ERP 377: How Gender Differences Complicate Relationships & What You Need To Know — Interview With Dr. Ricky Arenson

By Posted in - Podcast June 20th, 2023 0 Comments

Relationships are beautiful, intricate webs of connection and understanding, but they can also be challenging to navigate, especially when gender differences come into play.

In this episode, we delved into the complexities of how gender dynamics can impact our interactions with our partners. From the importance of attunement and nurturing attitudes to recognizing and addressing each other’s needs, we explored valuable insights that can help foster healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

One of the key takeaways from this discussion was the significance of being in service of the greater good within a relationship. Rather than getting caught up in defending opposing views or trying to win arguments, it’s essential to shift our focus towards understanding and supporting each other’s deeper needs and desires.

By harnessing this nurturing attitude and seeking to understand our partners on a deeper level, we can build stronger foundations of support and care.

Dr. Ricky Arenson is a highly regarded Endocrinologist specializing in hormones and Geriatrician. He has been happily married to Katherine, an ER specialist and medical inventor, for two decades. Together with their four children, they live in Perth, Western Australia.

Dr. Arenson is a multi-award-winning medical leader, holding the esteemed position of Head of the Department of Geriatric Medicine at Royal Perth Hospital, where he also serves as a Hospital Director. Additionally, he has authored the thought-provoking book, “Women are Superior to Men,” and showcases his comedic talents as a freelance comedian.

In this Episode

6:39 Hormone-related issues can cause relationship problems.

11:38 From teaching doctors to writing a book: The journey of Dr. Ricky Arenson

15:27 Common gender differences that affect relationships and strategies for negotiating conflicts.

22:19 Challenging stereotypes: Embracing individuality within gender differences.

25:57 Fluidity and diverse aspects of gender: Recognizing the masculine and feminine within.

29:58 Evolutionary perspectives and gender roles: Exploring differences and complementary attributes.

35:34 The importance of taking care of each other.

41:40 The importance of timing and understanding what you want.

45:18 Bringing humor and enjoyment into the relationship space.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Take the time to truly understand your partner’s perspective and emotions, even if they differ from your own, fostering a deeper connection and mutual understanding.
  • Communicate openly and honestly: Encourage open dialogue about gender-related concerns or differences, allowing both partners to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
  • Reflect on your own beliefs, biases, and expectations related to gender roles, and challenge any stereotypes that may hinder your relationship’s growth.
  • Pay attention to subtle cues and signals from your partner, considering factors such as fatigue, stress, or worry, and respond with compassion and support.
  • Embrace humor and lightheartedness: Use laughter as a tool to diffuse tension and create a joyful atmosphere within your relationship, fostering a sense of connection and shared enjoyment.
  • Seek professional guidance if needed.
  • Shift your mindset from winning arguments to seeking mutually beneficial outcomes, ensuring that the relationship’s well-being takes precedence over individual needs.
  • Cultivate a mindset of care and support for your partner, seeking to understand their needs and concerns, and actively engaging in actions that nurture and strengthen your bond.
  • Stay open to learning about gender differences and their impact on relationships, read books, attend workshops, or engage in discussions that broaden your understanding and help you develop new perspectives.

Mentioned

Women Are Superior to Men: The Real Secret to a Fantastic Marriage, Joyful Parenting & Better Sex! (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Type Of Relationship Support (survey)

Connect with Dr. Ricky Arenson

Websites: drrickyarenson.com

Facebook: facebook.com/drrickyarenson

Podcast: open.spotify.com/show/1IYdw1kwt8l7CKUaERFiC0

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Ricky, thank you for joining us today.

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure and privilege. 

Yes. I was just remarking on how I appreciate your enthusiasm and your promotion of positivity, and also your sense of humor. So I’m looking forward to our conversation.

I’m always nervous trying to be funny at 11 at night in my time; my wife definitely doesn’t laugh at my jokes at 11 at night. So I’ll do my best.

I’ll try to be a good audience for you. Well, I appreciate just this time and you making yourself available at such a late hour there. As we turn towards the topic of gender differences, how couples get into trouble, how it might even lead to conflict. As an endocrinologist, how did you start supporting couples in relationship?

So it’s a long story how I got to where I’ve got to with writing a book about relationships. The endocrinologists deal with hormonal issues, it’s one of the big things we deal with. And with couples, you often find, well, certainly I often find when I see patients, that a patient will present with what they think is a hormonal problem, but it’s often a relationship problem, and vice versa. So sometimes people come in, and a man goes, “I’ve got no libido, I’ve got low testosterone.” But what you really uncover is their hormones are fine and they’re physically well, but there’s actually a significant relationship or psychological issue at play. The opposite also happens, that people who have hormonal issues, it often causes relationship problems, because it affects mood, it affects libido. So all of these things impact on relationships.

So if you’re in that space, there are a lot of endocrinologists who deal just with the medical side of it and they’re only interested in the hormone levels, and the testosterone is this and the estrogen is that. But for me personally, I take great pleasure in dealing with people. So for me, talking to patients, understanding them, and helping them in whatever way I can, really gives me enormous satisfaction. So I get involved in this, but I don’t do it as a profession. So I’m not a counselor, and obviously, I direct people towards where they need to go if there are relationship issues that need assistance. 

Yes, well, thank you for giving that perspective. So often, in training as a couples’ therapist or even working in the therapeutic space, many people are referring to a medical practitioner or someone like yourselves to get a screen, if there’s sexual issues or the libido or the different concerns, because that is huge. So you’re saying they’re related, and sometimes it’s difficult to discern if it’s a medical or a relational. So this is some of what you’ve been seeing.

Absolutely. I think as well, it can be really interesting, because the dynamics that play out around hormones are quite fascinating. So for example, many of the patients, the men who come and see me with low testosterone, some of them are dragged in by their wives, and the wife is going, “I want to have an active sexual relationship, and my husband’s just not interested.” Sometimes the wives come in, and they go, “I love having a demure husband who never asked for sex.” So it’s quite interesting. Often, you get so many different dynamics coming through with these kinds of hormonal issues and different relationship dynamics. 

So I think one of the most interesting thing, when you say that people should get referred to doctors, is sometimes when people aren’t referred to doctors, I saw a chap of 80 who actually came to see me for fragile bones; he was getting fractures, and he had no testosterone. I asked him and his wife when last he had a libido, and he said, when he was 30. So 50 years, he hadn’t had sex for 50 years, and they just hadn’t ever consulted a doctor. When I put him on testosterone, he was very excited, and he and his wife kind of had this new toy to play with in their relationship. 

But first, he was a very keen golfer. So he cared much more about his golf swing than he did about his sex life. So the main thing he wants to do is play better golf, which of course he did with testosterone. So when he came back to see me for follow-up, he complained that he was hitting the ball much further, but his putting game was suffering, because he kept getting unwanted. I don’t know, it’s kind of rude words on your show. But he seemed to find the greens greatly to his sexual liking, and he couldn’t putt properly as a result. So I told him to take his wife to the golf course late at night. So I fixed his testosterone, and he and his wife, after 50 years, they started having an active sexual relationship again. Of course, they were very excited to tell me about it. 80-year-old’s sex lives are wonderful, but probably best reserved not for the stories to tell other people. So I was delighted to discharge him as well with his problems fixed.

Well, thank you, that’s such an illuminative story to your point, and just how people can maybe not give credit or credence to the hormonal, the physiological system, the endocrine system, and what’s happening. So it’s really powerful. What got you interested? Did you just get curious, and so that you wanted to write a book to extrapolate on these things?

Actually, not at all. So it’s quite interesting, because my fascination with relationships came about in what may sound like the most boring way. So as I was ascending in medicine, to my great surprise, and it took me a long time. I think in life, you take a long time to understand what you’re good at and how to use that. I think often you look back on your life when you’re a bit older, and you think, “Wow, I didn’t realize I was good at these things.” You’re often different to other people, and it takes you a long time to realize that often the differences that you have are skills, or they’re unique things about yourself that you can use. 

So I found myself getting promoted very rapidly through medical ranks, and sort of climbing up to become a Head of Department and a Hospital Director and all these very high leadership positions, and it was to my great surprise. As I was ascending, I was feeling more and more that many doctors don’t understand relationships very well. They understand medicine. But of course, doctors are human, and some humans are good at relationships and people, and some aren’t. As I ascended in leadership, I was managing more and more people, and keeping people happy and bonding teams and taking other people’s problems on my shoulders and solving conflicts between people got me really fascinated in the way doctors relate to relationships and people. So I started to teach other doctors, relationship skills at work. I started running courses on relationships skills, and they became very popular. So I had 50 specialists often on a half-day course, teaching them about: how do you make other people happy, how do you make relationships work, how do you run a team, how do you deal with people who are grieving? All these sorts of issues. How do you avoid conflict, how do you manage conflict? 

This is an absolutely true story, I promise. My wife’s also a doctor. She was a bit grumpy that I kept getting promoted. She was saying, it’s definitely sexist that you keep getting promoted, and not me. I was like, must be, and she may well be right. But either way, she said, “I’m going to come to one of your courses, because I need the professional development points, and I’ll get a day of professional development leave.” I said, great. She said, “Ah, I’m sure it’s going to be really boring and I’ll learn nothing.” I said, “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence.” So she came along to the course, and she loved it. She walked out and she said, “That was amazing! I learned so much, and everywhere, when they love the course, you have to write a book, because people are interested in what you have to say.” So that kind of got me interested. Well, I never thought to write a book, because I thought I don’t have anything special to contribute that other people would want to know about. And she kind of inspired me. I was like, well, the sheer must be obeyed, ordered me to write a book, I’ll start writing. 

Then as I was writing, this is another true story. I was on the ward late at night, and there were a bunch of nurses around me, and they were getting more and more grumpy fighting their husbands. They were all like, “Why doesn’t my husband know that he needs to feed the kids? I mean, every night the kids need to be fed!” The next nurse was like, “I hate the fact that I have to spend my dinner break on the phone to my husband giving him instructions. Doesn’t he know how look after kids?” The other nurses said, “Oh you know, having a husband is like having an extra child.” So I just turned to them, and I said, “You know, you’re all just expecting too much. Women are superior to men.” They all kind of swapped around me, and they were like, “Oh, that’s such a brilliant idea. You should write a book! That’s such an exciting idea.” So I said okay, so I did. So that’s really a true story.

Wow. Well, I love the storytelling, because it’s really helping me understand you and where you’re coming from. It sounds like a really beautiful blend of both humor, but also just things that most people can relate to, and then also really helping people have some real depth of strategy and skill to negotiate these differences and conflicts.

Well, I hope so. I mean, that was the idea of the book was to make it really fun. Everyone’s so serious these days, and when it comes to gender and sexuality, everyone’s depressed and miserable and shouting at each other. So I really said, well, hey, I think my wife is amazing, and I wanted to write a book to celebrate the fact that women are amazing. Most of us have a fantastic mother. When Mother’s Day comes along, there’s only a few lucky people in the world who have unpleasant mothers. But most people are like, “My mother is amazing. I want to give her a special day.” And many of us men are lucky to have fantastic wives. So I wanted to celebrate that. At the same time, being a man, I felt that I was at liberty to laugh at the things that I know my mom complains about all the people I know. 

That was another fascinating feature that inspired me in the book, was when I got married, I found that all the women and men complained about the same things in their marriages; the women were complaining about their husbands in certain ways, the wives, and the husbands were complaining. So I was very excited by that idea, and to celebrate women, but at the same time, laugh a bit about the things about husbands that can be a bit irritating, and then bring my experience from managing relationships and all that I had studied in my leadership training, about how to solve conflicts and have strategies to make things work better for both partners.

Great! Well, I know we’re not going to be able to cover everything in today’s conversation. But what would you like to start with or feels important, and the common gender differences that affect relationships?

So I think one of the most fascinating things that everyone loves is why men can’t find things in cupboards. Because many wives in the world have the experience of sending their husband to fetch something out the fridge, and he yells back, “Honey, there’s no butter in the fridge!” The wife goes, “It’s right there, I bought it earlier.” “No, there’s no butter in the fridge.” Then the wife marches over, finds it straightaway, and goes, how could you not see this? So I think that that’s a very fascinating brain difference between men and women, which has actually been studied using functional brain studies, that have shown that men actually focus attention in a much more focused way in their brains, on average, and women actually use their brains more diversely. 

A likely speculative outcome of that is that women do tend to often be more emotionally connected in the way that they think and the way that their minds work, and men tend to be very, very focused. I think that is a cause of a lot of conflicts in couples. Because I think most wives know that if their husband is attached to a mobile phone, he’s pretty much as good as useless to the world. That even though, “Ah, I can hear what you’re saying, honey, I can send an email and talk to you at the same time.” No, you can’t. So I think that’s a very irritating thing often to wives, how men become very focused, and task distraction is very hard for them. Whereas women have this amazing ability to have all these balls in the air at once. They can run a Zoom meeting, and cook dinner, and know where all the kids are in time and space at once. It’s really quite a magical ability. 

Free Man Carrying Woman Stock Photo

“I think multitasking almost underplays how exceptional many wives’ ability is to have all these balls in the air and know where they all are, whereas men are very much lasered in on that one ball that they focused on at any given time.”

I found that quite difficult bringing up children. Because I’d be helping one kid up the stepladder at the park to go down the slide, and I’d completely forget where the two-year-old was. Two minutes later, I’d be like, “Oh, what happened to the two-year-old? Oh, they’re okay.” Whereas my wife is always serenely managing 20 things at once. So I think that that’s something which couples do fight about a lot as well. My wife is not very forgiving of that. But quite a few women who have read the book have gone, “Ah, it’s nice to know that my husband is normal, because I’ll try not to be so irritated by this anymore.” So I always say to my wife, hey, if everyone else can do that, you can as well. She’s like, no, I want you to get better.

Well, thank you again for giving us something that we can all probably see the relevance and how we might be able to resonate with this. The thing that I’m thinking about, as you’re describing, is stereotypically, I think men often are a little bit more compartmentalized. This is what you’re describing in the sense of like, focused on one particular area. Then even the brain, the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere for female brain, the connective tissue and the ability to fluctuate back and forth, and the fluidity of that. Is that related to what you’re describing?

Absolutely. With that as well, it’s quite fascinating that studies have actually shown that women access emotional memory, on average, more readily and more powerfully than men. There are many consequences. I mean, you’re a counselor, there are many consequences for this in counseling. 

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“Men, as a defense mechanism, are more inclined, because of their compartmentalization, to retreat into themselves, often when they are dealing with stress or grief or relationship difficulties. Whereas women are much more likely to want to connect.”

I think you can see that also in the way people socialize. You look at teenage girls at school, and they’re hugging each other and they’re laughing, and they’re very much connected in a very emotional way. Whereas a lot of the boys are a little bit different. It’s not that men are not emotional. Because of course, we’re all human, and we have powerful emotions. But the way that they connect with emotion is a bit different, and as you say, it’s much more compartmentalized. 

That causes a lot of couple issues. Because often, when men, I think you can call it retreat to the empty box. That when they’re feeling stressed, they go fishing, or they stare at a ball bouncing on a screen, and their mind is blank while they’re doing that. Then girlfriends and wives often feel a bit neglected, because they’re trying to access their male, and he’s focused on what he’s focused on. Then he gets irritated, because that’s his way of dealing with the problem, whereas she wants to connect. Of course, women are wise, emotional connection is the way to solve most problems. But men, as a reflex, they often retreat into this box. So I guess that’s your challenge as a counselor as well. That’s probably what you do a lot is trying to bring people out and say, hey, we need to talk about these things, and talk about them together, or you can’t fix them.

Right. Well, there is a safety and a neutrality in having the therapeutic support and a framework that allows for this. I just want to back up a bit and just say how even just this one gender difference, and the brain chemistry, the neurochemical, all the things that go into the physiological differences. That if we don’t understand it, we might be speaking different languages, A. Then B, our expectations and our assumptions, we might get into a lot of trouble. 

I remember even as you’re talking, I think it was in one of my grad school, I think it was my PhD. My husband and I were talking about potentially leading a retreat together. We’re having this conversation, and it’s starting to get a little off-track. Like, why aren’t we thinking, and what’s happening here? My husband took out a piece of paper on his tablet, and he got a blank piece of paper, and then he pulled his pen out and he did a huge circle. He’s like, this is you. Then he did a dot in the middle of the circle, and he’s like, this is me. “This is what you’re talking about, and this is what I’m talking about. We’re absolutely different focuses.” It couldn’t be more relevant to what you’re describing, and I think it has a lot of implications.

Yeah, I think that’s fascinating. I think it’s also very important, while we’re mentioning that, that this is one of the areas I find very difficult in modern culture. I suspect the internet and mobile phones and COVID have all played a part in making people so radicalized in their opinions. 

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“There’s this idea that if you talk about things being typical, that that’s somehow prejudicing you against people who are different. So because certain things occur commonly in relationships, and there’s certain ways that men tend to act commonly and women tend to act commonly, doesn’t in any way prejudice against people who are different.”

Fascinatingly, even though I’ve written this book about gender differences, the irony of it is that my wife and I actually have some bizarre opposites to what would be typical gender differences. So for example, my wife is amazing at fixing electrics and plumbing, and loves to do it. I think the greatest story about that is that when she was seven months pregnant, we had a property we owned that we thought was going to be a great rental for us. We actually lost a lot of money on it, and we realized we’re not property investors. She was tired of spending money on it, and the toilet broke, and we were called by the rental manager saying, “Hey, we need to get out a plumber to fix the toilet.” So my wife was like, “No, I’m not spending any more money, I’m going to fix the toilet.” So she drove out seven months pregnant with a new toilet, which she bought herself. She read up on the internet how to do it. She arrived at these poor people’s house, who don’t know us at all. So they open their door, and there’s a seven-month pregnant woman standing there going, I’m here to fix your toilet. Then she fixed the toilet, and then she rang me afterwards from the road to say, “You know that I don’t often say I’m proud of myself. But I’m proud of myself right now, I fixed that toilet.” 

In fact, even with emotional stuff, we are terrible. Because we do the opposite of what the typical gender description is. I come home and I’ve had a bad day, and I want to cuddle and love. When my wife comes home and she’s had a bad day, she wants solutions. So we really do buck that. So that’s ironic that I’ve gotten written a book that’s about the more typical gender differences.

Yes, and thank you for just giving a space and room that it might look different, for many reasons, and that a lot of this is fluid, or we might have different parts of ourselves that run more masculine and more feminine. I definitely can appreciate that in myself, and even with my husband. 

To even speak about what you were talking about the box, and perhaps how stereotypically men will connect versus women will connected, and the socialization around that, evolutionarily, even possibly. I’ve always understood or thought that men will typically bond more through the physicality, and they’re a little bit more physically aware, physically adept. Even it shows up sexually, they’re more aroused quickly, ready for sex. Conversely, a woman might be not as quick physiologically, physically, and also, sexually need a little more time. Where a woman might be much more adept in the emotional realm, like be able to recognize she’s feeling something, be able to pinpoint it, identify it, and be ready to articulate and talk about it. Where a man, conversely, might need a little bit more time, maybe even hours or days, to even get in touch with what am I feeling. Again, not that there’s less emotional capacity, but just the language and the accessing it relationally might be a little different. 

I totally agree, that actually brings together quite a few things we’ve just been discussing. Because when you think about the way most male brains work, that they have compartmentalization and uni-focus. So when it comes to sex, men are very much more uni-focused. There’s that box that’s labeled sex, they go into that box, and then there’s just sex. So I’ve got a joke about that in my book. I’ve said, don’t initiate the launch sequence. So when a wife wants to give her husband a nice hug, she comes to give her husband a hug, and his eyes light up, and now you’ve initiated the launch sequence. He’s like yay, and she’s like, well, actually, I need to go to work, I only wanted to give you a hug. But it’s too late. He’s like, yeah, I’ve gone into that box. 

So men, there’s an old joke, what’s good sex for men and women? Well, women like soft music and romance, and their relationship needs to be working. The men just turn up naked. So the men are in that sort of sex box, which is just sex, and that’s the only thing on their mind when that happens. So they are aroused quickly, and they’re in the mood, and that’s it. Whereas women, because they do have all this more complex emotional connection in their brain, there’s a much more emotional component to sexuality for women in many ways than men. So if their emotions are not aligned, for them, that does affect how they relate sexually. That, again, comes back to what we were discussing earlier, that there’s evidence that women do connect more emotionally, and more readily emotionally, and more deeply emotionally, with experience, and that includes sexual experience. 

I guess that’s one of my concerns about modern society where we try to drive an agenda that’s not actually strictly true, and that agenda is that men and women are exactly the same. Because one of the problems with this is that teenagers, girls are much more vulnerable to sexuality and damage from it than boys. The fact is, boys do fall in love, men fall in love, they get damaged in relationships, they can have sexually damaging experiences. But teenage boys are very keen to have sex, whereas teenage girls have a lot more damage often when those sexual relationships go wrong, and they’re much more vulnerable in many different ways; sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and the emotional damage that often occurs around these things. Even around societal prejudices where girls get branded as being loose. Or sexually, there’s negative ideas around a girl who slept with guys, whereas guys, it’s like a status symbol. So I think there is a vulnerability, and we can’t not teach women to protect themselves. I think that’s something very important, that we do protect young women from unnecessary sexual risk.

I’ve understood that the way that oxytocin female brain or the female experience, that might be different. That bonding hormone, it’s the cuddly, it’s the eye-gazing after sex. That that might bond and have stereotypically a woman, or, in this case, a young woman, be much more engaged in relationship in a committed way, when maybe she’s not thinking very clearly because she had sex, and that’s influencing her thinking brain that’s more rational and can make good decisions.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a standard joke, isn’t it, that men just fall asleep after sex, and women often want to be held. So I think that’s a great way to start a fight with a husband, is after sex, when he’s gone sleepy, sort of shake him, wake up and hold me now! I remember years ago, a woman actually complained to me and she was like, hey, we do get the hard end of the stick, so to speak, in sex. That it’s so much less effort in many ways for men; they don’t have to think and focus and get their emotions aligned. Then you just fall asleep afterwards, and I can’t fall asleep. It wasn’t said to me; this was a woman talking about her own observation of men. So she was complaining of, why can’t we just go to sleep straight afterwards as well? So I think that’s sort of a humorous difference often, between men and women.

Yeah. It makes me think of the concept of mental load, I don’t know if you’ve come across that. I haven’t read the book, but I know; clients have told me, and I get the concept of it. That stereotypically, a woman will be holding so much more mentally, whether or not it’s the social calendar, or do we need to get groceries, or what needs to happen. All of that is happening and being held by the woman, where the guy more, to your point, compartmentalized, is thinking about just the thing that’s right there.

Absolutely. There is a very good genetic and evolutionary reason for these things. Because primarily, actually for the survival of humanity, men are primarily designed to protect, and we’re also designed to hunt. And women, there was very little available for contraception, even a hundred years ago, and there were no baby formulas a few hundred years ago. So for humans to survive as a species, women fell pregnant; they fell pregnant frequently, because they didn’t have great contraception. Then they were pregnant, menstruating, breastfeeding, and they didn’t have all the modern opportunities that we have to create equality in our roles, because there just weren’t those opportunities. It was much more difficult. 

So men, when they hunt or they are fighting wars, which unfortunately, humans are very prone to doing, and it’s a big survival issue for humans, men have to be uni-focused. Because if you’re fighting in a war, you’re focusing on killing other people and not being killed. Sounds horrible, but I mean, it’s true. Or if you’re hunting, it’s the same. You’re hunting an animal, you’re focused on shooting an arrow at it, or hitting it with a spearhead. That’s the only focus that you have, you can’t be thinking about when the kid’s homework is due and what’s going on at home. 

Whereas with women being designed for human survival, to actually nurture young and take care of the young family, they do have amazing equipment for doing that. They do have this ability to know where all the kids are, and when their homework is due, and what’s going on at school. I think a mistake that often people make is to make something negative out of this, because it’s actually a wonderful attribute to admire in women. But it doesn’t in any way, suggest that women shouldn’t become CEOs and presidents and run countries, and that men shouldn’t be caring fathers and share the load at home. It’s just that women do have these skills that often men lack, and that’s just the reality of evolution.

They’re both important, both of these skill sets or these ways of approaching the world are important for different reasons. Yes, I do think we can develop other skills, and to your point, the roles can be different and be expressed differently in each person. I think there’s a lot of fluidity to this. I think the thing I’m hearing you speak to is to not actually negate or take away from some of these brain structure or some of the genetic or even the biological makeup here.

I totally agree. I think the one thing I’d add to that is that it’s all become very much about political ideology, and that’s exactly what it shouldn’t be about. Because it’s about each couple’s individual situation. So when a couple gets married, it’s all about what works for them and what makes them happy. As long as the wife is happy in what she’s doing, and the husband is happy in what he’s doing, and they’re taking care of each other, then who are we to judge what they should be doing? So in some couples, maybe the husband will stay at home with the kids and the wife will be a high-flying businesswoman. Or other couples, I know a lot of women now, and I think this is tragic, they feel ashamed about the fact. 

Actually, it goes both ways. It’s fascinating. I was chatting to one of my colleagues yesterday, and I’ve been pushing her up into leadership because she’s really, really good. I was saying to her, so many women get made to feel ashamed for being stay-at-home moms. I mean, what could be more important than bringing up children? It’s a massive responsibility, it has a massive influence on many lives. So why is making money more important than bringing up children? She said, and you know something, I started working full-time, and I feel that I’m judged by other mothers for working full-time. 

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“I just think putting judgment into the space is so wrong, because everyone has a different relationship, different circumstances. Ideally, the best relationship is where both partners commit themselves unreservedly to taking care of the needs of the other. Once they do that, the relationship is going to be amazing.”

That means I may not care as much about housework as my wife does, but I care about my wife. So I need to help her, because I care about her.

Right. This makes a lot of room and gives a lot of permission for playing to people’s strengths, complementing each other, working together in a collaborative way, and in a way that it’s a win-win-win all around.

Absolutely. I must tell you, my wife is an amazing person. I’ll just say about my wife, she’s an emergency physician. She’s actually a medical inventor, believe it or not. She has invented a medical device, and she won one of the Western Australian Innovator of the Year awards. She’s just a phenomenal person. She does like 10 jobs, and she’s an amazing mother and amazing wife. But one thing she did do for me, and I guess this is a case in point, is when we got married, she said to me, “Look, we’re both doctors, we both go to work and work hard. Why should I do more of the housework than you? That’s ridiculous! We’re both working equal hours, you should do equal housework.” I said, that’s fair. Then we went through a stage in our careers where she was spending a lot more time at home with the kids, and I was working very long hours, and I was coming home very, very tired. She said to me, because I was coming home sort of eight, nine at night all the time. She said, “You know something? You’re just too tired, when you come home, to be doing housework. I am going to do it all for you, because I’ve got more time on my hands and I can see that that’s what you need.” I guess that’s the greatest statement of of how every relationship should work. For me, it was wonderful. Because I was just doing it, but I was just too exhausted to be washing dishes at 9 or 10 at night after working a 14-hour day. So I think that’s great. I mean, I can only thank my wife for being awesome.

Right, to not be mad at you, or again, going back to the conflict that can occur, is attributing the behavior to not caring or not being not loving, or some of these misunderstandings. So it’s really beautiful that she was recognizing and just pivoting towards a different way of operating that could support your whole system, your whole family.

Absolutely. So I think that’s all about it. I mean, ultimately, what is a relationship but taking care of each other? 

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“It’s not about gender roles or what people should be doing. It’s about how do we take care of each other, and make sure that both of us are happy.”

Wow, that’s beautiful. I love that. Well, before we lose you, because I know we have limited time, I’m curious if you want to share any of the strategies that you encourage to help couples negotiate these differences and improve their relationships.

Well, I’ve actually got some really simple rules. I’m just writing a book on parenting, and I have very simple rules that go through all my books. So one of my rules is: work with, not against, which is that you will almost invariably do better if you engage with someone, and there’s often no need to fight. If you just have an attitude that you want to get on with people, and negotiate, compromise, talk about things together, and you carry that attitude in your life, there’s no need often to fight with people. Even in work politics, I’m dealing with a very high-level matter with the health minister in my state, and everyone wants to fight on both sides. I’m looking at this going, I really want to meet with the politicians on behalf of health, and talk to them about how we can rather engage. Because all of us want the health system to get better, so why fight? A marriage is like that as well. There’s often no need to fight, it’s just about having an attitude of working together. 

A second really easy strategy is something I call the stop rule. The stop rule is, it’s my own rule, it’s to stop, identify your desired outcome, and then proceed calmly in the correct direction. And what that means is, if you get an inflammatory text, if your wife says something that makes you really angry, or your husband, always stop and think about what you want, and then act accordingly. Because usually what people do is they get angry, and they shout at their partner. That’s going to cause a massive fight, and then ego has come into play, and that’s going to end up in a bad place. Especially that if my wife is grumpy or irritable, it might be that she’s actually feeling down, or she’s had a bad day, and the last thing that she needs is for me to shout at her. She might be behaving in an unreasonable fashion. But if you can just stop and say, what do I actually want out of this encounter? I want to be close to my wife, I don’t want to fight with her. It’s not a matter of being weak. Because often, even using the stop rule, if you stop and you identify that you need an outcome that you’re not going to get from being peaceable. The times at work, particularly where I have to actually push back and say to people, “Look, that’s not going to fly, we can’t do it that way, and I’m not willing to accept that.” 

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“I think you always want to be outcome-based, not emotion-based, in how you respond to conflict. You always want to be thinking, if I lash out at someone, I’m almost invariably going to make my own outcome worse, and how does that help me if I’m acting in a way that gives me a worse outcome?”

Especially with your spouse, you want to love each other and have a great relationship, and saying something mean to them, lashing out and getting angry, seldom is that going to give you the best outcome? So those are two very simple rules. I have a few, but I don’t want to bore you by harping on about all of them.

Well, I know people can get your book if they want to hear more and really engage with the material. I will say, in response to the first two that you’ve mentioned, I don’t know if you would agree. I love them both, first off. Because so often, people are positioned and feel the sense of opposing views, and can be really in a place of defending or arguing or persuading from that perspective. I often think what’s underneath is deeper meaning or what they’re really in service of. I was hearing that in your number two, stop, and then you talked a little bit more and I’m like, oh, it seems a little different. I love it. Because you’re saying, I remember years and years and years ago, I was like, am I trying to be right or am I actually trying to resolve this? If I can even ask myself, and I don’t run into this now, this is my younger years. But there are many, many times where I’m like, I’m definitely activated and I’m in the fight mode, just verbally bantering, and that that is juicing me up a little bit, that intensity. If I can recognize what my goal is, that’s going to change my delivery, it’s going to change my words, it’s going to change everything. 

The thing I was wondering, or want to wonder with you is, as you’re saying, it’s not emotional if we can be really in service of the outcome. What is it that we’re wanting to create, or the result that we’re in service of? That it’s not emotional, and I was wanting to wonder with you that if it is an emotional issue, and if I can stop and recognize what is it that I’m needing, what is it that I’m really wanting? Because I think a lot of times, couples or partners will really get into a conflict, and they’re out there activated, and they’re going back and forth, or perhaps even arguing, and maybe they don’t even know what matters to them.

That’s so important, I couldn’t agree more. So I think it’s not that the issue may not be about emotion, and you may be very emotionally involved in the issue. But the problem is that once people start fighting, they don’t want to lose; they want to win. You really want to get the right outcome, not be right. Because ultimately, that’s what your relationship needs. So often, by standing back and understanding what you want. 

So for me personally, as an example, sometimes, I know this sounds absolutely impossible to imagine, but sometimes my wife can be unreasonable, and I know that she’s in a bad mood. Often for me, it’s just a matter of being quiet, saying, I don’t need to have this fight and actually have a massive rile, because it’s just going to upset both of us. She says something that’s unreasonable, I’m quiet. I let the dust settle, and a few days later, I’ll bring up the issue with her and say, “Hey, I think we do need to talk about this because it is important. I don’t agree with what you said, I don’t think it was the right thing. But let’s talk about it.” But if you’re going to go into battle at that point when emotions are high, people say things that can’t be unsaid, damage is done, and both people end up hurt. 

So I just think it’s also about timing, and it’s about understanding, as you’ve said very well, what do I want out of this encounter, what outcome am I seeking in this argument? Often, people have arguments just because they’re both in a bad mood, and those are the worst kind, because people are just yelling at each other. There’s actually no purpose to that, it just does damage to the relationship. It maybe upsets the kids, and it’s not serving any useful purpose at all. So to just reflect at that point, “Hey, what am I doing here? No, this is not what I want to do.”

It’s great attunement on your part to really recognize, maybe your wife’s tired or she’s had a hard day. I think it is a great thing to be in service of when we look at this greater good, and the generosity and the caring for one another that you’re referring to. Because I can recall, there will be times where my husband and I are talking about something we want to do, a plan, or something we want to work together on. If I start to notice he’s getting a little tight or getting a little more pointed, I’m like, what? Sometimes I don’t catch it right away. But sometimes, if I can catch it, I’ll ask myself, what is it that he’s really needing, or what is it that’s concerning him? Because what he’s saying, it doesn’t help me understand sometimes. If I’m like, oh, he’s worried about us doing too much, or he’s worried about getting overwhelmed. If we can make that really clear, then I can help, and we’re not in this place of trying to articulate or convince, and we’re in service of supporting each other and caring for each other. But when it’s not known, sometimes we can get all lost and go all bad.

I mean, what you’re describing is something very beautiful, which is that I think it’s something that women, on average, are actually very good at nurturing husbands. What you’re describing is nurturing your relationship, and you are trying to get the best out of situations. You’re recognizing, “Hey, this isn’t working for him, something’s not going well here. I need to bring up what it is and make that work.” That’s a beautiful nurturing attitude.

Yeah. Well, there’s so much here. I appreciate your multidisciplinary approach, and I am so grateful to have your voice on today’s episode. Is there anything you want to say before we transition to how people can get your book? 

Yeah, I will say one thing. We’re talking about really serious issues. But the one thing I will say is, I am very into comedy and making people laugh. So one of the things that I was really excited with in writing a book was actually to bring laughter and happiness back into the space. So my book is very humorous about all kinds of funny experiences I’ve had, with patients who have told me bizarre sex stories, to my own experiences in life, which range from. I think everyone has a fascinating, rich life, if they put it down on paper. There’s so many interesting things that happen, everyone is a universe on their own. So I’m very excited about trying to bring humor and fun and joy back into the space. Because from my point of view, I always think I’m so lucky to be a man, and that’s not sexist. It’s because it’s got these two massive advantages. One, I don’t have to take care of a husband, and two, I’ve got an amazing wife. So I feel like I’m just so lucky, that I celebrate that and get very excited about it.

Yes. Well, I can feel inside me, when there’s play and laughter, I’m much more inclined to be engaged. So I think it’s a real great blend that you bring here. Well, how can people get your book?

So my book is Women Are Superior to Men, it’s on Amazon. So it’s available in the US on Amazon. I’ve got a website, which is DrRickyArenson.com. On there, I’ve also got podcasts now called Happy Healthy Ever After, which are podcasts for putting joy and fun back into sexuality and relationships. I’m on Instagram now. I’ve joined the 21st century, much to everyone’s surprise. It’s fascinating actually to see where the world is going with social media. I just usually work as a doctor, I just sit at my desk seeing patients for hours and hours and hours. But now I’m learning all about Instagram and all these things. So I’m also on Instagram under Dr. Ricky Arenson.

Well, good for you for just expanding your skill set and being willing to engage in new ways, and just the development of that. Well, it’s been so fun, and I know that this is rich in depth and content. I will make sure to have the link to your book, as well as your website and your Instagram. Did you say what people would find on the website?

The website, it’s DrRickyArenson.com. It’s got my book. It’s got my podcasts there. It’ll have your interview there when it gets published as well. So it has all the podcasts that I’ve been interviewed on as well, and various other links.

Wonderful. Well, thank you again for joining us here today.

Well, you’ve been wonderful as well. Thank you so much.

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching