As it appeared in the Botswana Sunday Standard July 28, 2013, edition, Systemic Thinking Column
When a couple are in conflict, often times we are expecting that our partner to think, act and be like ourselves and meet our needs in the same way we think we should meet theirs. That’s where we can get this wrong.
The column is currently exploring the link between the state of emotional fidelity that exists between couples and the state of HIV/AIDS prevalence that exists as a nation. To do so, the article explores the ways how men and women think and feel emotions differently.
When we are aware of the differences, we “are freed from the tendency to change our partners at those times we are not getting what we want. With a greater level of acceptance and understanding, love flourishes and we get what we want from our relationships,” says the author of “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”, Dr John Gray.
The freedom from the tendency to change partners or retain a “variety of them” now becomes a critical key to seeing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS decline.
This week we continue to explore more of the twelve kinds of emotional love that can exist between a man and woman in love. Physically, we probably have rather similar needs, the need to appease hunger and thirst, the need to stay warm and for shelter, and so on.
But that’s where the similarities end for the “opposite” genders. Emotionally, we are like from different planets, so says, Dr John Gray, “Men are from Mars” and “Women are from Venus” and then we met on earth without realizing how we come from two different planets! Go figure! And we did not come with a handbook to navigate us through this emotional maze.
Here’s one example of this difference.
A man wants his favourite woman to trust that he can handle whatever is bothering him. That he can handle his problems is important for his honour, pride and self-esteem. However for the woman, not worrying about him is difficult for her. Worrying for others is one way women express their love and caring. It is a way of showing love. Go figure but it is true.
For a woman, being happy when the person you love is upset just doesn’t seem right.
Ironically, men show their love by not worrying.
He does not want her to be happy because he is upset, but he does want her to be happy. It helps him to feel loved by her. “How can you worry about someone whom you admire and trust?”, a man questions.
But for a woman, she wants him to worry for her when she was upset. Sometimes, it takes years for a man to figure this distinction. Without understanding this distinction and if a man minimizes the importance of her concerns, this would make the woman more upset. Again something that does not make sense from a man’s perspective, but it is true. Ask your man and woman friends (this can make very interesting conversation over a pint of beer!)
The best comes out in a man when his six primary (yes, there are six of them) love needs are fulfilled. But when a woman doesn’t know what he primarily needs and give a caring love rather than a trusting love, she may unknowingly worsen their relationship. Here is a story in point.
The knight in Shining Armour
(Extracted from “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”).
This is a powerful metaphor to help us remember a man’s primary needs. Too much caring and assistance will lessen his confidence or turn him off.
Deep inside every man there is a hero or a knight in shining armour. More than anything, he wants to succeed in serving and protecting the woman he loves. When he feels trusted, he is able to tap into his noble part of himself. He becomes more caring. When he doesn’t feel trusted, he loses some of his aliveness and energy and after a while he can stop caring.
Imagine a knight in shining armour travelling through the countryside. Suddenly he hears a woman crying out in distress, In an instant, he comes alive. Urging his horse to gallop, he races to her castle, where she trapped by a dragon. The noble knight pulls out his sword and slays the dragon. As a result, he is lovingly received the by the princess.
As the gate open he is welcomed and celebrated by the family of the princess and the townspeople. He is invited to live in the town and is acknowledged as a hero. He and the princess fall in love.
A month later as the noble knight returns from another trip, he hears his beloved princess crying out for help. Another dragon has attacked the castle. When the knight arrives he pulls out his sword to slay the dragon. Before he swings, the princess cries, “Don’t use the sword, use this noose. It will work better.”
She throws him the noose and motions to him instructions about how to use it. He hesitantly follows her instructions. He wraps it around the dragon’s neck and then pulls hard. The dragon dies and everyone rejoices.
At the celebration dinner, the knight feels he didn’t really do anything. Somehow, because he used her noose and didn’t use his sword, he doesn’t feel worthy of the town’s trust and admiration. And the even he is slightly depressed and forgets to shine his armor.
A month later he goes on yet another trip. As he leaves with his sord, the princess reminds him to be careful and tells him to take the noose. On his way home, he sees yet another dragon attacking the castle. This time he rushes forward with his sword but hesitates, thinking maybe he should use the noose. In that moment of hesitation, the dragon breathes fire and burns his right arm. In confusion, he looks and sees his princess waving from the castle window.
“Use the poison,” she yells. “The noose doesn’t work.”
She throws him the poison, which he pours into the dragon’s mouth and the dragon dies. Everyone rejoices and celebrates, but the knight feels ashamed.
A month later, he goes on another trip. As he leaves with his sword, the princess reminds him to be careful, and to bring the noose and the poison. He is annoyed by her suggestions but brings them just in case.
This time on his journey he hears another woman in distress. As he rushes to her call, his depression is lifted and he feels confident and alive. But as he draws his sword to slay the dragon, he again hesitates. He wonders, should I use my sword, the noose or the poison? What would the princess say?
For a moment, he is confused. But then he remembers how he had felt before he knew the princess, back in the days when he only carried a sword. With a burst of renewed confidence, he throws off the noose and poison and charges the dragon with his trusted sword. He slays the dragon and the townspeople rejoice.
The knight in shining armour never returned to his princess. He stayed in this new village, married the princess and lived happily ever after.
As the couple learns to meet these differences it prepares the couple to move to the next deeper level of emotional intimacy between them. Respect. And Appreciation. This will be the subject of next week’s column.
In what way does not knowing these differences that exist between a couple have an impact on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS as a nation?
Would this series of causality be different for countries beyond Botswana in instances where the epidemic has become resistant to our effort to intervene it? Strange as this question may sound, whose mandate is it to understand and “manage” these distinctions? The medical sector? The United Nations? The government? Who would that be? What do you think? What do your friends think?
Ms Sheila Damodaran works as a Systemic Strategy Development consultant currently developing her practice with national planning commissions in southern Africa. She welcomes comments and queries for her programmes at https://www.facebook.com/SystemicThinkingColumnist or call DID: 3931518 or email email@example.com.