How many of you think men are typically cold and unemotional? Or how many think men aren’t natural caretakers and nurturers?
Who thinks women turn on the waterworks when they want their way? Do you think women use their looks to trick men into giving them what they want?
What about a relationship? Do you believe in fairytale, Hollywood-level romance?
When it comes to our beliefs about men and women there are many misconceptions or what we like to call “mythconceptions” about the opposite sex. You may even have mythconceptions about the same sex, as well.
These ideas of how “women are” or how “men are” come from the beginnings of our childhood. They’re formed as our earliest beliefs.
As youngsters, we form implicit memories. These could be memories of the way your mother smelled. It could be a recall of the way your dad reacted to certain situations. You may have memories of the way your parents interacted with each other and how you perceived their relationship. These memories form our beliefs and makeup. They’re created before we even realize it.
Yet, these beliefs color our lens and shape our interaction for life. They play a role in our personalities, the limitations and expectations we put on ourselves, and even the person we choose to marry. It’s big stuff.
You might feel annoyed when a man’s actions trigger a memory of your father. You may get irritated when your spouse says a phrase that sounds like your mom. You may hold your marriage up to the prism of your parent’s relationship. Maybe you never saw them fight, or your mother tended to smooth everything over and rescue everyone. Now, we expect our spouse to do the same.
We’re shaped by so many early experiences—even movies we watched and stories we heard as kids may change our perception. We’re all looking for a fairytale, when in reality fairytales don’t exist. What does exist are real relationships requiring nurturing, exploration and patience.
So, what do you really know about the opposite sex? What are truths and what are simply beliefs based on your own experience? How can you look beyond those beliefs to strengthen your relationships?
There are certain traits or qualities we may consider more feminine or more masculine. Feminine qualities often include feeling, expressing emotion, nurturing and collaborating with others. Masculine qualities are traits like leadership and assertiveness or directness.
Yet we pigeonhole one another into certain roles and if the situation isn’t perfect, we might believe our relationship is doomed. This is particularly prominent if we idolized one of our parents or feel they could do no wrong. Now we hold everyone else to an impossible standard, where they never measure up.
In truth, as a child, your perception isn’t always reality. Perhaps you were the apple of your mother’s eye, or daddy’s little girl, but as an adult we realize our parents are simply human too. The pedestal we held them on, isn’t always accurate. Nor is it the best measure for everyone else we encounter.
The opposite situation also applies and is just as damaging. If your parents were cold, distant or even abusive, you may view all members of their gender with the same expectation. You may believe you deserve certain treatment by men or women because it was what you knew in your formative years.
These beliefs damage our relationship with others and even our sense of self. The sooner we work past our limiting beliefs about the opposite sex, the sooner we’ll find common ground and connection. The sooner we realize our parents were human beings with their own yearnings and limitations, the sooner we will move past allowing it to taint our own.
One of my favorite examples of gender mythconceptions was a couple I saw a few years ago and profiled in our book The Heart of the Fight.
Geena and Riley had what everyone would describe as a “fairy tale romance.” They had the perfect house, the perfect look and dressed the part. They seemed to have everything going for them. Yet, when they came to visit me, Geena reported this was their last-ditch attempt to save their relationship. They were deeply entrenched in several common fights: Sexual Dissatisfaction and If You Really Loved Me You’d _____. Riley was on the verge of an affair. Geena was on the verge of throwing in the towel.
As they first began to explore their limiting beliefs and mythconceptions about “fairytale romance,” many of their problems started coming to light. You see, both of them had bought into the belief there was something wrong if they weren’t living “happily ever after.” Once their honeymoon period was over, they hadn’t worked through the myth of the fairytale romance and consequently believed their relationship was broken.
There was a longing for more intimacy and a greater connection, but the roads to get there were coming from different directions. Riley looked at sex as an escape and way to help him feel better. Geena needed a connection and to feel engaged and close before she felt ready for sex.
Once they explored and recognized the underlying yearnings in their relationship, they were able to move beyond the fights about sexual dissatisfaction, and find fulfillment by connecting over shared moments and daily experiences (and their sex life improved too).
To really deepen their relationship, though, we had to explore the aspects of their past that had resulted in their limiting beliefs about one another and their relationship.
They went into the woods and discovered their misleading myths had formed from a much deeper family of origin programing. In his unhappiness Riley had been contemplating an affair. Underneath this, he found a limiting belief, which he could track back generations: that the men in his family believed that women would never please them. Geena uncovered similar limiting beliefs about men and women. Each of them was learning to map the woods and this helped them move through fights faster.
…Instead of trying to avoid fights, they moved into them as soon as an unmet yearning surfaced. This led to less intense fights that they resolved quickly. Deeper understanding and closeness resulted. They were well on their way to the later phases of true change and dedication to venturing into the scary parts of themselves and their relationship. They still thought of the fairytale life but resisted the journeys into the woods less and less, and became closer and closer.
It’s possible to move past our limiting beliefs about men and women, but we must first explore the origins of our mythconceptions. Once we understand why we view men, women and relationships the way we do, we can break free. We can start to learn to see each person we encounter in an honest light. We will see them as an individual with yearnings and their own desires to be seen and heard for who they really are.
For more on how you can embrace your strengths and overcome limiting beliefs, please visit www.wrightfoundation.org. Join us for an upcoming Weekend of Transformation or a networking event where you’ll learn to connect with others and engage in honesty and truth.
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
Liked this post and want more? Sign up for updates – free!
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.