Male Communication in a Heterosexual Dating Relationship

Daniel Cayem, Jennifer Stierwalt, Jennifer Sprawls, and Jessica McIlroy

Discord among couples resulting from a breakdown of communication is not uncommon in many heterosexual, romantic relationships today. Difficulties and disconnects are experienced by many men and women when attempting to communicate.  It is no secret that men and women tend to display differences in behaviors and attitudes while communicating with one another. These differences can lead to ineffective patterns of communication. Various factors influencing these differences in communication style include: early parent-child attachment patterns, differences in male and female biological dispositions and needs within a relationship, power inequality, variations in sociological conditioning, and differences in emotional expression and style of encoding and decoding messages. It is important to understand the differences between men and women if partners desire to maintain healthy relationships involving open, mutually understanding communication.

Attachment, Stress and Gender

Kemp and Neimeyer ‘s (1999) study helps to understand more thoroughly the differences in communication between males and females. In their study Kemp and Neimeyer (1999), took a sample of 1,157 introductory psych students participated in exploring the relationship between attachment and stress. Out of the 1,157 students 193 (age = 18.70) were recognized as having identifiable attachment styles. The 193 selected students were tested on how their attachment styles correlated with their (a) experience of distress, (b) their response to stress, and (c) overall levels of psychological symptomatology.

Based on Bartholomew and Horrowitz’s (1991) attachment categories: secure, preoccupied, fearful and dismissing, as cited in Kemp and Neimeyer (1999) hypothesized that the securely attached would experience the least amount of stress, would respond to stress by seeking out social support, and would report the lowest level of overall psychological symptomatology. Conversely, they hypothesized that the preoccupied attachment type would experience the highest levels of distress, and would also exhibit the highest levels of psychological symptomatology.  The dismissing attachment style was predicted to report the highest level of avoidant symptoms and would also be the most likely to choose distancing coping strategies. There were no hypotheses regarding the fearful attachment style.

The study was made up of three categories: (a) experience of distress, (b) their response to stress, and (c) overall levels of psychological symptomatology. The students’ experience of distress was examined using two measures: The Stressful experience and Impact of Events Scale (IES) and the Ways of Coping (WOC). Using the IES, participants were given 15 minutes to narrate on a memory of a stressful experience they have had in the last year that involved them and one other person. Questions like: “Briefly describe the nature of the experience, the events, actions, and behaviors that occurred; say something about the experiences, thoughts, or reactions of each of the people involved; indicate how the situation turned out in the end” (p. 389). The IES is a 15-point self-report inventory that measures the level of intrusion and avoidance in cognition after a stressful event. High scores in intrusion, mean high levels of psychological distress. Whereas high levels of avoidance mean the person avoids the event to the point that they can’t cognitively process or assimilate the experience. The items are answered on a 4-point scale of frequency, from not at all to often (Kemp & Neimeyer, 1999).

Using the WOC, which measures the thoughts and behaviors a person uses to deal with the stressful experience. This information is taken from interviews with the students about how they dealt with a recent stressful situation and also from the Social Support Seeking and Distancing subscale. The information from all of these scales was gathered by means of questionnaires the participants had to fill out. The last area being tested was the participants’ general psychological symptomatology. The psychological symptomatology was assessed using the BSI: Brief Symptom Inventory. This shortened version of the Symptom Checklist 90 Revised, measured self-reported psych symptoms the sample had experienced in the last week (Kemp & Neimeyer, 1999).

The results showed that, as predicted, preoccupied reported the highest level of intrusive symptoms, followed closely by dismissing, then fearful, and then secure (preoccupied was not significantly more distressed than dismissing). Women reported more intrusive symptoms than men on the Intrusive scale. Results from the WOC showed that the secure attachment styles didn’t seek out more social support help than any other attachment style (which did not confirm predictions about the secure attachment style’s way of coping). Though it disproved the hypothesis, it did indicate a main difference for gender: women reported more social support seeking behavior than men after the stressful event. The Global Severity Index of the BSI showed that the dismissing attachment style had lowest overall psychological symptomatology (significantly lower than the fearful group), and the preoccupied participants had the highest psychological symptomatology. Unexpectedly, gender was an important distinction in this category, women scored much higher than men altogether (Kemp & Neimeyer, 1999).

Kemp and Neimeyer’s study did give supporting evidence to the attachment theory, and did confirm predictions regarding those with secure attachment styles’ level of distress after a stressful event and their overall psychological symptomatology, as well as those with preoccupied attachment styles’ high levels of distress following a stressful situation and their overall psychological symptomatology. However, the independent variable, gender, did reveal itself as an important dynamic in looking at stress experience and coping. Women reported to experience higher levels of distress after the stressful event, women more often than men chose social support seeking behaviors after the event, and showed to have higher psychological symptomatology than men. It seems as though this study indirectly indicates significant differences in the way that men and women experience stress, seek out support due to stress, and how what they experience psychologically.

Linking these indirect differences according to the gender of the participant, with communication styles in relationships, leads to a general statement that men and women experience stress differently. We know from other studies done on men’s experience of emotions that men physiologically respond to emotionally evoking stimuli as much as women do. This study indicates that men self-reportedly do not experience stress or psychological symptomatology as much as women do (Kemp & Neimeyer, 1999). However, if other studies have indicated the opposite, then we can infer that the difference lies in the fact that this was a self-report. Levant (1992), as quoted by Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, and Hurst (2001), describes men’s inability to adequately express affect as: alexithymia. Men have been told they are not supposed to experience stress, emotional distress, and they especially are told to not get help. Taking this into consideration, this study may be more of a reflection of societal norms than a scientific study on attachment styles and their relationship to stress and coping. More than anything else this study proves that the “Boy Code” is real, and that men have learned to not report or express their true feelings.

The weaknesses of the study lie in the fact that all of the scales used were self-reports. This means that the participants easily could have exaggerated due to personality differences, or dismissed very important aspects of their experiences with stress and their own psyche. Self-reports are not the most accurate way of testing individuals because they are dependent upon world-view, perception, vocabulary, education level, and the ability to express accurately what they are truly experiencing. In relating with men, women must consider the boundaries society has given men in their level of expressing emotions. If one does not do so, disappointment and misunderstandings are sure to follow, since women tend to express readily and deeply.

Due to the differences in gender socialization, men being much less expressive of their emotions and women being much more expressive, communication issues frequently result. Women’s ability to tell men how they are feeling can sometimes sound like nagging, especially if the men feel uncomfortable responding or connecting. This can lead into demand and withdraw patterns in heterosexual relationships.

Demand Withdraw

One communication pattern commonly seen in marital and heterosexual, romantic relationship discussions is the demand-withdraw behavior pattern. Demand occurs when one partner desires change in the relationship and criticizes, nags, and demands of the other partner to bring about this change, while withdraw occurs when the partner who is not desiring change pulls away and avoids discussion of the problem in the relationship. Not only are these demand-withdraw behaviors commonly seen among unsatisfied couples in intimate relationships, but these behaviors are also seen in intimate relationships with relatively satisfied couples (Gottman, 1999). Recently, demand-withdraw behaviors during conflict resolution among heterosexual couples have become a topic of particular interest due to many factors which include: the high frequency of demand-withdraw behavior observed in distressed couples (Christensen & Shenk, 1991), the link between demand-withdraw behavior and declines in satisfaction of relationship (Heavey, Christensen, & Malamuth, 1995), and the link between demand-withdraw behavior and spousal abuse (Berns, Jacobson, & Gottman, 1999).

Studies consistently show that women generally have a stronger tendency to demand, while men generally have a stronger tendency to withdraw. Initially, researchers explained these sex differences in the use of demanding and withdrawing behaviors by proposing they were due to socialized differences in women and men’s needs and desires within a relationship. Researchers also blamed biological dispositions for these differences in demand-withdraw behaviors. Recently, however, a new explanation for why these sex differences occur has been formulated. This new explanation is described by the social structure hypothesis, which states that the tendency for women to demand and men to withdraw is due to power and resource inequality within the relationship. An example of a discussion with an unequal distribution of power is when one partner is relying on the other partner to cooperate in order to make change happen within the relationship, while the other partner is not dependent on the other partner’s cooperation to achieve satisfaction. In this situation, the partner needing the other partner’s cooperation has less power and will be more likely to demand in an attempt to equalize power, whereas the other partner will be more likely to withdraw during conflict in an effort to maintain the power and avoid making changes. The social structure hypothesis perspective proposes that women are more likely to demand because they are more likely to have less power compared to their husbands due to social factors (Vogel et al., 2007).

There has been a plethora of research done that is consistent with this social structure hypothesis. One such study performed by Heavey & Christensen (1999) found that when couples were discussing topics that the wife chose, the wife was more apt to demand and the husband was more apt to withdraw than when the husband chose the topic of discussion. The researchers of these studies argued that these findings were consistent with the social structure hypothesis because when the wife chooses the topic for discussion, she desires the most change and so inequality of power is high in the discussion. This inequality of power, with the wife being in a place of less power and the husband being in a place of more power, leads to the wife demanding and the husband withdrawing. Other studies supporting the social structure hypothesis found that wives are more likely to seek change in relationships and that the greatest degree of wife-demand and husband-withdraw pattern is observed when the issue being discussed deals with the wife being unhappy about the division of labor in the relationship (Kluwer, Heesink, & Van De Vliert 2000).

Vogel, Murphy, Werner-Wilson, Cutrona, and Seeman (2007) conducted a study to test the social structure hypothesis by further exploring the demand-withdraw phenomenon and observing its relationship with the following different domains of power within a marriage: power bases, power processes, and power outcomes. Power bases refer to the resources available to an individual in a given situation, such as socioeconomic status. Power processes refers to the interactions or behaviors a partner uses to gain control in a relationship. Power outcome refers to which partner ultimately gets his or her way at the conclusion of the disagreement. Vogel et al. hypothesized that couples would display sex-differentiated demand-withdraw behavioral patterns during conflicts brought about by wives but not during topics brought about by husbands. Vogel et al. also hypothesized that husbands would display greater power in all three-power domains, and that in each disagreement the spouse with the least power would display more demands while the spouse with the most power would display more withdraw behaviors.

The results found by Vogel et al. (2007) are consistent with the expectation that couples would display a sex discrepancy in the tendency to behave in a demanding or withdrawing way in disagreements initiated by wives but not in disagreements initiated by husbands. Their research disputed the social structure hypothesis because it showed that husbands and wives have equal power in areas such as socioeconomic status, choosing topics of discussion, and making decisions within the relationship. Also, disputing the social structure hypothesis is Vogel et al.’s findings that wives tend to be more dominant than husbands during conflict. The researchers also found no relationship between differences in power bases or power outcomes and which partner demanded and which partner withdrew. All in all, these results suggest that the relationship between demand-withdraw behaviors and power within the marriage is more complicated and complex than who displays more control in the relationship. The fact that the results of this study are not completely consistent with the proposed social structure hypothesis confirms that more research is needed on the topic of demand-withdraw behaviors in marital conflict.

Another study conducted by Eldridge, Jones, Christensen, Sevier, and Atkins (2007) aimed to determine whether demand-withdraw patterns in relationship were associated with distress. Eldridge et al. (2007) studied 182 couples through the methods of observation and self-report. The experimenters looked at the following three variables to determine their affect on the demand-withdraw conflict strategies: level of marital distress (severe distress, moderate distress, or no distress), length of marriage, and topic of conflict. In congruence with the current literature published on the demand-withdraw communication pattern, the researchers found that men were more likely to withdraw in conflict while women were more likely to demand. The researchers also paid special attention to the ability of the partners to switch between roles of demander and withdrawer. Distressed couples were found to be more rigidly locked into their roles of demander and withdraw than the non-distressed couples. This was especially true for the severely distressed couples that had been married for a long time because they were seen to completely lack that ability to switch between the roles of demander and withdrawer. They seemed to be too locked in their pattern of one spouse always demanding and the other spouse always withdrawing to switch roles during conflict. The severely distressed couples that had been married for a shorter time showed more flexibility in switching between roles, depending on the topic of conflict.

The conflict patterns of the distressed couples were also found to be less effected by situational factors than the non-distressed couples. In all couples, when the wife was the initiator of the conflict, distress level was shown to predict who assumed which demand-withdraw role. When husbands initiated conflict, distress level and marriage length both played a part in determining which role each partner would assume (Eldridge et al., 2007).

Not only did Eldridge et al. (2007) observe the more common relationship problem discussions, characterized by one partner expressing a desire for change in the other partner, it also looked at personal problem conflicts, characterized by one partner expressing a desire for change in them. In personal problem conflicts, the demand-withdraw communication pattern was observed to be present in lesser amounts than in relationship problem conflicts. The results of this study not only confirm that women are more likely to demand and men are more likely to withdraw within in conflict, but they also suggest that demand-withdraw roles in conflict are determined by situational variables such as which partner is seeking change and which partner bears the burden of having to change, distress level of the marriage, and length of the marriage.

Hurtful and Comforting Messages

Looking at communication, there are specific types of messages that are expressed ranging from happy, comfort and support, and anger. This next section will look at gender communication in terms of hurtful messages and how it applies to the ways in which couples communicate to one another after feeling unheard and distant for so long.

Miller and Roloff (2005) examined gender communication issues in terms of verbal response to hurtful situations. Applying this to relationships, it may be apparent that males and females vary in their use of emotional expression based on acceptable gender behavior and social roles. They began their research with a framework for understanding the relationship between gender roles and emotional vulnerability. The sample consisted of 352 undergraduate students all ranging between 18 to 23 years old. The participants were asked to answer questions involving hypothetical situations of conflict. The scenarios described a hypothetical face attack, then questions assessing the participant’s reaction to the scenario were asked.

Findings revealed that women, who normally cared for children, tended to express more compassion (Miller & Roloff, 2005). In contrast, men who generally worked outside of the home more than women, tended to depend on their leadership skills and assertive roles. Both examples lead Miller and Roloff to confirm the stereotypical female and male social roles that are seen in society, which in turn causes stress in a romantic relationship. This stress was due to differences in expressing emotions based off gender roles, which lead to misunderstanding in communication. In romantic relationships, women expected there to be a degree of emotional vulnerability, which is defined as “a state where one is open to having one’s feelings hurt or to experiencing rejection” (p. 323). Yet, the social role for males expected a degree of constriction in emotional display, which leads to contrasting expectations for both partners.

Miller and Roloff (2005) realized differences in reaction to hurtful messages in terms of teasing, and insults. A tease and an insult can involve similar subjects, but they differed in how they were expressed. The authors defined an insult as a “derogatory labeling on another person or something associated with that person” while teasing is “an intentional provocation accompanied by playful markers that together comment on something of relevance to the target of the tease.”
In terms of emotionally difficult situations, the study (Miller & Roloff, 2005) found that people tended to reply in gender specific ways. Women tended to experience more emotion that is negative and less positive than men when being teased. This is because men engaged in teasing more often, which allows them to be more accustomed to the negative situation and therefore less hurt. Teasing also involved a degree of “face-loss” which implies emotional vulnerability if one is to confront the source. Since expressing emotion is less acceptable, men will try to not react to teasing. The results changed when men are confronted with a situation involving insults, because it is socially acceptable for men to express anger and defend their image. Insults are not seen as being emotionally vulnerable; therefore, men are expected to react to these negative situations.

In sum, Miller and Roloff’s (2005) study provides evidence that, when involved in a heterosexual romantic relationship, the differences in communicating emotions and hurt are rooted in social roles and gender stereotypes. Because of our gender roles, males and females react to situations of potential harm differently. Therefore, when in a romantic relationship, each partner is aware that there is a level of misunderstanding in the communication of messages and the degree to how much that message affects the recipient. Hurtful messages are expressed in more than teasing and insults, so the next study will look at messages of hurt with a different focus.

Zhang and Stafford (2008) examined hurtful messages in terms of the degree to which honest and hurtful messages were relayed in romantic relationships, and how the recipient of the message responded. They applied the Face Management Theory, which states that romantic partner’s expect each other to be honest and positive, yet when found to adhere to being honest the person may be found to violate the expectancy to be positive. This is because an honest message can include a hurtful one, and threaten the face of the other, which results in hurt. Face is defined as the image a person presents during social contact.

A total of 274 undergraduate students, currently involved in a romantic relationship, were asked to fill out a survey with different types of questions, and then reconstruct a conversation in a script-like format where they had received an honest but hurtful message (Zhang and Stafford, 2008). Next, they reported the levels of hurt they felt from the message, the effects of the message, and their demographic information.

The study (Zhang and Stafford, 2008) stated that romantic partners, while they desire for complete openness, accurate information, and honesty, are found to be intentionally dishonest to help others save or maintain face. Applying this to the research found on hurtful messages and gender reactions, it would make sense that genders desire to save their partner from hurt leading to a less honest and complete message.

Zhang and Stafford (2008) looked at content, with focus on complaints, in relation to the ramifications the message had on the recipient. This face-threatening and negative act was found to have four components. The first category, dispositional complaints, referenced personality flaws while the second category, relational complaints, dealt with dissatisfaction with the relationship, certain behavior, and physical appearance. The researchers then realized that complaints about personality flaws were more face threatening than the other categories. This is because a personality flaw is seen as irreparable, therefore indicating relationship devaluation. Couples were found to avoid conversation about such topics, yet there also included more issues that romantic partners avoided to prevent the loss of face. This included topics about the current or future state of the relationship, which were found to be the most avoided topic of conversation. Therefore, in terms of content, couples were found to interpret dispositional complaints as the highest threatening.

Self-esteem was examined by Zhang and Stafford (2008) and stated that some people who have a higher opinion of themselves would have less concern for what others think about them, which would lead to less hurt. The researchers concluded that self-esteem would affect the perceived face threat when the recipient evaluated the message. In relation to ones own self-esteem, the influence of their confidence in the closeness and satisfaction in the relationship also play a part in the perception of a face-threatening message.

Findings revealed that the quality of the relationship had an effect on the amount of hurt the recipient felt (Zhang and Stafford, 2008). When the recipient was satisfied and felt confident in the relationship, they were less likely to feel threatened and hurt, and if they were not confident, they were more likely to be hurt. In terms of content, self-esteem, and relational quality, the researchers concluded that the degree to which the complaint threatens the face and emotional hurt of the recipient depended on their positive associations with that person.

In sum, Zhang and Stafford (2008) found that hurtful messages and their impact on the recipient depends on the content, and stability of the relationship. Communication between males and females is complex because both express and understand the message differently. The differences in expectations, availability to be vulnerable, and context of messages all come back to the cause of gender specific social roles and stereotypes. These stereotypes are also expressed in Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos and Hurst’s (2001) study of men’s physiological and emotional responses to emotional inducing stimuli.

The Way in Which Men Emote

Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, and Hurst (2001) explored the stereotype that men are hypoemotional (unable to experience emotion) and that women are hyperemotional, a belief that has been around for decades. Most scholarly literature on this topic shows men as having significant difficulty in verbally expressing their emotions to others (as cited in Robertson et al.). The media capitalizes on this age-old belief by portraying men as un-feeling, and disconnected from family life (do I need a comma after life?) on television shows and in movies and conversely portraying the women as highly stressed out, preoccupied, and emotionally demanding. Robertson et al.’s study provided evidence that the previously socially accepted stereotype, that men experience less emotional responsiveness than women, may not be statistically valid.

Robertson et al. (2001) hypothesized that men do experience emotions and that according to their level of gender-role stress, they will be more or less likely to express it verbally or structurally. The purpose of this study was to explore possible associations between two variables of the male experience: what men report about their emotions, and what they actually experience physiologically. The sample consisted of 69 male participants (mean age = 35.71) who were employed near a university in the Midwest, and who were responsible for the physical or emotional well-being of a fairly large number of people; and who were required to respond immediately and act as problem-solvers to persons in acute distress. Those who met this criteria included police officers, sheriff deputies, jailers, fire fighters, members of the clergy, and men with administrative responsibilities that included significant safety concerns. The participants had completed an average of 4.25 years of education beyond high school. They had self-reported that their ancestors came mostly from Europe (85%), Africa (4%), or Hispanic countries (4%). The rest (6%) were of mixed ancestry or left the question blank. Out of the group 49% were married, 32% were single with no steady relationship, 10% were divorced, and 9% were in a steady but unmarried relationship.

The participants were given a series of three different tests. They each met with the investigators individually for a 90-minute session. The men were being tested on their physiological arousal to the stimuli and their verbal and structured emotional expressiveness (rating their emotions on hand-written scale) right after the emotion-inducing event, as well as the presence of gender-role stress. In order to measure the psychophysiological responses the men were attached to the Focused Technology F1000 Instrumentation System. Their responses were collected including skin temperature and electrodermal response, electromyographic data was also collected along with heart rate with electrodes on the upper body. These were all measured during the three emotion-inducing events: 1) visual/auditory experience through a nine-minute videotape of scenes from “My Life,” a film about father-son relationships, death, and sadness, 2) cognitive functioning through a one-minute mental arithmetic task, and 3) sensory functioning through a one-minute cold pressor test (Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, & Hurst, 2001).

Robertson, et. al, found that all of the participants were physiologically aroused. This means that men who had high and low levels of gender-role stress, and who have traditionally masculine occupations were equally emotionally responsive. Therefore, there was no difference in the participants’ ability to feel. Instead, they found a difference in the ways the participants expressed what they felt. Robertson, et. al, found that men with a higher degree of gender-role stress (those who hold a more traditional view of gender-role) were more likely to express themselves on paper than verbally, whereas men who had less gender-role stress were more likely to express themselves verbally than structurally. This doesn’t mean that either level of gender-role stress indicates more or less emotion—it only indicates the preference of their expression.

The implications for the first finding are far reaching. The fact that all men experience emotions proves the stereotype wrong. Men do have emotions. In fact, a study done by Gottman and Evensong (1988) suggests that men have very high levels of physical arousal to stress and that this may contribute to less verbal expressiveness. In this study, men reported feeling flooded and overwhelmed when faced with conflict with their partners. This means that men may be more emotional than women rather than less emotional. The second finding from the study, that men’s preference of expression was varied, implies that expression of emotion may be more effected by socialization than anything else (Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, & Hurst, 2001).

The authors suggest that the implications for counseling may include a change in the therapist’s method of asking male clients to express their emotions. Instead of asking them, “How do you feel?” it may be more effective to give them a 100 point scale and have them mark with a pencil how they are feeling (Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, & Hurst, 2001). It is equally important to understand the client’s gender-role views since men with lower levels of gender-role stress actually prefer expressing themselves verbally. It may also be noted that in the context of romantic relationships this information and understanding could be extremely helpful for couples that have been experiencing stress in their communication.

The stereotypes of North American men have “straight-jacketed” them (Pollack, 1999) and are limiting them from expressing their emotions, not from experiencing them. It has been suggested in this study that more opportunities for men to develop their ability to express emotions must be encouraged if a change is ever to be made (Robertson, Lin, Woodford, Danos, & Hurst, 2001). The findings of this study can also be applied to male miscommunication in heterosexual dating relationships. Many women seek couples counseling for problems with their romantic partner’s communication, or rather a lack of communication. According to this study, women need not doubt men’s ability to experience emotion. Instead, they may need to come to an understanding of their romantic partner’s gender-role view in order to encourage and facilitate better emotional expression in the context of their relationship. As adapted from Smith’s lectures, women need to give men the time and opportunities to express their emotions. Women can begin to do this by giving their partners empathy.

This study seems to reveal that physiological responses to stress are felt regardless of gender-role stress among men with traditionally masculine occupations, and that according to differences in socialization men will prefer either verbal or structured expression of emotions.  In reviewing Robertson, et. al’s research major weaknesses present themselves. One major weakness is that the sample size is relatively small and extremely narrow—only men who have male-dominated occupations were involved. This means that generalizations for other men cannot be made. This also means that further research must be done for men in varying occupations, and socio-economic statuses.

In revealing that men do experience significant physiological response from emotion-activating stimuli, yet do not have efficient means or opportunities to express them, leads to the concept of men’s need to be in relationships that allow them to express themselves.

What Men and Women Are Looking For

Males and females are constantly dealing with issues in which they are forced to interact and participate with one another. The primary purpose for a forced interaction is the need for each other in order to procreate. However, in order to find a mate that each partner finds suitable, males and females search for certain characteristics that make one another desirable in some light. Lance (1998) stated characteristics that individuals look for in partners has changed to focus on the personality of the individuals as opposed to prior characteristics of importance such as physical attractiveness and financial security (e.g., Cameron, Oskamp & Sparks, as cited in Lance). Lance examined the characteristics that individuals were looking for in personal ads found in four different region specific publications.

The sample consisted of 1,433 individuals living in the southeastern region who placed ads in the regional publications. It should be noted that nothing else was known about the sample. Research assistants then took the ads and coded certain characteristics that were sought after by the individuals who placed the ad. The assistants coded these characteristics into categories of attractiveness, physical shape, financial/professional characteristics, personality traits, age, ethnicity, smoking, children and spiritual affiliation. Previous studies have shown men seek personal attractiveness while women search for financial security. However, the finding of this study suggest that men and women were both seeking personality characteristics in the opposite sex as opposed to previous findings that suggest characteristics of wealth and physical attractiveness are determining factors in establishing a relationship  (Lance, 1998).

Implications for this study suggest that individuals who are looking for desirable characteristics are no longer looking for things that increase chances of reproduction, such as physical attractiveness or wealth. Physical attractiveness is a trait that is typically defined as youth, which allows for a better chance and reproduction, while wealth indicates to females that she will be taken care of and can thus, spend her time raising a child. Instead, for whatever reason, males and females are spending their time looking for other compatible individuals in which they can share their experiences. However, it is important to understand that this type of companionship cannot be established without proper communication.

One can then see that as this research pertains to a heterosexual dating relationship in that one must communication about ones desires, goals, and expectations. In doing so a couple will better be able to enter into a relationship and live out their relationship with maximum enjoyment. If partners are able to better communicate who they are and allow their partner to see their true personality couples may be more inclined to stay together longer and enter into committed relationships.

Thus, when considering this study, a therapist must take on a role of encouraging individuals to take off their gender straight jackets and allow both men and women to express him or herself fully so that their partner may know whom they truly are. However, one must take into account that a therapist’s job is typically to create an open and trustworthy environment so that their clients can open up, and those who do not go to therapy miss out on this experience. Thus, implications for therapists and society are to also encourage couples to enter into a situation, such a therapy, where males and females can open up and truly express who they are.

In knowing that males and females are looking for personality traits and need to express those traits, one must then acknowledge an importance for males to be able to feel an emotional closeness with females. Society has typically said that men who spend time and communicate with their female counterparts in a non-sexual relationship have something wrong with them. Males who spend their time with females are expected to have an ulterior motive or working toward a sexual relationship. However, males are finding that they have to go to their female counterparts in order to have a relationship that fulfills their emotional needs. Wanger-Raphael, Seal, and Ehrhardt (2001) conducted a study to see if males feel more comfortable in relationships with other males or females. The group asked males recruited at STD clinics, if they preferred male or female friends. The interviews were transcribed and coded by two raters who achieved an 80% accuracy level.

The sample of the study was comprised of 100 heterosexually active individuals of all different ethnicities with an average income of $14,897. Wanger-Raphael et al. (2001) found that the majority of those interviewed, 33.9%, stated that they felt their relationships were closer when they were with women.

The implications for this study indicate that males are finding a closer relationship with females because they are able to get emotionally closer. Participants stated that they were able to speak openly with females, which led to a stronger emotional connection. This is evidence that males are longing for a free, open and emotionally significant relationship free from the emotional straightjacket that has been cast on them by society (Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 2001).

Thus, when looking at male communication in a heterosexual relationship, one must look at the wants and needs of the male in that it has been established that, yes, males want to establish an emotional connection, and yes, they feel comfortable doing so with females. One must then take into account the relationship of the male and female that is unable to communicate and ask what it is within the particular relationship that is causing the communication problem at hand. If males are actively seeking females out to communicate in areas with a low socioeconomic status, which is notorious for amplifying the stereotypical male role, than one must take into account the necessity and need for male and female relational communication in other, more moderate, societies. So one can see a necessity to understand the male in need of female communication and interaction to experience the closeness participants in the study spoke of. However, in assessing a heterosexual couples communication problems, one might not look to a male that is unable to communicate, but rather turn to the interaction of the couple and their communication pattern.


Many men and women experience poor attachments with parents in their most formative years. These troubled, beginning models of attachment lead men to usually become more autonomous and females to want greater closeness. This leads to a demand withdraw pattern in heterosexual romantic relationships. This withdraw pattern is categorized by females that demand intimacy in relationships while men, usually due to discomfort with expression of emotions, withdraw into themselves. Thus, when men have withdrawn and women long for closeness, hurtful messages are often used in their communications with each other, which can lead to damage and hurt. One also has to take into account comforting messages, which can be encoded and decoded differently based on gender differences.  This is in part due to the ways in which men are able to express their emotions based on the level of gender role stress that they are socialized to identify with. Thus, men are stuck in relationships in which they are unable to be heard by their partners based on their lack of verbal expression. As men still want to emote and express themselves they are finding relationships with women more fulfilling than same sex relationships. Thus, the dilemma society creates for men, discouraging their verbal expression of emotion, while encouraging women’s emotional expression leads men and women to desire personality congruence as opposed past attracting traits of physical attractiveness and financial security. However, this is only achieved through the ability for males and females to successfully communicate who they are and what they believe in. Society must then take teach females how to “hear” males and men must break away from their Boy Code rules.


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