Psychological Self-Help

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Coping with communication differences and hostile attributions
(views of the partner)
In general, women are more socially sensitive than men. They are
better listeners, more empathic in some ways, and give more
comforting (warm, caring) responses. On the other hand, young boys
and adolescent males are more likely than same-aged girls to act on
their empathic feelings for others, i.e. to give concrete help (Brehm,
Powell & Coke, 1984). Furthermore, some evidence indicates that
married men, when interacting with their wives, do more "good
communicating" than married women, including showing concern for
the wife's feelings, reassuring their wives, seeking forgiveness,
suggesting compromises, and remaining calm and problem-oriented
when arguing (Raush, Barry, Hertel, & Swain, 1974). Actually, both
sexes need to be good at detecting nonverbal cues. Early in a romantic
relationship, the ability of women to read a male’s nonverbal cues
seems to be important in building intimacy. Later, during periods of
conflict, the woman's nonverbal skills and control of the male seem to
be critical in avoiding destructive fights (Brehm, p. 209, 1985). 
On the negative side, Tannen (1990) says women show more
strong negative emotions during a conflict. They are more demanding,
using threats, "guilt trips," and personal attacks to persuade. They
send more double messages: smile and say, "You're terrible!" This
research also suggests women more often reject their husbands'
attempts at reconciliation. In another study, White (1989) says that
dissatisfied spouses in troubled marriages (both men and women)
attack, threaten, and walk out during fights, but the difference is that
women are more open to making up, accepting the husband's plans,
showing concern, and appealing to fairness. There seems to be a
difference of opinion about which sex makes up first. I suspect
"making up" is a function of how angry the person is, the seriousness
of the issue, general satisfaction with the marriage, etc., more than a
gender difference. 
There is some general agreement among women about men,
however. Their major complaint, bordering on calling males socially
retarded, is that men are uncommunicative and lack emotional
responsiveness. Men avoid interactions when dissatisfaction is or may
be expressed. Could it be males' way of avoiding uncontrolled anger
that would be regretted? Otherwise, how do we square this accusation
of inaction with the evidence in chapter 7 of intense action by males
involving verbal and physical abuse? We probably need to make a
distinction between what is called "marital conflicts" and the verbal or
physical abuse situations. Perhaps quiet inaction and violent verbal or
physical explosions are just two separate steps on the escalator from
irritation to bitterness. 
In a very general sense and in milder disagreements, the sexes
seem to be at odds: women give more emotional responses and want
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