Dr. Sherman, my husband always leaves the front door unlocked after I repeatedly ask him to lock it. Is there anything I can do to change his habits?
The issue you raise about safety is a typical variation in the way women and men view the world—quite different perspectives! It is not uncommon for a woman to imagine danger and, therefore, react to a situation that a man hardly notices.
There are a couple of different theories as to why the genders tend to weigh in on opposite poles. Please understand I am speaking stereotypically—there will be exceptions.
One theory is that of evolution. Men are hunters and women are the caretakers. Thus, women are going to be more concerned with potential threats as they watch over the young.
Biologically, the brains of men and women are not wired the same way and therefore, the very same material gets processed differently. Women employ more neural networking and use both hemispheres to take in information. Add to this a woman’s heightened hormonal responsiveness. Additionally, it has been found that women’s brains respond more to emotional arousal, encode emotional memories to a greater extent, and have a decreased inhibitory response. All of these factors would lead to the conclusion that women appear to be more emotionally reactive than men.
Many also believe that the genders are socialized differently whereby women are allowed to express their emotions more freely while men have been raised to be "big and brave." This type of upbringing for men might cause them to learn not to react to potentially threatening situations.
It’s also important to consider the culture in which one is raised. Unfortunately, in the U.S., many times our media is focused on negativity and making us aware of potential danger. If you listen to broadcasts in Canada, the news is quite different. Clearly, this varying exposure will have an impact on our perception.
All this having been said, the real concern is how do you deal with the differences?
I do want to add one important point: each of you can learn to control your reactions. In this very stressful world, the less reactive you are, the less stress you will experience and the greater life satisfaction you will have. So, take in a long slow breath—it will calm you down and help you enjoy your surroundings and partner!
- Fear is probably the strongest emotion we have. You can’t tell a person not to feel it—especially in the moment that it’s being experienced. First, be understanding of what the person is feeling. Once the emotions are understood, the person will be able to be more reasonable about the logical part of the situation.
- If your partner is always cool, calm and collected—rather than seeing the situation, or yourself, as trivialized—recognize at the very least it’s just a difference in your styles.
- Be willing to talk about matters where one of you perceives there is a potential threat that requires some action, e.g. installing a burglar alarm. Aside from the actual concern there will be tangential issues like how much it will cost or who will be home when it gets installed. All of these practical points need to be addressed so that each of you feels your viewpoint has been considered.
- Come to appreciate your differences. Can you imagine how paralyzed you would be as a couple if you both lived in fear? Or, if neither of you ever worried, you might be vulnerable to some potential risks. The variations in your styles provide a good balance.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.