Why Tension in Relationships is Important

How to Balance the Masculine and Feminine Energies

Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash

Are There Differences Between Men and Women?

Masculine and feminine are terms that cause a lot of grief and apparent offence. I believe this is mainly because people often associate “masculine” with “man” and “feminine” with “woman”. There is a reason for such an association (which I’ll address later), but it’s worth stating clearly that masculine does not mean necessarily male, nor feminine female. To add further to the confusion, dictionary.com describes masculine and feminine as below:

Masculine: having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, such as strength and boldness.

Feminine: having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, such as sensitivity or gentleness.

The keyword here is traditionally. What this means is that evolutionarily speaking, men have predominantly manifested certain qualities while women have predominantly manifested others. Women are the only sex capable of becoming pregnant at the biological level. Packaged in with this ability to become pregnant is a plethora of hormones and different bodily strengths and weaknesses which directly impact personality type (generally speaking, of course).

Photo by Oyemike Princewill on Unsplash

The men did the hunting because the women were particularly physically limited during the last trimester of pregnancy. Over thousands of years, evolution has shaped men and women slightly differently. Interestingly, this finding has been supported by extensive research. From this very large and cross-cultural study the scientists found:

“Women reported themselves to be higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Warmth, and Openness to Feelings, whereas men were higher in Assertiveness and Openness to Ideas. Contrary to predictions from evolutionary theory, the magnitude of gender differences varied across cultures. Contrary to predictions from the social role model, gender differences were most pronounced in European and American cultures in which traditional sex roles are minimized.”

What About The Social Role Model?

What absolutely cannot be overlooked is the effects of the social role model, which states that the differences in the sexes are the result of social conditioning as opposed to biology. This mirrors the age-old “nature vs. nurture” debate. Likely, there is some truth to both sides, and that’s certainly what the above study suggests. In any case, it certainly does seem to be the case that biological men and women have general differences when averaged across a population.

That in no way means that there are no masculine women nor feminine men. To use a specific example, many men are more agreeable than many women. The differences aren’t large — about 60% for many traits — but they do seem to exist on average.

Being A “Complete” Human

Regardless of whether or not sex differences are natured or nurtured, it remains that we are left with two terms: masculine and feminine. If we detach the association between males and females for just a minute what we find is a list of qualities that are needed for a successful life.

Masculine qualities include strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness.

Feminine qualities include nurturance, sensitivity, sweetness, supportiveness, gentleness, warmth, passivity, cooperativeness, expressiveness, humility, empathy, affection, tenderness, and being emotional, kind, helpful, devoted, and understanding.

Photo by Oyemike Princewill on Unsplash

When we look at such an extensive list, it is obvious that both masculine and feminine qualities are valuable. Strength and courage are important for success in life (which is why, together, they are a cardinal virtue of Stoicism). But so are humility and devotion. It is hardly an insult to call someone masculine or feminine, then, regardless of their sex!

One could argue that a perfect person would be both masculine and feminine. A person that can be strong yet sensitive, independent yet cooperative, courageous yet humble, and assertive yet passive would not often find themselves in a weak situation in life. However, as one could imagine, having all of these traits is very difficult. Most of us have the nature that we’ve been given and hence have no control over this and this dictates much of our strengths and weaknesses.

The Benefits of Romantic Relationships

Fortunately, human beings are social, bonding creatures. We tend to seek out partners in life for many reasons, having children being one of them. However, many also seek out a partner for companionship and practicality. If we cannot be both completely masculine and feminine individually then the closest thing would be to be so through a relationship with another person. With such a view in mind, it is easy to see how terms like “better half” and “soul mate” came from. If you are extremely feminine but lack masculine traits and your partner is the exact opposite, together you are two halves that make a whole.

Each of you brings strengths and weaknesses to the table, and one partner’s strengths compensate for the other partner’s weaknesses. This “wholeness” does not come for free, though. Masculine and feminine traits do not always clash, but sometimes they do because it is possible to have two different ways of dealing with the same problem. This “clash” between these energies manifests itself as debate within the relationship.

Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

For example, let’s say you and your partner are raising a child. One of you embodies masculinity and the other femininity. The masculine parent may want to raise the child to be very assertive. The feminine parent, on the other hand, would rather teach passivity. This will likely create some tension in the relationship, but having these two opposing perspectives is immensely beneficial for the child. They learn how to be assertive but also passive, and hopefully, in time they can learn the wisdom to know when each is to be ideally used.

Jordan Peterson once used a powerful analogy to describe the benefits of this tension. He stated how a surgeon can make a cut with a single hand, but the cut is not steady or straight. However, if the surgeon uses his other hand to provide an opposing force to the main cutting hand, the union creates a much more straight and steady cut.

Closing Remarks

The overarching point that I am trying to make is that disagreements and tension within a romantic relationship are perfectly normal. In fact, they are more than normal: they are beneficial. They may not be pleasant, but they are helpful for navigating through life and can be the difference between success and failure. My advice? Learn to love the tension and disagreements by understanding what it fundamentally is: a steadying force offering stability in your life.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to similar reflections on The Strong Stoic Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

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