What role does your gender play in how you react to stress? And how does it determine the best ways to recover from stress? And what does it mean in terms of your relationship? The more that you understand your biology, the better you’ll be able to help yourself (and your partner) in the stressful times, and in the not-so-stressful times. In this week’s episode, we’re talking with John Gray, author of the international bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. His latest book, Beyond Mars and Venus, is an update to his work, and offers some insights into how to apply it to your life and relationship. He likes to say that he not only has great advice - he follows it - and John has been married for over 30 years. Our conversation covers a LOT of territory - so enjoy the ride!
Stress response: Stress is universal and ubiquitous. It permeates our lives, our bodies, and our relationships. Luckily, while it is true that we have little control over the presence of stress in our environments, research shows that we can have control over our internal stress responses.
Cortisol: Internal stress can be measured by the presence of cortisol in our bodies. As cortisol increases it creates a cascade of internal changes, including inhibiting our ability to feel happiness, connection, and motivation. This can be explained partially because as cortisol levels rise, blood stops flowing to the prefrontal cortex so critical in being able to attune to another and hear their point of view. Furthermore, cortisol sends 8 times more blood flow to the hippocampus- activating our tendency to focus on what is not working. Increasing cortisol levels thus impacts our ability to see the good, be grateful, or even see things as they are. We begin to look for faults, place blame, and criticize our way out of connection. It is at this moment that we must engage in activities that bring back hormonal balance, including an increase in oxytocin, so that we can re-engage with our partners from a more loving place.
Get curious about how your biology becomes your behavior, and vice versa: In order to gain control of shifting our internal reactions and responses it is key that we learn about how hormones affect our biology and thus, our behavior. We all have an authentic unique self. And that unique self is a blend of our masculine and feminine qualities. While we each have our idiosyncratic ways of expressing these qualities, it can be helpful to look at the science and biology of general hormonal patterns along the gender continuum.
Tending to our biological needs, alone and together: When we are under stress our flight or fight system is kicked in, and often our fear response inhibits our ability to assess what we really need in any given moment. We all have certain biological needs that we are not aware of. Take time (when you are in a calm and regulated state) to learn more about how stress impacts your biology so that you can better meet your (and your partner’s) needs. With increased awareness and understanding you will be more equipped to not only remember what it is you really need to do to find equilibrium again, but you will be able to advocate for this in your relationships. Teach each other what you learn so that you can get, and give, the specific kinds of love that will stimulate the hormonal shifts so critical in regaining balance and well-being.
Be specific in how you support each other! While gender identity is fluid, research shows that men and women need different hormones in order to feel open and ready to give and receive love. For men there must be adequate levels of testosterone, and for women they need adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone. Due to cultural and societal changes, modern society does not provide enough opportunities for appropriate hormonal balance. Without overgeneralizing too much, men are being asked more and more to connect with their feminine sides, almost to their detriment, and women are, for the most part engaging in testosterone inducing work environments. While so many of the recent cultural changes are beneficial to creating a more equal society, it is causing hormonal imbalances that are impacting our relationships without our awareness.
Role Reversal: Now that people are more and more free to explore both ends of the gender spectrum (and all the space in between), there is a tendency to get stuck too far from one’s biological homebase. In fact, going to the extreme of the other gender’s hormonal expression can become addictive. This is true because when a woman expresses her masculinity she is often expressing behaviors that have long been repressed, and doing so can release a huge amount of energy. And vice versa for men.
Danger! Danger! Estrogen levels are rising in men from 1) overworking, 2) the freedom to express their feminine side more and more and 3) toxicity in the environment. When men’s estrogen levels...