a negative way.
Women love make-up and are willing to pay an arm and a leg for it (100% of the ads on TV for make-up have women in them) – personally, I know many women who never put even cream on their faces, yet a know men who do.
Men love to watch sport (most sport show hosts are male) – my husband does not like watching sport and I know he is male!
Women are in charge of cooking at home (ads for groceries are directed at women) – in fact, many couples share the grocery shopping and the cooking between them. My dad has always been the one shopping for groceries. My parents have been married for 50 years and he has always done it.
Men should fix things around the house (ads for hardware are aimed at men) – how many men do you know who do not have a wrench set in their garage? How many women do you know who fix things on their own at home or in the garden?
The problem is not just the stereotypical messages couples receive, but also the expectation these stereotypes create. For example, if one or the other party believes that men should earn more money than women, there will be a conflict when their salaries do not match those beliefs. If one or the other believes that the kitchen is a place for women only, there will be a conflict in an emergency when the husband suddenly needs cook – something he has never done before.
Humor and perception of gender
One more source of the gender conflict is, believe it or not, jokes. Jokes about blonds, who wants to have sex, the size of the brain and stereotypical interests can subconsciously put a strain on the marriage.
A friend of mine, who divorced his wife over 7 years ago, sent me a PowerPoint presentation about the differences between men and women in relation to marriage failure. I wrote to him, “I hope you don’t really think this way about women”.
“It is just a joke”, he replied, except I did not find it funny, because what seems like “just a bit of fun” can unknowingly become quite damaging.
When I asked him about his personal life, he told me he wanted to be in a relationship but he was finding it very difficult. Subconsciously, it is likely his stereotypical thoughts were blocking him.
Unfortunately, our brain has no way of sifting and sorting the different types of messages we receive. Even though we laugh and assume an incoming message is a joke, the information is still stored in our brain as fact. Stereotypical jokes are messages just like any other that our brain processes, so even though they are meant to be funny, they ultimately contribute to our perception and our values.
To take it one step further – jokes can be even more damaging than other messages, because they tend to be repeated over and over, thus cementing the negative belief into our subconscious.
I think it is fair to say that Blond jokes have definitely been damaging over the years. Many blonds will tell you that people assume them to be quite unintelligent and that they have to work to prove otherwise. This is not healthy.
Here is another list, this time of the stereotypes people tend to adopt in childhood and then carry with them into adulthood and ultimately to marriage.
|Girls like make-up||Guys like car or porn magazines|
|Girls are fussy about their hair||Guys couldn’t care less if their hair fell out|
|Girls love fashion magazines||Guys always have an “I don’t care” attitude|
|Girls are always moody||Guys do not get grossed out by scrapes and bruises|
|Girls try to work out problems, while guys take immediate action||Guys are insensitive|
|Girls are on diets all the time||Guys are stronger|
|Girls always smell good||Guys are associated with the color blue|
|Girls take forever to do anything||Guys like cars|
|Girls are caring||Guys do not care about the way they look|
|Girls like dolls||Guys are better at sports|
|Girls achieve higher academically in school||Guys are players|
|Girls are associated with the color pink||Guys hate reading|
|Girls become cheerleaders||Guys are tough|
|Girls take 2 hour showers||Guys are thickheaded|
|Girls always talk too much on the phone||Guys become jocks in high school|
|Girls actually use only 5% of what is in their purse: everything else is junk||Guys take 2 second showers|
|Girls become nurses||Guys always lose arguments against girls|
|Girls love mirrors||Guys become doctors|
|Girls’ clothes have to match||Guys like hats|
|Girls work in department stores||Guys wear whatever is clean|
|Girls are discrete about intimacy||Guys usually work in messy places|
|Girls are better drivers||Guys brag about intimacy|
|Girls never take chances||Guys do illegal things|
|Girls are spoiled||Guys take too many chances|
This list is just a short list of hundreds of different beliefs that people carry from childhood into their marriage. A marriage requires respect and appreciation. If you are experiencing marriage breakdown or if you want to make sure your relationship last longer, take another look at your beliefs about men and women.
If you have kids, remember how your beliefs and values influence them. When you expect your partner to behave in a way that matches your stereotypical gender belief, you are subconsciously telling your kids that this is what you expect from them too.
What you believed initially about your partner helped you get to your wedding day. Allowing gender stereotypical beliefs to overtake your feelings towards your partner will only get you closer to separation.
It takes practice and courage to stop gender differences from becoming a threat to your marriage and to turn them into cause for celebration.
This post is part of the series Save Your Marriage:
- Self-Regulation in Your Marriage
- How to Save Yourself from Divorce
- Marriage and Divorce Statistics
- The Marriage Institution
- Marriage is the Foundation of Families
- The Unpleasant Side of Divorce
- How to Get Things Wrong in a Marriage
- Marriage and Self Talk
- More About Self Talk
- Facts vs. Meaning in Marriage
- All Men Are… All Women Are…
- When Two Do Not Become One
- Marriage and Money
- Be Your Partner’s Best Friend
- Relationship Between Two Onions
- The Greatest Gift: Staying Married
- Marriage of Singles
- The "Right" Trap
- The Intention Trap
- Best Marriage Quotes
- 10 Rules for Civilized Dialogue
- 10 Tips for Re-Building Trust
- The King and His Servants
- The Nitpicker
- Expressing Feelings in a Marriage
- Don’t Be On Guard
- Don’t Clam Up
- Have Good Sex to Save Your Marriage
- Trust (or The Boy Who Cried Wolf)
- Emergency Relationship Coaching Essentials
- Save Your Marriage with Better Time Management
- Choice Theory Can Save Your Marriage