A few weeks ago, Jane Wilcox and her live-in boyfriend had a blowout argument over a kitchen sponge that was left in the sink. There was ranting and accusations of shoddy housekeeping. He packed a bag and prepared to spend the night in a second home on their property. She called one of her boyfriend's buddies and asked him to come over and calm him down.
When the pal arrived, the two men took beers out to the porch. 'They sat huddled together like they were planning a NATO conference,' says Ms. Wilcox, 52, who lives in the mountains outside of Phoenix. 'I would watch and see them both nod, as if they understood each other. One would lean back and take a heavy sigh, the other would follow suit. Then they'd huddle into each other again.'
The topic of their big discussion? Motorcycle oil.
It's no big secret that men don't share their emotions easily. Numerous research studies -- and millions of baffled women -- can attest to that.
But is it really so harmful if men want to keep their feelings hidden? And don't women share too much, yammering on about their husbands to friends, co-workers and sometimes even strangers?
The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes.
Men and women could learn a thing or two from each other about when to talk about problems in their marriages or romantic relationships. It might help for men to reveal more to others outside the relationship -- and for women to zip it a bit more.
There are deep-rooted reasons why we share the way we do. Men don't want to appear vulnerable. (Why else won't they ask for directions when they're lost?) They are raised to be strong, after all, not to appear sad, scared or needy. Women, by contrast, are taught it's OK to be emotional.
'Women can go to their friends and talk and ask, 'Does he love me? What do you think?'' says Charles T. Hill, a professor of psychology at Whittier College in California. 'If men went to their friends and said, 'Do you think she loves me?' they would say to get a grip.'
Men also may clam up to protect their wives or significant others, worrying that their buddies might be insensitive, gossip or think less of their partners. They also may not want to get themselves wound up because it's hard for them to wind down.
Or, as a male friend of mine puts it: 'Men don't talk about their feelings with themselves, let alone other men. They usually have something to feel guilty about, even if it's just a bad thought or flirtation, so why look too closely?'
Biology plays a part, too. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have shown women respond to stress by releasing oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that produces a calming effect and helps them bond with children and others. Estrogen enhances its effects. (Men, too, release oxytocin in response to stress, but male hormones minimize its effects.)
Women don't need a study to confirm that they feel better from talking over their problems. Sure, they may get an oxytocin boost. But they know they will also receive empathy, possible solutions and maybe even a reality check.
Sometimes in the middle of an argument with her husband of 26 years, Marina Kamen, 50, who lives in New York, will go online and chat with a friend on Facebook, or even with a stranger on a Web site for working moms. She believes that this prevents the quarrel from escalating, and that it can help her put her life in perspective.
'Many single women will tell me, 'It's hard out here. Do you think you will find someone better?'' says Ms. Kamen, who, with her husband, owns a business that produces motivational fitness recordings and music with her husband. 'Then we will get in a dialogue about what my husband is like and all his good qualities.'
Her husband, Roy, 56, says he tends not to discuss his marriage with his friends. 'It's a guy thing,' he says.
He's not alone. In many cases, men wait until it's too late to ask for support or advice from their friends about serous relationship issues. 'Men will talk when there's nothing left to lose,' says Susan Pease Gadoua, a therapist in San Rafael, Calif. By not opening up earlier, she says, they miss out on a chance to garner support -- or even just a little reassurance that others have been there, too.
Julius Nagy, a 48-year-old father of five who is going through a divorce, says he rarely talked to friends about financial troubles in his 16-year marriage, both to appear strong and to avoid conflict. Because he had no emotional outlet, he often ended up in yelling matches with his wife, which only exacerbated their problems, he says.
'The big reason it didn't work in the end is that I kept bottling this up,' says Mr. Nagy, a former product developer in the bedding industry who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. His wife couldn't be reached for comment.
Tony Dye's 24-year marriage had problems for years, but only recently -- now that he's getting a divorce -- has he started to tell his friends what's really going on: He's been having an affair.
'I think that exposing what's been going on in my life and getting some feedback earlier would have helped,' says Mr. Dye, 54, an information-technology consultant in Atlanta. 'I've had guys in the last year very lovingly beat me up over this relationship, saying, 'Tony, you can't have anything to do with her. You need to be working on things with your wife.'' His wife couldn't be reached for comment.
You should be judicious about where you turn for help, if you seek it outside of your relationship. Talk too much, and your words may come back to haunt you.
Just ask Kimberly, a 42-year-old mom in the Midwest who asked that her last name not be used. When her marriage hit a rough patch last year, she complained to everyone she could find: her mom, friends, co-workers, housekeeper, husband's best friend and two radio stations.
She says the attention was a relief -- at the time. But now that she and her husband have patched up their problems, they have a new one: Some of the people she carped to have ostracized her husband.
'It's an awkward situation,' Kimberly says. 'To this day, he's not comfortable around my family.'
Jane Wilcox, of the sponge spat, wonders if she shouldn't talk less, too. While her boyfriend and his buddy debated the virtues of synthetic versus natural bike oils, she called a girlfriend and analyzed every detail of the fight she had had with him. 'What they had accomplished in 20 minutes took us two hours,' says Ms. Wilcox, whose boyfriend could not be reached for comment.
The next morning, her boyfriend met her in the kitchen and offered her a cup of coffee. 'End of subject. End of tantrum. No apology. No talk. It's as if the entire incident had not happened,' she says.
'But he did change the oil in his bike to synthetic. It runs much smoother now.'
Have you ever shared too much -- or not enough -- about your marriage?
“女人们可以去找她们的朋友谈心，问他们，‘他爱我吗？你怎么想？’”加利福尼亚州惠特学院(Whittier College)的心理学教授查尔斯•T.希尔(Charles T. Hill)表示，“如果男人们也去找他们的朋友，问他们，‘你觉得她爱我吗？’朋友们会告诉他要理智一些。”
这一问题也可以从生物学的角度找到答案。加州大学洛杉矶分校(University of California, Los Angeles)的科学家们已经证明，女性在面临压力时会释放一种名为“催产素”的荷尔蒙。它能够帮助舒缓情绪，还可以促进女性和孩子及其他人之间的社交活动，而雌激素会强化这种荷尔蒙的作用。（男性在面临压力时也会释放这种荷尔蒙，但是男性荷尔蒙会将它的效用抑制到最小。）
罗伊不是个例。在很多情况下，等到男人们因为感情问题寻求朋友的支持或者建议时，一切都太晚了。“男人们只有在走投无路的时候才会吐露心声，”加州圣拉斐尔市(San Rafael)的临床医师苏珊•皮斯•加多(Susan Pease Gadoua)表示。因为没有更早敞开心扉，他们错过了获得支持的机会──或者是过来人的一点点安慰。