Men and Affection: The Examination of Gender Roles and Masculine Traits as Factors Affecting Male Affectional Expression and the Identification of Distinct Male Expressional Styles

Narges L. Horriat, Tyler P. Madsen, and Matthew M. Okida

The present study compared alternative ideologies regarding recent studies in male trends of emotional communication, specifically affection, and clarifies the possibilities of significant variances between the masculine expression of affection and the traditional feministic modes of affectional display. In addressing common misconceptions regarding male relational nature, research provides legitimacy to many recent findings regarding the male affectional experience and general trends in the male expression of affection in romantic heterosexual relationship. This study expounds on the contributions of both gender role and inherency towards male trends in affectional expression. In considering alternative explanations for the choices between expression and inexpression and in elaborating on several theoretical constructs of male tendency of active, affectional display, a fully-dimensional analysis of male trends in the expression of affection is provided. This study concludes regarding the legitimacy of male emotional understanding and expounds upon several naturalistic forms of male relation in the hopes that it may become understood that male relational tendencies exist as separate, but equally valid forms of expression from traditional, or “feminine” modes of affectional display.

Common Misconceptions Regarding Male Relational Capability

This study is conducted in a way that first considered several popular misconceptions, or myths regarding male relational capability or capacity, especially in consideration of the expression of affection. Contemporary society purports many universal beliefs regarding male deficiency when it comes to the experience, understanding, relation, and communication of emotion. Such ideas provide further support for an already oppressive Western social shaping regarding men and their affectionate capacity.

Blier and Blier-Wilson (1989) conducted an experiment at Georgia State University in the hopes of coming to some conclusions regarding these very ideas. They too, ask if this seeming deficit in male emotional intelligence was a matter of emotional ability or understanding of the complete emotional experience. By measuring self-rated emotional responses to hypothetical relational situations, their male sample gives data refuting misconceptions regarding emotional accuracy in the identification of situational emotions in both cross-gender and same-sex relationships. This example of male success in emotional understanding attests to the emotionally sensitive nature of men as also supported in mainstream research (e.g. Brody & Hall, 1993; Levant, 2001).

This study explains that men are capable of the same emotional spectrum as women, but often choose inexpression, or expression by means which are not typically identified as traditional responses. According to this research, the difference in male tendency must lie either in the choices of expression vs. inexpression, or in the means by which the experienced emotions are communicated to be experienced. What the present study seeks to interpret is how men do tend to communicate such emotions, specifically affection, and if there are any significant variances between the masculine expression of affection and the traditional, feministic modes of affectional display.

The Choice of Expression versus Inexpression

Blier and Blier-Wilson (1989) continue in their research, studying the results of their sample and apparent trends of expressiveness vs. inexpressiveness in different recognized and tested emotions. This research shows the male tendency towards inexpression as both universal and societally based. Perhaps men feel they are supposed to be the target of emotional expression and are afraid of the consequences of expression. The fear of vulnerability and belief that they are intended to be the subject of emotional displacement instead of the mouthpiece for it confirms the intention of the present study regarding the hesitancy in male emotional expression, especially when dealing with feelings of like/love expressed towards the opposite sex. Specifically with men, they discussed how “inexpressiveness has broad implications for men in the areas of intimacy, fathering, friendships, emotional and physical health, marital relationships, and family relationships in general” (p. 288). They explained that increasing expressiveness in males is a manifestation of the larger issue of social change involving the expansion and liberalizing of rigid gender roles for men. Their findings held clear implications that situational factors are extremely important influences in verbal expression and that further work clarifying the role of these factors in emotional expressiveness is needed, but ultimately, the trend towards hesitancy in cross-gender male emotional expression is evident.

Main Factors Affecting the Style of Emotional Expression

The question to whether or not the male emotional communicative deficit is because of inherent masculine traits or social expectations is still under great debate.  Yet one truly looks in depth at the issue, it is possible that maybe the deficit of emotion that society sees in men may in fact be a misinterpretation of male emotion rather than an actual void of emotions.

Masculine Traits

A critical component to the issue of how men address their emotions, specifically love, can be addressed in the differences from male and female characteristics.  Biologically, men are found to be equal to women in their experience of emotion, anatomically not able to communicate in the same way as women, and are shown to have different cues in which information is received.

Buck et. al (1974) found in an experiment that men, in comparison with women, were decisively less accurate in communication accuracy yet were surprisingly more electrodermally reactive, that they internally react to emotional stimuli.  This is to say that instead of showing their emotions through vocalization like women do, they biologically turn the emotional expression into physical responses and thus the emotion is internalized. This seems to be a key difference biologically in men and women, where women seem to use emotional stimuli and convert it into external verbal expression and men convert the stimulus into physical elements like heart rate and other functions.

Also, Gallois and Callan (1986) concluded that gender must play a role in determining how the individual interprets statements by others. The experiment was taken from a sample among 35 male and 47 female undergraduate psychology students as part of their course requirements. The process included recording a series of positive, neutral, and negative verbal cues with meanings behind each. (An example of a negative cue is imagining oneself in a restaurant frustrated from delay and hunger in the expression “I’m ready to order now.”) The class was then separated into three groups based on ethnicity and gender. These groups were asked in a series of questions to analyze and extract either a positive, negative, or neutral message from the audio recordings. Women were roughly five percent more accurate than the men in determining the meaning of cues. Yet, when the groups were introduced to the video recording in addition, the women’s’ advantage was negated as both groups were a slim margin apart.

Gallois and Callan (1986) found this relevant to the study of men in understanding how men show and recognize emotions of their significant other. They concluded that according to the results, men show a greater emphasis in accounting for body language more so than women, this may show a tendency that men are more sensitive to the physical cues. This might suggest that they show their emotions through physical action as well because they are trying to convey a message via the way they know how to receive that message from someone else.

Gender Roles

It is being established by research that men and women both experience the relatively same degree of emotions, yet the way that they are taught to express it varies widely (Kring & Gordon, 1998). Thus social expectations of men must indeed be one factor that affects a man’s ability to communicate specific emotions, especially that of love with a partner. If one looks at Pollack’s “Boy Code” in fact, this really seems to be the gender role that men in this society are supposed to take.

For example, the first rule of the boy code is boys must be sturdy oaks, meaning that showing weakness or vulnerable emotions are inappropriate for the masculine. Research seems to back up this idea, saying that men’s expectation to be strong and stoic actually inhibits their means of using the word love, when talking to their partner (Quintero-Gonzalez & Koestner, 2006). Thus the idea that men in society should be a strong, reliable, and unwavering constant, forces them to give up showing vulnerability such as love.

Another element of the boy code is becoming “the big wheel.”  Men are expected to become powerful and important in society.  Baumeister and Sommer (1997), suggest that “Male sociality is tribal. In other words, men seek social connection in a broad group with multiple people particularly by competing for a favorable position in a status hierarchy” (p. 39). This research suggests that indeed the way that men are expected to act in society is in a leadership role and this requires a lack of intimacy for the sake of saving their reputation in society.

The last element of the boy code worth mentioning is the premise of masculinity not involving any “sissy stuff.” The results of Gaines (1995), suggest that women and men both find it attractive when men act more masculine, that is they show a higher rate of orientation to oneself.  The researcher pointed to this as a suggestion of gender role compliance, in which men and women both become what society expects in order to be “normal.”   This can lead one to the conclusion that men avoid relating with others not because they do not want to, but because they are expected to be independent and strong.  Evocation of emotion then is thus not accepted by society and men are left with the choice of isolation from society if they break gender lines or conform to gender roles and remain isolated from people they care about.

Thus, societal pressures seem to push men into a repressed emotional state allowing them to act feminine with their emotions, such as crying, venting to someone else, or even verbally expressing emotions is strictly looked down upon.  This forces men to deal with emotions they experience in a different way than we would typically expect. What one has come to see as one option, that men in general because of social and biologically differences tend not to express emotion.  Yet as this group believes, this is just one option.  The other option that research seems to present is that men are much more complicated than society would like to think.  Men might actually show their emotions, yet not through the female lens, which many people use as the definition for expressing emotion.  According to some sources, men might be showing their emotions in different venues than anyone would expect.

“Gender Roles” Ideology and Affectional Display

The pervasive nature of rigid societal expectations for gender compliance can account for many male discrepancies between the experienced emotion and the expression of said emotion. There are considerable problems with the contemporary construct of rigid gender roles. Such problems include the reality that traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” ideologies do not satisfy the full spectrum of respective masculine and feminine traits, nor do they provide allowance for any behaviors that lie outside of established gender stereotyping. Even more, these roles restrict many behaviors to one gender, creating dissonance at any encroachment upon the polarized behavior in question.

As far as the expression or inexpression of affection is concerned, the “masculine gender role” demands several measures of inaction from the man. The contemporary male role does not include the ability or expectation for normative emotional expression, which is a societally-deemed “feminine” trait. Many beliefs regarding traditional “masculinity”, as contrasted by traditional “femininity” provide for serious misconceptions regarding the nature of man, more specifically, his emotional shortcomings in comparison to the archetypal woman. This theory holds that men simply aren’t expressing their affection at the same level as women because emotional expression is attributed to feminine ideology.

In terms of affectional expectation, the modern man is at a serious disadvantage when it comes to intimate, heterosexual relationship  Most contemporary models for affectional expectation are based around qualifications that some standing research may indicate as feministic affectional qualities. By defining affectional expectations in feminine terms, men are forced to either comply with rigid gender role expectations, thus fighting against what many researchers argue as innate masculine traits, or to submit themselves to their “natural tendencies”, a brand of affection that contemporary research claims remains unidentified as such.

“Masculine Traits” Ideology and Affectional Display

An alternative explanation for the seeming deficit in affectional display between men and women is that males are communicating their affection, but by means typically unrecognized as affectional display, according to traditional, or “feminine” standards. The proposed contrast in display explains the seeming absence in male expression, in that many displays of affection remain unidentified as such because they defy affection expectation.

This theory assumes that men act on their natural sense of affectional expression, a brand of emotional display mostly illegitimized by affectional expectations. A number of recent researchers (e.g., Kring & Gordon, 1998; Pollack, 1998) have found that men often tend to show affection by different means than those viewed as traditional means of expression. This means that many of a man’s attempts at affection, whether through the forms of protection, provision, care, justice, or other means of which we will expound upon further into our study, often go by unidentified as such (Pollack, 1998). This allows for the possibility that many of a man’s attempts to demonstrate affection are misinterpreted as some other expression, providing for the natural assumption that many men are simply less affectionate than most women. Many traditionally glorified “masculine” qualities are the very same vehicles for affectional display for many men, but in the context of affectional expression, these qualities are often misunderstood, devalued, or unexcused as such: The problem here is not demonstration, but perception.

Whether or not these ideas are enforced on men by means of direct or indirect social shaping by means of gender role expectation or whether they are conflicting with an internal code of masculinity has been the subject of much of recent research in this field. It is important to recognize that a man’s “beliefs about masculinity” are important in understanding and predicting the manner in which he may act towards and react to his partner (Gaines, 1995, p. 92) So many contemporary assumptions or “common knowledge” about male affectional nature revolve around the beliefs regarding men’s affectional desires. It seems that these beliefs do not line up with man’s actual desires, but are instead skewed by a witness of male action that does not completely testify to the true affectional desire of so many men who submit themselves to external shaping.

“The Feminine Lens”

Perhaps we cannot often see male affectional display, not because it isn’t happening, but because we are looking through the wrong lens. Pollack (1998) defines some feminine means of relation as tenderness, affection, emotional expression, sensitivity, and vulnerability about relationships. Subscription to gender role ideology would explain male inexpression as a anti-product of feminine role-casting, and not then as a deficiency in male emotional possibility. Here, men face a great dilemma: either comply with affectional expectations, however unnatural, to resort to innate affectional tendencies, risking misunderstanding of both emotional capacity and intent.

Our society views affectional expectations and obligations through a feminine lens, however, if the lens by which we viewed this idea of ‘affection’ was sculpted by masculine terms, perhaps we would find that men are just as affectionate as women, and instead that their acts of affection are often unrecognized as such, leaving the man feeling underappreciated and misunderstood as the affectionate, sensitive male that he intends to be. If research is, in fact telling us that natural male affectional tendencies are different from natural female affectional tendencies, and if these tendencies are in some way separate from the traditional standards of intimate affectional display, than men are being forced to express themselves on foreign terms, and the affections required of them can only ever be a product of the recipient’s desire, and not a natural manifestation of the man’s deep affectional capability.. Ultimately, men are showing affection, we just aren’t seeing it because we are looking for it in the right way.

Male Forms of Expression

It has currently been established that men experience emotion similarly to women, yet simply express their emotions in a unique fashion. The present study examines these variations most specifically in the realm of affectionate expression in romantic relationship. Subsequently, due to the nature of the feminine definition of affection the male forms of affectionate expression are left largely unrecognized. According to Pollack (1998), “boys are immensely loving, and they yearn for relationships far more than we have ever recognized” (p. 65).

Love through Action

Pollack’s most poignant argument is that male affection is most distinctly characterized by action. To qualify terms, love and affection should be defined as an action and choice, not mere emotions; yet in stark contrast with the female tendency toward verbal expression, male expressional trends revolve around specific actions or activities.  Blier et al.’s (1989) research concludes that men are less likely than women to verbally express deeper, more vulnerable emotions. Thus, instead of declaring their love directly through words, many men use indirect ways of conveying their feelings by doing things for or with the people they care about. “On the whole, boys tend to seek attachment less through asking for it directly and more by trying to bring it about indirectly or through action” (Pollack, 1998, p. 67). Various other forms of affectionate expression stem from this more active form of loving. The main premise of the present study is that simply because the male styles of affectionate expression are not particularly verbal or highly emotionally expressive does not mean that they are not valid in conveying love.

Activity

Pollack (1998), thus, creates a framework in describing the various forms of natural male tendencies in affectional expression and articulates how each is distinctive of particularly male affectional display. The first action-based form of love that is seen to be expressed by men is their engagement in activity with their romantic partners. This could include simply spending time together, playing a game, taking a walks or sharing in activities of a common interest. This is due to the fact that “for men, togetherness seems to be more of an activity than a state of being, as it is for women” (Hook et al., 2003, p. 465). Moreover, “boys and men seem to feel that sharing activities and interests are just as important to experiencing intimacy as are self disclosures” (p. 465). In short, for males, indirect expression often implies a desire to share more in the experience of the situation and less in the exchange of emotional processing.

Work

Pollack (1998), then, identifies work as another key element of this active form of affection. This encompasses the performing of hard, menial, and/or dutiful tasks—possibly something that the woman cannot do or is seen as something that a woman should not do based on the gender role expectations. Interestingly, “some researchers of laboratory and field studies on helping have found, in general, that men are more helpful than women” (Baurmesiter & Sommer, 1997, p. 40). In Baurmeister et al.’s (research it was postulated, according to the evolutionary view, that these acts of helpfulness are simply performed for societal recognition. Thus, “male helpfulness is motivated not only by concern for the person needing help but also by concern over how one is perceived by other people…” (p. 40). However, Pollack would argue that “a [man’s] inclination to do hard work and willingness to take on duty and responsibilities—virtues traditionally celebrated as ‘masculine’— may be  shaped into a strong motivation not only for improving performance but also for caring for others in a disciplined way…” (p. 71). Therefore, it can be concluded that “…though sometimes we may focus only on the task that’s being accomplished, we should be aware that behind the labor there’s often the devotion of a [man] engaged in what’s truly an act of selfless generosity, an act of love” (p. 71). It may be that some of the helpful tasks performed by men are motivated by “the presence of an audience” to some degree (Baumeister et al., 1997, p. 40), but it is not so that their accomplishments may be recognized, but instead their affections.

Favors

Performing favors would is a very tangible way that a man might show his affection. This form of affection is closely linked with the idea of helpful labors of love; however it is more specific to include the simple and unexpected things that a man might do for his romantic partner. These things are not usually seen as expressive of love, but need to be recognized as a man’s way of making a connection (Pollack, 1998). As mentioned earlier, favors are a more indirect style of expressing love, care and affection through the little things. They are actions manifested in doing something for the other—no matter how simple or seemingly insignificant.

Physicality

In this present culture, women have tended to complain about men’s over-occupation with sex. However true this may or may not be, male sexuality plays a key role of expression in their intimate relationships. This is highly correlated to their physically active nature. Thus, the male view of intimacy is largely defined as sexual. “In general, women and men seem to differ in their definitions of intimacy. [While] women seem to believe that intimacy means love, affection and the expression of warm feelings, men believe it to mean sexual behavior and physical closeness” (Hook, Gerstein, Detterich, & Gridley, 2003, p. 464). However, this study would make the claim that this intimate form of sexuality is not separate from love and affection but included as a form of such. Furthermore, these differences in defining intimacy have implications for the way intimate behavior is manifested.

Gulledge, Gulldege, & Stahmann (2003) “examine[d] preferences and attitudes regarding physical affection (PA) types and relationship satisfaction” (p. 233). The researcher’s analysis of male and female PA preferences reveals characteristics that might be typical for males, in general. For example, according to some of the data, it was observed that “men tend to find backrubs/massages as more expressive of love than do women…To women, in general, a massage is not as expressive of love as it is to men. Therefore, the feelings of love that a man desires to convey to his partner through a massage might not be received with the same intensity as he had intended…” (p. 239). Also, according to the statistical data gathered, men also appear to favor kissing on the lips more than women do, finding it to be more expressive of love than do women. This data is important in terms of the understanding of men in relationships because “if a woman knows that her male partner favors backrubs/massages more than she does and that he considers it to be more expressive of love, she will then know just how to please him. If she desires to express her love to him, she will know how to do so in a way that he will understand the best” (p. 239). However, it also must be noted that there were some conflicting data dependent on the specific methodological test, not to mention the poor sampling due to limited cultural, religious, and racial variance. Thus, to confirm this data further research in the area of specific PA types should be conducted.

It must also be strongly emphasized that by no means is affection physicality limited to sexual forms of intimate interaction. Teasing (playful, physical provocation) and horseplay are a distinctive style of affectionate expression. These modes of expression are clearly observed in young boys and further carry on even into adolescence and adulthood. Gallois and Callan (1986) concluded that gender must play a role in determining how the individual interprets statements by others. One sees this relevant to the study of men in understanding how men show and recognize emotions of their significant other. Thus, according to this study, men show a greater emphasis in accounting for body language more so than women, this may show a tendency that men are more sensitive to the physical cues. This further bolsters the proposed idea that men express their emotions through physically active means because they are trying to convey a message in the same way in which they know how to receive that message from someone else.

Protection

According to the gender role expectation, a man is supposed to be a strong, courageous protector. Yet, though it may be argued that men are socialized in this fashion, it should also be noted that men have a natural, instinctive desire to protect those that they care for and love (Pollack, 1998). This style of caring is characterized by looking out for the interest of the other and can be categorized as a form selfless love. By examining the needs of the woman in relationship, the motive behind a man’s protective love can be assessed. “Women are concerned with men’s emotional fidelity and their ability and willingness to commit to a long-term relationship, as they want assurance that their partner will invest resources in them and their offspring on a long-term basis” (Quintero-Gonzalez et al., 2006, p. 768). Thus, recognizing this need men show that they are attuned with their partners desires by offering themselves as provider and protector which in a marriage relationship would account for the ultimate form of commitment. Thus, though emotional availability may be a woman’s measure of affection and love, the man is inadvertently expressing his love and devotion by being aware of the woman’s other needs, as well. It must also be noted that the man will act on this protective love in a way that does not belittle the protected, and, thus, allows the woman to preserve her own dignity and capability (Pollack, 1998). Thus, protection is not offered by the man because he thinks that she is incompetent or incapable of defending herself, but simply because he feels that it is his loving duty to be her protector.

Differences in Verbal Expression

As one has come to see, men tend to express the emotions they feel in a different manner than typically thought of in society.  The need for men to express in a physical light is critical in understanding men in general.  In that same light, men also communicate verbally with those that they love in a different manner than previously believed as well, because of societal pressures, men are forced to communicate love in a different yet equivalent, and more discrete way.

Quintero-Gonzalez & Koestner (2006) conducted a study using valentine announcements as a means of understanding the romantic emotions of men and women. Their goal was to discover how the difference of gender affects the style and content in which the authors wrote their cards.

The analysis was taken from The Gazette, a widely read Montreal newspaper. The team selected from over 600 announcements over a span of five years (2001-2005) and collected 50 samples from six categories: married men and women with children, married men and women without children, and men and women in a dating relationship. These announcements were then analyzed for themes of fidelity versus commitment and love vs. praise. Fidelity was defined as the loyalty to one’s partner forever whereas commitment was defined as attachment to the relationship in the long term. Love was defined as the amount of times the word was used in the announcement whereas praise was defined as giving complimentary attributes to one partner (Quintero-Gonzalez & Koestner, 2006).

Quintero-Gonzalez & Koestner (2006) came to the discovery that over all three relationship couplets, men were far more likely to offer praise in their announcement than love. The researchers attribute this use of praise to the discomfort that men have in revealing vulnerable emotions such as love. Also, the use of praise has been thought of as an important link to pride, and that a man shows his own pride in himself by the exemplary characteristics of his loved one.  So one conclusion from this study is that men communicate the vulnerable emotion of love through the use of praise of a significant other rather than using the word “love” itself.

The other major result from Gallois and Callan (1986) was that men are more likely to mention their commitment to their significant other rather than their fidelity. Not that this infers men’s tendencies to infidelity, but rather, a trend to highlight the commitment to longevity and emotional availability to a relationship. This may suggest that men, in accordance with their self sacrificing love, desire to show that the needs of their loved one will be met in an emotionally supportive way.

These findings bring up some very interesting thoughts about men in relationships. Due to men’s fear of expressing vulnerable emotions, it is possible that they instead show this love in other ways, such as praising their loved one, or expressing their verbal emotional support, yet are misunderstood because they do not show love within the conventional female lens.

Summary and Conclusions

In retrospective-analysis of the present study, several substantial conclusory statements are necessary for a completed reflection on the provided research and present introspection. It is foundational to recognize the legitimacy of the evidence proving that men, like women, are a complete experience, understanding, relation, and communication of emotion. Upon establishing the equality of the male emotional experience, it must be noted that there exists a disconnect between male-female demonstrations of the apparently similarly-experienced emotions. Comparative schools of thought account for this finding by explaining male behavior as either compliance to rigid societal shaping, and therefore conscious inexpression, or as result of natural male affectional tendencies, including a non-traditional process and demonstration of affection. Male affection often goes by unrecognized because its natural form does not fit with feminine expectations. The most simplistic explanation of this gender breakdown in naturalistic affectional expression is that men love more through action than word.

It is easy to see then, in considering feminine verbal preference, how feminine expectations for affectional display and reception have been passed down in recordable tradition, thus allowing the unidentifiably active male modes of affection to remain, in virtue, as masculine ideologies, but by no means as appropriate vehicles for affectional display. Such masculine traits are praised as crucial to male identification, and yet remain unidentified as expectable naturalistic male forms of emotional expression. Perhaps this necessary shift requires a societal understanding of the seeming relevance of these more “active” types of love which recent researchers seem to be illuminating, and perhaps men really understand what it means to live in such a way that attests that, “actions speak louder than words”.

References

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Quintero Gonzalez, A., & Koestner, R. (2006). What Valentine Announcements Reveal about the Romantic Emotions of Men and Women. Sex Roles, 55(11-12), 767-773.

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Wagner-Raphael, L. I., Seal, D. W., Ehrhardt, A. A..(2001). Close emotional relationships with women versus men: A qualitative study of 56 heterosexual men living in an inner-city neighborhood. Journal of Men’s Studies, 9, 243-256.

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