Sexpert Julie: Understanding Why Men and Women Bond Differently

What turns him on and makes him feel closer to you is way different than what works for you. Sexpert Julie explains why that is and how to meet halfway.

-Julie Elledge, Ph.D,

couple embracing couple embracing

Tis the season for summer blockbusters, and your anticipated choice for your next romantic date with your man would obviously be Crazy Stupid Love, starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Steve Carrell. To your astonishment, your date has bought tickets for Cowboys & Aliens. Your man is excited about Cowboys & Aliens star Olivia Wilde who is rated number one in Maxim magazine's "Hot 100" list of 2009. While you may like Daniel Craig's washboard abs as much as the next girl, and you would enjoy this movie under different circumstances, it does not fit your idea of a romantic movie with your man followed by a candlelight dinner and then home for some sexual bonding. Of course, your man is completely baffled by your annoyance.

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It seems counterintuitive that men and women would have different bonding strategies. After all, shouldn't it all work together? It would be convenient if what turns him on gets your motor running too. That would be ideal, but the amazing human mind has developed two different paths for the genders. The ability to close the gap between the sexes so that couples can bond together can be managed.

It all began way back when humans evolved. Who survived had a lot to do with how we bond and learn to work together. While humans are smart, their bodies are weak in the animal kingdom. Those who were able to build trust in each other and work collaboratively were more likely to live to see the next day. Men who worked closely together hunting had to keep their eyes on their prey, whereas women who were responsible for caring for the next generation developed a different bonding scenario -- holding their babies, looking into their eyes and responding to their needs (Fisher, 2009).

So, how does evolution affect how men and women bond today? Men bond with other men by playing sports or doing things together, while women are more likely to get together to talk over coffee. That doesn't mean that men can't talk over coffee and women don't enjoy sports. Its just a bonding preference that culture and evolution has shaped for centuries.

man and woman embracingman and woman embracing

What often happens in relationships is that men and women have a tendency, as they become comfortable in a relationship, to try and pull the bonding into their favored style. Since we all put our best foot forward during courtship, we don't mind going to see Cowboys & Aliens to make our man happy. But once we begin to feel more secure, we see his movie choice as somehow a failure to think of us first. We expect our partner to put our desires as a priority, once we have committed to each other.

Gender differences in bonding preferences can lead to misunderstandings between the sexes when they lack an appreciation and acceptance that men and women are not the same. Think about how the differences between men and women can play out in a simple movie decision --Cowboys & Aliens versus Crazy Stupid Love.

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In terms of sexual arousal, men are visually stimulated, whereas women developed a more complex input of information for their senses. Now, apply this to your man who prefers the sexy Olivia Wilde in Cowboys & Aliens, compared to your choice, the romantic comedy Crazy Stupid Love. Remember the evolution of bonding? As hunters, men primarily needed their vision to hunt, whereas women had to use their eyes, ears and words to manage children. Women prefer romantic storytelling that touches more senses whether you watch a movie, read poetry to each other, or create your own romantic story with a candle light dinner or a walk on the beach. Women want multiple senses stimulated. Humans are wonderfully adaptable and it is human nature to take strategies that worked well in one circumstance and try it in another situation. This is where misunderstandings develop.

Women prefer face-to-face bonding, looking deeply into the face of our man searching out love, worries, and the meaning of his expression. We are more likely to seek deeper understanding of the joy or pain we see expressed in his body language, and we want to grasp the meaning of his burden or his exuberance.

Men want to do things with you, sharing experiences and fixing problems. If a problem can be fixed, then why do we need to understand it? Your man wants to participate actively with you,experiencing your joy, pain, worries, and love.

While understanding and experiencing each other may not sound that far apart, when there is little tolerance for the other's preferred way of bonding, and we demand that it be our way, then things can go terribly wrong. Your man can feel separate and isolated if you stop doing things with him, and you can feel disconnected and out-of-sorts if he stops the actions of understanding: listening and responding to you. Loving another person requires that each person in the relationship stretch outside his or her comfort zone so that the connection between you is constantly growing.

So which is it -- Crazy Stupid Love or Cowboys & Aliens? It doesn't really matter. What does matter is both of you are willing to stretch.

Dr. Julie ElledgeDr. Julie ElledgeJulie Elledge, Ph.D., LMFT is the co-author of the Lovers Exploration Guide, Developing an Intimate-Erotic Connection that is part of the Videos for Lovers series. She and Dr. Hicks teach their theory and treatment model through Academic Alley, a APA and CA BBS approved provider of continuing education units for mental health professionals.