Stress and prostate cancer – Men and women may react differently

One of the barriers to a happy marriage or relationship may be the expectation that men should react to stress the same way as women.

Unfortunately, both science and personal experience tell us this just isn’t so.

A UCLA study (that was first reported on in 2000), showed that when stress strikes, women may be more compelled to reach out and nurture others around them.  This is known as the “tend-and-befriend” response.

Men, on the other hand, may be more likely to isolate, or become confrontational.  This is known as the traditional “fight-or-flight” response.

The study investigators attributed women’s nurturing behavior to the production of a hormone called oxytocin, which women apparently produce more of during times of stress.

Stress challenges relationships

When you look at the number of shelves devoted to books on “relationships” and “communication” in your local bookstore, it is apparent that marital/relational discord is a common problem.

And when you add severe stress to the equation — such as the stress associated with a diagnosis of prostate cancer or cancer recurrence — it can really shake things up.

In his book, Why Mars & Venus Collide, John Gray, PhD, makes some interesting observations about how differently men and women cope with difficulties.

For example:

  • Men tend to want to forget about a problem and avoid talking about it, while women may want to attack the problem head on and feel compelled to talk about it
  • Women may be quick to seek help from others, while men may need to exhaust every possibility on their own before they are compelled to ask for help

If Gray’s observations are correct (and you can probably tell by what goes on in your own home), then men and women may act completely opposite to each other in times of duress.

Gray goes on to suggest that sometimes the best way to support your loved one is just to leave him alone.

Where does that leave you?

Isolating may work well for your man, but what about your needs?  Especially since women seem to cope with their problems by talking about them?

A great place to turn to for your support is our
support groups and online forums page
 that is available for wives and partners of men with prostate cancer.

Don’t be afraid to reach out.  Prostate cancer isn’t something that you need to cope with on your own.


Back to stress and prostate cancer

Gray J. Why Mars & Venus Collide: Improving relationships by understanding how men and women cope differently with stress. Harper Collins Publishers: NY: 2008. Taylor SE, Klein LC, Lewis BP, et al.

Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight. Psychological Review. 2000;107(3):411-429.

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