2015 was a year for Hollywood romance gone awry. One of the biggest, most surprising splits of the year was the demise of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s ten-year marriage. Now, months later, while technically divorced they are raising three kids together.
Recently the two talked to separate publications about upcoming films and, of course, each other. What Garner and Affleck said and didn’t say revealed as much about the differences between men and women as it did about their starring roles in two very different films.
He Said, She Said
At first glance, the New York Times article about Affleck and the upcoming “Batman” he directs and stars in seems like a normal profile. We learn Affleck delayed the interview (due to a migraine) and that while he’s open to discuss his character and the making of the film he’s—surprise!—more pensive about his relationship with Garner. During the interview, or at least what made it into print, Affleck mentions Garner just a couple times. When commenting on her personally, he says simply, “Jen’s great.”
Contrast this with Garner’s interview with Vanity Fair, wherein she discussed her movie but also her relationship with Affleck in a far more significant manner. Entertainment News called it a “tell-all,” and indeed she gushed about what it felt like when she first fell in love with him—she “ran down the beach to him” on their wedding day.
You can’t have these three babies and so much of what we had. He’s the love of my life. What am I going to do about that? He’s the most brilliant person in any room, the most charismatic, the most generous. He’s just a complicated guy. I always say, ‘When his sun shines on you, you feel it.’ But when the sun is shining elsewhere, it’s cold. He can cast quite a shadow.
Garner spoke at length about how much she worked at her marriage and how important the institution is to her. Still, at the conclusion of the piece, she manages a bit of a light-hearted jab at her ex-husband regarding the new tattoo that takes up his entire back, a Phoenix rising from the ashes: “You know what we would say in my hometown about that? ‘Bless his heart.’…Am I the ashes in this scenario? I take umbrage. I refuse to be the ashes.”
Men Are from Gotham, Women Are from NYC
Granted, the publications that featured these interviews have a different focus and Affleck has arguably had the bigger Hollywood career, so it makes sense the NYT profile would focus on the upcoming film he’s promoting. But that aside, the two interviews reveal the unique ways men and women cope with and discuss conflict—in this case, their heartbreaking divorce.
Referring to Garner’s interview with Vanity Fair, Affleck said, “She felt like she wanted to discuss it and get it out there and get it over with, so she could say, ‘Look, I already talked about it — I don’t want to do it again,’ It’s fine. She’s allowed to talk about it.”
Affleck might have his share of the burden to carry for the couple’s divorce, but he seems to understand a woman’s need to vent, however strange, even tacky it can sometimes seem. In an e-mail, relationship expert April Masini told me this is normal: “Women tend to expound on relationships and they want to feel good about where they are in them.”
By contrast, while it seemed strange (to me) that Affleck only said a couple things about Garner, this too is normal for men. Masini says, “Men don’t want to expound on [relationships], and they’d rather talk about sports or politics, which are more removed from their emotional cores….Ben’s response is indicative of this tendency men have to veer far away from any relationship talk.” (Women around the world sigh.)
Man Vs. Woman Conflict Resolution
People have, of course, been wringing their hands since the dawn of time—okay, just women have—over the differences between men and women. As Shakespeare said, “You will never find a woman without a ready answer.” Especially during conflict, it’s natural for women to pursue relational harmony, to want to discuss the issue until it is resolved or vent in the meantime or afterwards.
A lot of men, on the other hand, resolve conflict by allowing for or pursuing space first. They then seek resolution and usually facilitate it much faster than women. In the case of a divorce or breakup, they typically “vent” and cope, also, but in entirely different ways, such as focusing on work, or perhaps even a new relationship.
Since women tend to be much more relationally driven, they sometimes take their need for harmony too far, and ignore their man’s need for emotional space. Masini says women often write her wanting to have “the talk” with their men. “I always try to talk them down by explaining that guys hate ‘the talk’ about the relationship status. They’d rather have root canal without anesthesia.”
We All Need to Process, and We Do It Differently
As frustrating as this can be for women—heck, I found myself wanting Affleck to say more about his broken heart and marriage than “Jen’s great”—it’s an innate trait in many men that proves itself to be valuable. No offense to feminists, but if men went around fixing relationships all day, what would they accomplish vocationally? (Of course resolution should be reached in a reasonable time frame.)
This isn’t to say women don’t work or that a man’s work is more valuable, but men are especially hard-wired to provide and perform while women manage those duties in different ways, particularly via nurturing. Space post-conflict allows for these two unique but characteristic traits to complement each other naturally, in time.
This also teaches women a valuable thing or two about patience, timing, and her place in his life. In essence, while he might be the king and she the queen, his sun does not revolve around her every emotional stirring, and he’s not going to behave in conflict the way she does. If that sounds harsh, imagine if he did? A houseful of emotions raging like the sea during a tsunami. If he’s the anchor, her emotions can stir and vary and she still has a safe emotional place to return.
That said, Garner’s “tell-all” and Affleck’s positive response to it shows there’s a time to vent, and there’s a time to focus on work. There’s a time to praise and wax eloquent, and there’s a time to let bygones be bygones.
As Masini said, “This isn’t news. It happens all the time. But when it happens to celebrities, it makes the front pages of publications and websites because it’s something we can all relate to — only it’s happening to people with more resources, better clothes and houses and glam squads. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help heal the heart. Time and processing does.”