7 Psychological Theories That Will Help You Understand Women

Don’t just ask your friends for advice. Consult with a professional.
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Don’t just ask your friends for advice. Consult with a professional.
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Let’s misquote Tolstoy: "Happy women are all alike; every unhappy woman is unhappy in her own way.” It’s a simple principle, but it holds water - and plenty of great scholars have devoted their careers to understanding why. Here is a summation of their work and the lessons serious psychologists can share with men who are just trying to get the girl (and get through the day).

Carl Jung’s "Electra Complex"

The Electra Complex is a female's psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father and it is generally used to explain women’s competitive feelings towards each other. When a woman is possessive, attention-seeking, or trying just a bit too hard, remember your Jung. Give the attention back and she’ll feel more secure.

Leon Festinger’s "Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" 

Cognitive Dissonance is the mental stress evoked when an individual holds two contradictory beliefs. Though some people - dead poets mostly – embrace the confusion this creates, most people (and women) react in unpredictable ways when attempting to wrap their head around opposing ideas. This is why you don’t play the nice guy one day and then ignore her calls. You’re pissing her off, sure, but you’re mounting an accidental attack on her psyche.

Abraham Maslow’s "Hierarchy of Needs"

The Brooklyn psychologist broke down a human's basic needs into five categories: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The hierarchy is represented as a pyramid, with the more basic needs - non–imminent death - at the bottom. According to Maslow, an individual is not able to fulfill a need without completely fulfilling the need prior. In other words, you’re unlikely to receive a woman’s undivided attention until she feels safe both physically and financially. It’s a decent argument for chasing a higher paycheck, but it’s an even better argument for spending time helping her further her career.

Karen Horney’s "Theory of Self"

The German psychologist believed that, if an accurate perception of self is achieved, the individual has the ability to fulfill ambitions within reach. Only this "real self” can attain real happiness. In terms of women, this means focusing your compliments on her real, rather than her ideal self. Rather than pretending imperfections are something they’re not, focus on what makes her exceptional. She can take genuine pride in that and contentment is the closest thing psychology has to a sexually transmitted condition.

B.F. Skinner’s "Operant Conditioning"

Operant conditioning is a learning theory focused on cause and effect. An individual's behavior is reinforced through punishment or reward, each outcome determining whether or not that person is likely to repeat their actions. Boiled down, that means that you should make damn sure enjoys doing whatever you enjoy. Here’s an even more pithy precis: Reciprocate.

Robert Sternberg’s "Triangular Theory of Love"

According to Sternberg, love is comprised of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Each element contributes value to the relationship at hand. Intimacy relates to the building of an important bond; passion refers to sexual chemistry; commitment builds overall trust. This means that you’re going to be multi-tasking, but it also means she’ll be happy.

Robert Sternberg’s "Triarchic Theory of Intelligence" 

According to Sternberg, cognitive development connects to an individual's worldview and surrounding environment. Sternberg suggests that the true definition of intelligence is how well an individual adapts to changes in environment. In simpler terms: If she only talks about high school, pick up the check and get out of there. Getting the prom queen can be great, but, if she’s still got the tiara, you should be concerned.

Photos by Arman Zhenikeyev / Corbis