Science says women are just biologically designed for tears. The Do’s and Don’ts of letting her cry it out.
You’re sitting with your lady trying to pick out a movie. You want to watch something adventurous. She’d rather see a comedy. Suddenly, your seemingly innocent comment sends her into a flood of tears. Is she mad at you? Did you do something wrong?
Remember when you visited your brother to see the new baby? One minute your lady is laughing at the wee one, the next you find out she’s retreated to the bathroom in tears. Is she sad? Is she happy? What’s going on here? Most importantly, how do you make her stop?
Biologically, women are far more prone to tears than men for several reasons. Studies have pointed to chemistry as one of the things that sets us apart when it comes to crying. It’s believed that testosterone inhibits crying. A study by Dr. William H. Frey found that until the age of about twelve, boys and girls cry with the same frequency. By eighteen, the girls were crying an average of four times more than the boys. In addition to a lower level of testosterone, women have higher levels of the hormone prolactin that is believed to promote crying. Adult women have almost 60% more prolactin than the average male. Prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland and is strongly linked to emotions.
There is also a third, more bizarre, culprit that could be at work; shallower tear ducts. Dr. Geoffrey Goodfellow, an associate professor at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago stated, “There are several studies over the years that show that men have larger tear ducts in their eyes, so that it is less likely for the tears to well up to the point of spilling over.” Another paper was published in the 1960s by a physician from the University of Michigan who reported using male and female skulls to measure the depth and length of tear ducts. He found the females to possess shorter and shallower ducts.
Biology aside, the more obvious culprit is our cultural upbringing. Crying is seen as a sign of weakness, especially in a man. A boy needs to be tough, strong, and emotionless. Suck it up, stop crying, and big boys don’t cry are often the mantras delivered to male children. While females are told it’s okay to cry. Additionally many are taught that crying will help them get what they want, especially from a man. Get pulled over by a male cop? Cry. He’ll let you off. Get into an argument? Cry. He’ll yield and back down. Are you sad? Cry. Your man will rush over to hold you and try and make you feel better.
A cultural study in 2011 by Dr. Dianne Van Hemert, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, studied people in over thirty-five countries. The study found that the difference between men and women and the frequency of crying was more pronounced in countries that allowed greater freedom of expression and social resources, such as Chile, Sweden, and the United States. On the other hand, studies in Ghana, Nigeria, and Nepal, reported only a slightly higher tear rate for women. Van Hemert stated that the people in wealthier countries may cry more because they live in a culture that permits it, while people in poorer ones are less likely because cultural norms frown on such displays of emotion.
One of the biggest mistakes men make is the assumption that a woman is crying because she’s sad. That is seldom the case. Chances are higher that we’re crying from anger, frustration, or feeling overwhelmed. We may also cry because of our penchant to reflect more deeply on our memories. Tears are a way for our emotions to be seen and they also aid in venting that emotional build-up on a chemical level by releasing some of that previously mentioned prolactin. For many women, the first step to feeling better is to cry. In the study done by Dr. Frey, 85% of women said they felt better after crying it out.
It seems that the odds are stacked against us women when it comes to crying. But what’s a man to do about it, if anything? Should we ladies try to reign those tears in just a little bit for the sake of being better understood?
Ladies, keep in mind that crying is a foreign concept to most men. Intentional or not, your tears manipulate his feelings. No one says you have to stop crying to express yourself, but try stepping back and understanding how you’re affecting those around you. Your tears can generate feelings of frustration, manipulation, fear, anxiety, vulnerability, downright annoyance and in some cases extreme guilt in a man.
Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli suggest in their book, Through the Labyrinth, that a woman facing a situation she suspects will make her cry might employ a technique called “pre-cuing”. Let your man know that if you should get upset you will take responsibility for your tears if he will be responsible for trying to listen and understand through them. Many women have reported that this strategy makes them feel empowered and in the end, they often ended up not crying at all. The men were able to realize the tears were the product of frustration and concern, thus lowering their perceptions of being manipulated.
Gentlemen, remember that when a woman cries it’s generally a signal that she needs help to address something. Sometimes you can help. Other times there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Some general Do’s and Don’t’s:
DON’T try and talk to her if she’s angry. Leave her alone. She won’t be ready to share her feelings if you persist. She’s in no state of mind to deal with your questions or advice, no matter how good it may be. Hugging her now would be like trying to comfort a rattle snake. Do so at your own peril. She’ll come around in her own time.
DO let her know you’re nearby and willing to listen when she’s ready. Having tissues on hand never hurts.
DON’T try and solve/fix the problem. She doesn’t need fixing. She’s not a machine making an odd noise that you can go after with a wrench and screwdriver.
DO listen and be patient. Empathize with her plight. Try and find common ground so she knows you’re listening and that you really do understand. Recognize that crying is a symptom, and try not to become so distracted by the symptom that you miss the underlying cause.
DON’T belittle the reason she’s crying. Don’t even hint that you think her tears are silly, stupid or have no basis in reality. Don’t tell her to stop. You’re doing her no favors by trying to stop the crying, either with comfort or a change of subject. She’ll stop when she’s good and ready to stop and not a moment sooner.
DO give her a hug, kiss her on the forehead, hold her hand and just wait. This may feel like complete torture to you, but she’ll be left feeling closer and more trusting that you respect her and her feelings. (Although you may still not really understand at all)
DON’T blame her outburst on PMS. You may know otherwise, she may know otherwise and the calendar may be quite clear on it, too, but saying so out loud will never make her feel better.
DO bring her a cup of her favorite hot beverage. Make dinner or do a job around the house that is typically something she does. Something as simple as folding a basketful of laundry or washing the dishes will really make us feel better while our bodies rebel against us with headaches, cramps, and exhaustion.
Of course, I’ve left the best tears for last; tears of joy. Yes, we woman can be an odd lot. We cry because we’re happy. We cry when we’re in love. We cry when we see something beautiful or hear music that touches our soul. Some of us even cry during sex. It’s okay to ask your lady, very gently, why she’s crying during what you are perceiving to be a good time. If she replies, “Because I’m happy.” just smile, wraps your arms around her and know you’re with her for whatever that joyous occasion may be. Better yet respond with a heartfelt, “I’m happy, too.”
Photo: Flickr/Megan Allen