Question to Rudolf by a concerned man: “Is it also your experience that more and more men complain to you that women get back at them, put them down and want to dominate. Was this an expression of the gender war that has gone on for centuries and can’t be solved?”
Rudolf: When there is domination, there is fear. A person that feels powerful in themselves does not need to dominate another. To see their partner as the enemy is a tragedy in relationships between men and women.
A typical situation that leads to a reinforcement of the partners’ reciprocal patterns looks like this:
The woman has a particular need. Since she was not encouraged to value her needs as she grew up, she may resort to complaining and demanding, when she doesn’t feel heard.
This feeds into the man’s tendency to put himself down, since he was told as a child that he was wrong for doing something wrong. Being wrong became very scary as it carried the feeling of being unloved which potentially threatens a child’s existence.
Then the man reacts and fights back, either openly or hidden. The woman doesn’t get her need met, which intensifies her complaining. So both reinforce their old messages: the man of being wrong, the woman of not being able to get what she needs.
Of course, this example is very much simplified and can also be reversed amongst partners. What I notice is, that it is common that people with respective patterns partner up. Maybe we have the inner urge to overcome and heal an old emotional wound, and there is no one better suited to help in this process than a person who can trigger us.
That’s the good news: Your spouse, who frustrates you and seems to rewound you deeply can also help you to overcome it, by giving you the initiative to change an old belief about yourself that is no longer useful and to learn a new behaviour.
When a partner feels powerless, he/she tends to focus on the other as the all powerful one. Yet this only increases the feeling of powerlessness. What is empowering is to focus on oneself and inquire into how we have contributed to the situation, and what our options are.
For the man this means if he feels put down, he actually recognizes that he feels like a child which looks at the woman in his life as a critical parent. An alternative would be to self soothe and take responsibility for his acquired tendency of making himself wrong. Counselling and male support groups (like the one offered by Mensline, ph: 3654239) are helpful for this process. Here men can regain their dignity in a healthier way than escaping their old grief and hurt by badmouthing women, withdrawing into self pity, escaping into compulsive behaviour, getting drunk or becoming violent.
Mirjam: I respond to the same question from a female perspective and refer to group gender differences in the knowledge that they are many individual exceptions. I believe that men and women grow up with different cultural expectations and conditionings, that the way the dominant culture views men and women affects all of us. Do women get back at their men, put them down and want to dominate them?
I have seen many women angry and frustrated with men; in particular their lack of relating. Relating for many women is about listening, sharing feelings, responding to feelings with empathy, considering needs and staying engaged when the going gets tough.
Many men don’t get much practice in the arena of empathy. They learn early enough that doing and achieving holds more status than relating. Often they don’t know how to relate. Most of their relational needs have gone underground. Not knowing how to be relational, they avoid it, devalue it, or deny it. They often have the same yearning for connection as women, yet feel threatened, inadequate and overwhelmed by women’s demands for connection.
How come women have become demanding?
Culturally speaking, women’s equality means, we have a right to a place in a man’s world. Simply speaking, this means, women can play rugby too, yet often it doesn’t translate into women’s voices being heard and responded to, next to men’s voices. As Janet Surrey points out: “Simply put, mutuality is when differences add.”
Many women grow up feeling less than men. When women’s need for relating is devalued by men with judgments of “oversensitive, too demanding, needy or dependent”, then women suffer. Women’s anger often masks a deep hurt and is a cry for attention. It is women’s way of saying: “There is something wrong with this relationship, and I want change.”
Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch
Copyright © 5/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #117, May2000