When heterosexual couples cooperate well, so a new study suggests, men act like responsive marionettes and women act like emotional puppeteers. That is, men tend to mimic their partner’s mood, while women try to regulate their partner’s emotions because we’re all just trying to appease each other and keep from falling into a whirlpool of pointless arguing.
This gender normative conclusion about how men and women get along comes to us via the University of Arizona, whose researchers studied 44 heterosexual couples (most either living together or married) who’d been together an average of six years. Researchers shot video of the couples talking solipsistically about their eating, exercise, and leisure habits, then asked the couples to watch the videos and rate how positive or negative they were feeling at different points in the conversation. Voyeuristic researchers also looked for the telltale signs of cooperation — communication, sympathy, active listening, and, most frustrating of all, compromise.
Guess what they found, according to the Washington Post?
Among those couples who cooperated well, the partners tended to fall into gender-distinct roles, with men following an emotional lead and women seeking to moderate the man’s emotions.
Men may do this simply to appease women. In an example cited in a podcast on the study hosted by the [Journal of Social and Personal Relationships], a wife asks her husband what he thinks of her outfit. He says he likes it, but chances are her husband’s enthusiasm won’t be enough to fully convince her, and she will want to try on a few other options.
Study author Ashley Randall posited some explanations for this apparent tendency of men to avoid relationship conflict, including the suggestion that men might be aligning their emotions with their female partners in order to avoid a long, drawn-out discussion, just the way sitcom fathers and husbands do when they want to watch THE GAME and their wives are being all, “But, honey, I told you that today you needed to freeze-dry your father-in-law’s plantar wart — you can watch the silly game after.” If women suspect that this is the case, (and they’re not content with simple appeasement), Randall suggested that they could become “less positive” in order to draw out their partner’s true feelings.
If these gender caricatures feel a little worn out, it’s because we’re (mostly) surrounded by them on TV, in ads, in movies, in hacky stand-up routines, and in the way Mars/Venus scientific studies are regurgitated to the public. Golly gosh, everyone — ever notice how men and women are different? Sometimes, noticing such differences has interesting implications, but suggesting that men will mindlessly agree to their female partners just to avoid argument reinforces the idea that there’s some working model for heterosexual relationships that people should emulate.
Image via Getty, Kevin Winter