Stress Hormones and Interactions
Most of us know that hormones play a big role in how we feel, but we don’t know how or why. We know that men have testosterone and we know about women having their monthly moods… but there is obviously much more to it than that.
We want to share a little about how our interactions are influenced by our stress hormones. This can have an impact on how we relate to others and in particular you might recognise some of this playing out in your couple relationship.
The Normal Stressful Day
The world has changed. Imagine a time when men protected the community, went out and hunted and fought. They used their stress hormone, testosterone, and would come back depleted. The women would nurture and use their oxytocin (female stress hormone). Nurturing for a woman is a stress relieving activity. Oxytocin has that effect, it’s relaxing to give but then the woman needs to be replenished. This happened, then, by spending time with the other women; being listened to, talking and pampering each other and working together when the men were out hunting etc.
Now very often both men and women go out to work, both using their respective stress hormones and then quite likely come home depleted. This is where we can get into trouble. We need to understand the differences at this point. Men and women replenish their stress hormones in different ways.
Men need 30 times more testosterone than women. Testosterone is replenished by “zoning out”. There are many ways to do it: meditating, watching TV, playing in the shed. The point here is that the man needs to shut out all stressing factors to fill back up again. It may only take 30 minutes or so but he has to shut out all things he finds stressful… that means even his partner if he finds her “demands” stressful. Have you ever wondered how a man can just sit down and “relax” when there is so much that needs to be done? This is why. He has to!
If the woman has had a stressful day of doing, listening, giving and not receiving she may well have used all of her oxytocin and needs to feel she is important, her needs are being met, that she is cared for and pampered to replenish her stress hormone. She literally “has nothing left to give”.
Coming Home at the End of the Day
So let’s paint a picture. It’s the end of the day. You both arrive home. The rubbish needs to go out, the food needs to be cooked and you are both ready for a rest but things have to be done. What happens? Do you notice this difference playing out? As a woman do you feel shut out or hurt if your partner “disappears” to do other things when you want to connect or have help with something? As a man do you feel “nagged” if your partner wants to talk or needs something as soon as you walk in the door?
Understanding the differences in the ways we replenish our stress hormones can help us understand each other’s needs and not take them so personally. It is normal for a guy after a stressful day to need some down time before he gets back up and is able to interact and help. It helps if a man’s need to replenish is respected and understood. It helps too if men can talk about what is happening when they need “space”.
Women need to receive attention for oxytocin to be replenished. Although women feel a relief in giving, they need to be aware that being nurtured, pampered and listened to is essential for building up what is needed to be able to give again. So a chat to a girlfriend on the phone (if the friends a good listener) or going to get your hair done makes more sense!
The Nurturing Relationship
These needs can be fulfilled in the relationship too – listening to one another and nurturing each other’s needs. The work for the couple is to recognise each other’s needs and express them so the partners can support each another in replenishing stress hormones – this helps create a feeling of peace at home.
(For more on this topic, see John Gray’s new book Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love and Energy.)