Men and women are different in many ways. Some may argue that the only difference is plumbing, but both you and I know that’s not true!

For over 20 years I’ve been an OB-Gyn physician, which means I’ve taken care of women. I’ve seen how women respond to pain, fear, anxiety, and physical limitations. Yes, women can get quite emotional over things, but they are generally very strong when they need to be.

Now that my husband has been needing some medical care I’ve had a chance to see things from a different perspective. I’ve seen how he responds to pain, fear, anxiety, and physical limitations – and it’s quite different from the way most women do. I think most wives will agree with me that most men need a little something extra to take care of themselves!

I think a primary difference between men and women is in what they are afraid of. Sure, both are afraid of pain, but for different reasons. Many of these factors affect both men and women, but the degree of importance for each is different.

Men are afraid of not being enough. There’s something built into a man’s psyche that pushes him to be the provider, the strong one, a “real man!” Their anxiety is often that they will be seen as inadequate. And they are afraid they won’t have what it takes to deal with whatever physical problem is there, and that if something’s really wrong they won’t be able to do what is required of them. Underneath that often strong exterior, men can be extremely vulnerable.

Women are afraid of how their problem will affect those they care about. Their pain, illness, or other medical problem may limit how they can care for those they love, and may keep them from the connections they feel are so important. Being ill or in pain may push spouse, family, or friends farther away, and that is almost worse than the pain itself.

Men are more likely to push things under the covers. They will deny the need to get help as long as they can. And they will worry and fret about a seemingly small symptom, but won’t do anything about it. And when you ask, they don’t want to admit anything’s wrong. They’re scared to death of going to the doctor, and often make the problem much worse in their mind than it actually is.

Women worry too, but they are much more likely to get help. They may seem emotional on the outside, but when it comes right down to doing something hard, they usually step up and just “do it.” They may complain, get emotional, look for ways to get out of doing it, but they will take on a lot.

When it comes to making lifestyle change, men may procrastinate forever, but when they’re ready, consider it done! Women may have a lot more starts and stops along the way, and need more encouragement and ongoing rewards to stick with it. Men want fast tangible rewards, and love the sense of accomplishment when they DO get something right.

So what do you do about all this?

If you’re a wife: watch for openings in your man’s hard shell, and create a safe space for him to be vulnerable in sharing his fears with you. Tell him how proud you are of him when he makes positive changes. Go with him, do it with him, be there whenever possible. He’ll respond well.

If you’re a husband: realize your wife needs ongoing encouragement. Tell her how valuable she is to you regardless of any physical difficulties or illness. Don’t mistake her emotional vulnerabilities as weakness: tell her verbally how sure you are that she can make it. She’ll live up to the challenge.

Men and women, and healthcare? Perhaps not quite so different after all.

Do you think men and women respond differently to health issues? What are you afraid of in relation to your health? How do you handle it? Do you have someone you love that frustrates you in not taking care of themselves? How can you help so that they will accept that help? I’d love to hear from you!