Men, Emotions, and Words

As many a woman understands (and at time laments), men just simply stink with words. “You don’t talk enough.” “All you want is sex.” “Boys, stop hitting your brother.” “Use your words!” “Talk to me.”

Although, women want to rest their accusations on men being emotionally shallow, the answer to this problem is found in new understandings of the human brain.  Men and women’s brains are different, this is becoming more and more evident. The reason for these differences is due to the chromosomal differences in our DNA, which results in different chemicals floating around in our respective brains. The amounts of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone influences the development of different brain structures and activity.  This results in various changes, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on one distinction. (If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more, check out the works of Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax. Both have written extensively on the topic.)

As a result of sex-specific human development, men have less synaptic activity between the left and right hemispheres of their brain. In an over-simplification, the left hemisphere controls language and analysis. The right hemisphere governs emotion and creativity because it has more connections to the limbic system, which is the emotion center of the brain.

A woman’s brain has more synaptic activity across the various brain structures, therefore making her brain more efficient in doing tasks that stretch across various parts of the brain. A task like articulating your feelings. It is easier for her to name (left brain – analysis) what she is experiencing (right brain/limbic – feeling).

In contrast, a man has more synaptic withins across the whole organ. This is why men tend to be more task and goal oriented. Or have a ‘one track mind,’ so to speak. This also means that when a man feels something, he may struggle to be able to talk about his feelings because where we experience emotion and where we articulate those experiences happens in two different places. It is harder for a typical male brain to go and fetch the appropriate words to describe the emotion he is feeling. He still feels and experiences life; he just is not able to talk and share about it as freely as women. Therefore, ladies stop accusing your husband of having the emotional depth of a teaspoon, it is just brain anatomy.

This does not mean that guys are off the hook of talking and sharing. We men still need to learn how to articulate our thoughts and feelings better (and be given permission to do so). However, women need to know that men often express their emotions in ways other than words. Men are more inclined to express their feelings through action or physicality. Men do. A guy will punch another guy as a sign of friendship. Men want to fix things. Open the hood of your car and see how many of your male neighbors will come over and see what you are doing. Those are signs of affection. Most men may not be good at words, but emotional expression is not solely contingent of vocabulary, there are many other ways to express what one is feeling.

So, what are the implications of these differences in marriage and family life? I’ll lay out three brief thoughts here:

1) In a recent episode of the podcast The Art of Manliness, Michael Gurian decried how often we tell young boys “use your words!” If the issue is that the boy cannot use his words as easily as his female peers, are we not then shaming our boys and making them feel at fault for something they have little control over? We need to give space for boys to figure it out. While also providing other methods of emotional expression that go beyond the verbal. Physical expression and visual arts are options to consider.

2) Men’s brains are more efficient when they are doing. I stated above that men have low cross hemisphere activity; although, when men are engaged in physical activities this is not the case. Men can better access words and feelings when they are doing something. This is why men often bond over activities – fishing, hunting, and playing sports. They share an experience, cut up, and have stories to tell later.

For fathers, it is so important to get outside and be with your sons. Shoot hoops. Play catch. Go fishing. Do a project together. Those are great opportunities to build memories but also to be able to talk about life issues. Those are prime moments to talk about heavier subjects and to (maybe) get some sort of response from your sons.

For wives, consider dates that get you out and doing something together. Dinner and a movie are nice, but get out and share an adventure together. It’ll mean a lot to your husband.

3) In marriage, the stereotype runs that men only care about sex, but I invite you to rethink sexual intimacy in light of what I’ve stated above. For men, sex is a primary manifestation of affection. Without question, this desire has been misunderstood, abused, and distorted for selfish gain. “A man has his needs, baby!” is a poor excuse for intimacy. But in its purest form, a man’s longing for physical intimacy comes out of his longing for emotional connection.

When a man has poor control of his desires and poor understanding of his emotions, sex becomes a dividing force rather than a unifying one. If a man is willing to do the work of redeeming his sexuality, he will find that the woman in his life will be more open. This leads us back to words. Sharing and connecting builds trust. Trust allows for vulnerability. Vulnerability allows for intimacy. Intimacy allows for sex. Verbal emotional expression and physical emotional expression should work together. The marital embrace should honor both the good of men and women; including their brain anatomies. (I have more to say on the topic of marital lovemaking, but I will leave that for future posts.)

I’ll end by saying this, whenever a post/article like this is written, there immediately is a backlash filled with every exception to these distinctions. I write this post as a man who is good with his words. I know there are exceptions. Biological understanding of the differences in men and women’s brains is not neurological typecasting. I firmly believe in nature and nurture shaping our abilities. Yet, it is still okay to say that there are generalities, even if your particular experience might not correspond.

(Featured image by Cole Hutson on http://www.upslash.com)

 

 

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