Newspaper Column Article 21: The Viralness of HIV/AIDs – Part VIII: To de-stress, “Men Go to Their Cave, Women Talk”

As it appeared in the Botswana Sunday Standard July 21, 2013, edition, Systemic Thinking Column 

When women talk, it means it is a good sign!  They are actually de-stressing.

Some of the male readers of the column shared they were surprised from the previous week’s column that the act of making social contact (such as talking and seeking to be heard or nurturing activities) for a woman is to a woman what withdrawing or becoming aggressive does to relieve stress for the man.

They had no idea!!!

When a man is stressed, he goes to his cave!  He will withdraw into the cave of his mind and focus on solving a problem.   He generally picks the most urgent problem or the most difficult.  He becomes so focussed on solving this one problem that he for a while loses awareness of everything else.  Other problems and responsibilities fade into the background.  If he can find a solution, instantly he will feel much better and come out of his cave and suddenly he is available for being in a relationship again.

Women handle stress very differently.

She does not know how to go to the cave of her mind.  She talks.  Or she finds activities in which she is taking care of or connecting emotionally with others.  This also stimulates the production of oxytocin for her.

 “An understanding of oxytocin-producing behaviours can completely change the way a man interprets a woman’s behaviour.  For example, when a woman complains she is not getting enough support or feels the need to talk about the problems in her life, it does not mean she does not appreciate what her partner does.   Instead, her behaviour is an indication that she is attempting to cope with stress by increasing her oxytocin levels”

— John Gray, Author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Generating oxytocin in the work world outside the home does not happen easily as it can be disrupted by the demands of having to make decisions, and set priorities based on bottom line instead of the need of others, and behaving in a professional manner.  These are testosterone producing situations.  Though there is nothing wrong with stimulating testosterone, it does nothing to lower a woman’s stress levels.’

Finding relief through talking.

When women talk about problems, men usually resist.  A man assumes she is talking to him about her problems, because she is holding him responsible.  The more problems, the more he feels blamed.  He does not realize that she is talking to feel better.

She would usually not open up to a man, if she had not felt “safe to do so” with him.  It is a sign of intimacy she is extending to him on her part.  So, if a woman does talk to you, it is a good sign for the relationship.  He will also eventually learn that that she will appreciate him if he just listens.

Men talk about problems for only two reasons: they are blaming someone or they are seeking advice.  Therefore when a woman is really upset, a man assumes she is blaming him.  Then he draws his sword to protect himself from attack.  If he offers solutions to her problems, she just continues talking about more problems.  He finds his solutions have been rejected and he feels unappreciated.  In both cases, he soon finds it difficult to listen.

He does not realize that explanations are not what she needs.  She needs him to understand her feelings and let her move on to talk about more problems.  If he is wise and just listens, then a few moments after she is complaining about him, she will change the subject and talk about other problems as well.

The degree to which a man does not understand a woman is the degree to which he will resist her when she is talking about problems.  As a man learns more how to fulfil a woman and provide her emotional support he discovers that listening is not so difficult.

Men and women learn to live together in peace because they were able to respect their emotional differences.  The men learned to respect that women need to talk to feel better.  Even if he didn’t have much to say, he learned that by listening he could be very supportive of her.

The women learned to respect that unlike themselves, men when they are stressed, needed to withdraw to cope with stress.  The place where he retires to distress was no longer a great mystery or cause for alarm.

Emotionally, the needs of the two genders are opposite.  Yet, that’s exactly what it takes a couple to come together.  As opposite genders, we do not meet in our similarities.  But in our differences.

When a couple are in conflict, often times it happens because we are attempting to meet the needs for them from our respective perspectives.  We think they are the same as ours.  That’s where we get this wrong.

As the couple learns to meet these differences it prepares the couple to move to the next deeper level of emotional intimacy between them.   Respect.  And Appreciation.  This will be the subject of next week’s column.

In what ways does not knowing these differences that exist between a couple have an impact on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS as a nation?  Would this series of causality be different beyond Botswana particularly in instances where the epidemic has become resistant to our effort to intervene it?   What do you think?  What do your friends think?  What do you agree on?  What do you disagree on?


Ms Sheila Damodaran works as a Systemic Strategy Development consultant currently developing her practice with national planning commissions in southern Africa.  She welcomes comments and queries for her programmes at or call DID: 3931518 or email

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