Men, Women, and Emotional Processing

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You’ve heard the phrase, men are from Mars, women are from Venus. The term became popular after the publication of John Gray’s famous self-help book for relationship success. And as true as the sky is blue, men and women process emotion differently. 

This was a big lesson to learn as I grew up. I remember looking at elderly couples, out for an evening stroll. The ones that stood out to me were the ones that were walking hand in hand. Fingers clasped tight within each others grasp. 

And I would think, what kept this couple together for so long? 

Now, I was young when I first began that reflection and over the years I have adopted the realization that the couple may not have been together since their early years. Unlike my parents, that have been together since grade 11, married 57 years, 9 children, 28 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren.

My children said once, “Mom, you’re the product of true love. What does that feel like?” And they were right. My parents, especially my father, are still clearly as in love today as when the sparks flew long ago. And when people would say, relationships are hard work, I would think that’s rubbish. If you love someone, it shouldn’t be hard work, but bliss.

I clearly watched too many romcoms when I was younger!

What life has taught me is that a loving relationship takes work. Dedicated, committed work. Because no two people are alike, especially a man and a woman. There are significant differences that, when understood, make the process of loving a person of the opposite sex a whole lot clearer.

The Difference Between the Male and Female Brain

There are two sides to the brain. And in the middle, there is a small divide where the sides barely touch. One side of the brain is verbal, logical, practical, and the other side is non-verbal, irrational, and emotional. 

In the male brain, there are very few connections between the two sides of the brain. For men, being verbal and being emotional are not situations that tend to happen at the same time. When a man is verbal, logic and reason tend to follow (for the most part!). When a man is emotional, there will be less talk and more action.

To process emotion, men need space and less distractions to assist the brain in working through the flood of hormones that correlate with the experience of being emotional. This is also why men are at their best when they do one thing at a time. The brain just simply can not manage multiple things happening at once. 

In the female brain, there are many connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. This allows a woman to process emotion with the help of using her words. Because there are messages jumping back and forth across the hemispheres of the brain, she is able to talk, process emotion, and do a whole lot of other things all at the same time. And it’s not just that she can do this, it is like she needs to do this for emotion to work its way through; to run its course. 

This makes sense If you look far into the past. Men were the ones that went out to hunt for food while women remained in the village. While hunting, men are lined up side by side, watching for the prey. Men had to sit in silence, with maybe a grunt or 2 for basic communication, so that they themselves do not become prey. 

Back in the community, women work together to handle all the the tasks at hand. Some cared for the children, while others cooked, cleaned, crafted provisions. Women would communicate the needs of the group, for instruction purposes and efficiency of caring for the community. The woman that communicated the best was able to make things happen for the group.

Though we no longer live in tribal times, the sex specific tendencies still generally exist. Men need space and quiet to process their emotion. They also need to feel needed and wanted. Women need to talk with others to process their emotions. They need to tell stories or narratives, and they need to feel like the listening parties are on their side. 

Unfortunately, men and women don’t have the same needs. That is where the work comes in in a relationship. If you are trying to make your partner happy by doing what you need, you probably are getting frustrated. Instead, try giving your partner what he or she needs, and see how things change for you!

John Gray. Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus. Harper Collins, 1992.

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