PUBLISHED IN THE SCMP : Sunday, 12 February, 2012
George and Mia have been together for seven years. When they got together, Mia says, her partner was very attentive, but now there is far less intimacy.
She often feels sad and alone. While Mia feels that George does not talk to her or share his life with her, he feels that they are now always fighting and that she makes a drama out of things.
The relationship has disintegrated to the point where they are considering separating.
Unconditional love is often an illusion, but it is something all couples should aim for. Often things fall apart when each partner assumes that the other should think and feel the same way they do. They have to understand one another's differences.
When George gets home from work he wants to relax, watch the television and not have to think about things. Mia wants to connect and talk about her day.
When she tries to engage him he shrugs her off. "I feel like Mia is interrogating me, what have I done, who did I see, did I remember the car registration," he says.
Mia ends up feeling rejected and George frustrated. Mia tries to treat him how she wants to be treated - to feel heard and supported. Men often feel that women are trying to improve them but most of the time they are just trying to share.
When women become upset men often shut down. Men may think that women are blaming them but this is often not the case, they just need to talk.
George tries to give Mia space because that is what he needs when he is stressed.
Men need to be able to stay in control of their emotions if they are to be mentally healthy. This is important for men and often unappreciated by women. However, it makes Mia think George is unemotional. George has learned that he can maintain his emotional equilibrium while expressing feelings and caring about what Mia is experiencing.
"George is always trying to solve my problems, it drives me crazy, there is no understanding or empathy," says Mia.
Men will often come to a solution before they share their thoughts, whereas women will need to talk and it's often not to find a solution but to experience emotions and release them.
Women can talk to other women for hours, as sharing and connecting is natural for them. Men should practise their listening skills and show care when their partner is stressed.
Men should realise that a woman does not need solutions to feel better. For a woman, sharing alleviates stress.
Mia feels he contributes little to the relationship. When a woman is under stress she becomes more emotional, a man detached.
George cares but he has become withdrawn from the relationship because he is feeling stressed by Mia's continual emotional reaction to him. He feels he cannot please her and so has given up. George needs to validate her feelings and share his. Touching and holding her is effective. Once Mia feels emotionally connected to George she will calm down.
Conflict is a near surety in relationships but when men and women are emotionally fulfilled problems are handled more effectively.
The need to feel loved is unequivocal but both sexes have primary needs. Talk to your partner about how they can fulfil your emotional needs and then check in with each other daily about this. For women it is to be cared for, understood and respected, while for men it is to be appreciated, trusted and accepted.
If couples work on giving each other these things, they will get back the love and emotional fulfilment they are looking for. Also, by understanding the differences, a little knowledge goes a long way. Hayley Thomas is a child, adolescent and family therapist, who specialises in eating disorders. For more information, go to relatehk.com