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Ken Solin

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It's Time for a Truce in the Gender War

Posted: 11/17/11 12:30 PM ET

The gender war has been a battle of the wills fought in slow motion, for decades. It has eroded the foundation of the traditional man/woman paradigm which was no longer working anyway. All indications point to relationship dissatisfaction being at an all-time high. Women aren't going to retreat from their hard-won gains and become compliant, second-class citizens again, and men aren't going to regain the infallible head of household crown that is shared equally now for economic and social reasons. But men and women can't remain embattled, and some fair-minded solution seems in order.

For the first time ever, more women are choosing to remain single than marry, and men are becoming increasingly unwilling to commit. This disconnection has created a cold war of disengagement. Men and women are traveling in opposite directions, widening the gap.

The combatants are every man and woman who ever experienced pain and suffering in a relationship. And, for over-50s, this includes just about everyone. Lobbing blame bombs back and forth only intensifies the conflict, and disarmament and real engagement can only begin when both genders take a hard look at themselves and start assuming responsibility instead.

At the core of much of the mutual suffering is fear--women's fear of abusive men, men who can't commit, and men unwilling to be emotional conscious, are often mentioned. Men express fear of callous, manipulative women who dump them in a whimsical manner for someone better. Of course there are many other issues that are equally problematic that need addressing.

And because fear is such a powerful emotion, few men or women elect to deal with it. Neither gender readily admits fear of anything, especially the opposite sex. And when hearts become hardened by past relationship trauma, opening up again, emotionally, becomes a major hurdle.

So how can men and women end this stalemate and enter into mutually supportive and loving relationships? First, they need to enter the relationship arena as emotional equals. I can already hear the objections: men insisting that only wimpy guys talk about their feelings, and women arguing that men are incapable of it anyway. Both are wrong.

To men who think that being conscious and in control of their emotions is wimpy, I suggest that not dealing with your issues and inflicting them on your wife or girlfriend instead, is actually wimpy. To women who feel men simply aren't up to the task, I've seen many men make the leap and embrace emotional intimacy--and have done it myself.

Relationships are built entirely on trust. It's the glue that ensures love, safety, confidence, and the continued willingness to work together to create intimacy and a long-term relationship. Trust is non-negotiable and either exists 100 percent of the time or doesn't exist at all. There's no love and intimacy without trust. There are no authentic relationships that don't embrace trust as their foundation. This seems to be at the crux of the gender war. So how can men and women build trust and move ahead in tandem?

Couples can accomplish this by sharing their feelings and fears with each other, while knowing that what they share won't ever be used against them. A man who shares his fear of intimacy and offers past painful relationship experiences as evidence needs to be acknowledged and thanked for his openness and honesty. A woman who shares her fear based on prior relationships with abusive men, for instance, needs to have her concerns acknowledged and be reassured that she will always be treated with gentleness, love, and respect.

That's how intimacy is created, by sharing mutual experiences with, and feelings about relationships, acknowledging each other's issues, and building trust along the way. It's important to keep in mind that when a man or woman expresses their feelings, what they're sharing is their absolute truth, and as such, are immune from debate, judgment, or opinion. Their thoughts, however, are open for debate because unlike feelings, they are opinions.

When men dig deep and share their feelings, whatever comes up must be respected even if it's upsetting or surprising. A woman who wants to know what her man is feeling must respect his response if she hopes he will ever open up again. A man whose partner shares her feelings and who feels badly about what he hears doesn't have the right to argue against her feelings. He can express how he feels about them, but that's not the same as judging them. Sharing feelings in a relationship requires absolute trust.

The gender war can only continue if men and women refuse to acknowledge and move past their fears and meet each other as equals with openness and vulnerability. There's nothing more powerful than intimacy in a relationship, and it's time both men and women embrace it--and each other.