Understanding the opposite sex can be difficult, but ONLY because we don’t know the science behind our natural (and vital!) differences.
Yes, men and women are scientifically different. Like it or not: That’s the reality.
We can keep pushing against this (and fighting miscommunication with endless conflict…) OR, we can accept and appreciate it. In this episode, I’ll explain how!
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Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host: relationship expert and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.
Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Oh, I cannot wait to share this topic with you today because it really is one of my favorite things to teach on.
And it was such a game changer for me personally and for me professionally because when I started to learn about the very real and very pragmatic differences between men and women, it changed the way I viewed my husband. It changed the way I engaged with my husband. And this is going to give you a taste of some of the things that I teach inside my membership.
This knowledge has helped so many women better understand their partners. I genuinely believe if we can understand one another better, we can be in relationship with one another better, or at least in a healthier way. So if you've ever looked at your husband and you've gotten the little crow's feet where you're looking at him like, what the heck? Why would you do that? Or you shake your head, or you've ever thought to yourself, “Is he an idiot?”
Look, I'm going to tell you, this is going to be so helpful for you today. I sort of teed this up in last week's podcast, that almost everyone on the planet genuinely wants to feel understood, particularly by the person that they are in their most intimate relationship with.
But very few of us actually want to make the effort to better understand our spouses. Instead, what we do is we try to get them to be like us. Men are trying to get women to be more like them. Stop talking about your feelings so much. Why do we have to dissect every little thing? Why do you want to communicate? What do you want to talk about?
They're wondering why women can't be more like them. And we are wondering why men can't be more like us, but we can just acknowledge that there are some very real differences. And by the way, some things can change, some things cannot. And much of what we are going to be talking about today are all the things that are not changeable.
This is going to be a physiology conversation. This is gonna be a science-based conversation, not an opinion conversation, right? And many, many roads through relationship, suffering and divorce are paved through a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation of our partner's experience.
So I want to share with you something that one of my members posted in the Facebook group, and it's just a snippet of what she posted, but you can really feel the pain and anguish through what she's talking about. And it will give you an idea of how the differences show up in our relationships and cause a lot of pain and disconnect and problems for us.
She says, “I get to a place where my anxiety is at bay. I feel relative peace and a commitment to staying. And then something happens, a misunderstanding, a resistance towards affection, a change in mood, passive aggression, sarcasm towards either me or the kids. And I'm thrown out of peace again. I try to talk to him. I ask pointed questions, please tell me what's going on in your heart. And it's the same thing over and over. I pursue. He retreats. I cry this morning the same. And his method of interrupting the cycle was affection, holding, touching. And that can be good, but I need more than that. What's at the heart of where his anger lies or where his mood lies? It's not my job to fix it. I know I'm responsible for my feelings, yes. But Sharon, how can I feel good about my marriage when this is the dynamic that's taking place?”
You can tell just by the way she talks about it, right? I ask, he retreats, I cry. That's what's happening inside of our relationships. And then the way that her husband makes amends is to reach for her for that physical connection.
So let's dive in. I'm going to call them my top five. I don't know if I've ever ranked them, but these are five ways in which men and women are very, very different from one another. And most of this is taken from Luann Brizendine's books, The Female Brain and The Male Brain. I loved those books because they're based in science, but they're meant to help us better understand each other's experience.
So the first one I wanna share with you is one of the reasons why men and women communicate and function very, very differently. So men have what's called singular focus, which means they generally will focus on one thing at a time. Not 28 things at a time, one thing at a time. And they're going to go deep on that one thing. They're super, super focused on it.
Whereas women have what's called diffuse awareness. Women have more synapses, going between the left and right hemispheres of their brains. And that means that we are trying to process–I'm gonna be kind here, ladies–28 things at a time. We think we are the ultimate multitaskers. So we're spreading ourselves really thin across a lot of different things–I can't say focused because it's not focused–but a lot of different things that we're thinking about, things that we're doing. A lot of the plates we have spinning simultaneously, so we can think about and process multiple things simultaneously, whereas men are much more apt to go deep on one thing at a time.
So this is why when I go to my husband, let's say he's working on his computer, and I go to him and I try to talk to him about something like, “Hey, when should we go see the grandbabies?” or “I just got a text from my dad and here's what's going on,” he's not hearing me. And I can ask him about it later, and he won't remember the details. He might remember me saying something, but he won't remember the details of what I said. That's because he is not processing two things at once.
Which, actually, the whole multitasking thing, it's not really productive. I know we think we run circles around men because we can do 28 things at once, but that means we're not doing any of them with any kind of real depth or presence. We're just spreading ourselves thin across lots of different things. So everyone gets a piece of us, including ourselves, whereas men can go really deep on one thing. So I know now that when I want my husband's attention on something that's really important, I have to get his attention. And when he's in the middle of something else, it’s probably not the best time for me to try to get his attention on something that's really important for me to talk with him about, right?
The other thing that will happen is that women can take a problem and talk their way through to a solution factoring in a bunch of different variables, right? Let's say you're double booked for Saturday afternoon. There are all these different things going on across the family, and you're trying to figure it all out. So that is the problem. We're double booked. There are too many things to do. There's not enough time. And you're talking with your spouse about it. You can factor in, well, what does your mother-in-law want you to do? What would the kids wanna do? What would your husband most enjoy? And what do you wanna do? You can factor in all of those things, and the timing and the distance to which you have to travel, and can you work it out to be in multiple places on the same day? You're going to factor all that in to come to a conclusion, and you can talk your way through all that.
The way that women often process problems is by speaking our way through it, by talking with someone to find our way through it. That's because of diffuse awareness. That's because of more synapses going between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Men don't do that for the most part. They want to step away and think about it and come back with an answer, because of that singular focus. Now, they might sit there with you while you're processing all that stuff, but they're probably not jumping in and thinking about all those 28 different variables. They're just kind of there with you as you're thinking through all those 28 different variables so that then you can come to some kind of a conclusion about that problem.
Men are much more likely to step away in order to think through a challenging situation, whereas women want to talk through a challenging situation. So the ways in which we communicate, the ways in which we want to process problems and challenges in life, is very, very different. And this has helped me so much.
There are so many times that I'm wanting to do a bunch of different things, or I'm doing one thing, talking about another, and thinking about something else. And I try to do that with my husband, and I can tell he's not fully present with me, and I just say to myself, “Hmm, singular focus.” Hmm. Like, wouldn't it be lovely? I would love a day, one day, where everything I do, I'm just completely present for that one thing, one thing at a time. I'd really try to do it sometimes because it feels almost luxurious to not have to be thinking about 28 different things. So I don't know that our way is better.
I could make an argument that being present for one thing at a time is a better way to go. So it's not better or worse. It's just very, very different. And that is not going to change, right? The physiology in our brains, the number of synapses going between the left and right hemispheres, that is not something that you're going to change.
But when instead of getting frustrated, you can look at his singular focus and just go, oh, there it is. It's a natural response for men. Nothing's gone wrong. Okay? Number two. Let's talk about the second one. The second one is that women will have a higher negative reaction to conflict. Women are essentially built for connection and social harmony.
It's why almost like if we are in a conversation with someone else and they start saying something that we just absolutely disagree with, we'll almost feel that connection breaking. And we'll want to sort of run away from that situation. We'll want to change the topic. We'll want to be like, “Hey, I gotta go to the bathroom.” Because we feel that that break in the connection.
There's a fascinating part in this book, The Female Brain, where she's talking about how little girls from infancy are scanning people's faces to read their emotions, to read, basically, am I loved? Do you love me? Am I enough? All of those sorts of things. So we're not going to get into that necessarily, but I tell you that only to back up this idea that women are built for connection.
And so when there's conflict, we have a much greater negative reaction, whereas that's not the case for men, right? A lot of men can appreciate that interpersonal back-and-forth banter and being challenged, or even a little bit of competition, whereas women don't react as well to that. So that is a very distinct difference.
I don't know about you, but it's so funny. There have been times when my husband and I have had an argument, or what I would call an argument, and when we talk about it later, he's like, we weren't arguing. And I'm thinking, for sure that was an argument. He doesn't see it that way at all. I don't know if you've ever had that experience. That's because what constitutes an argument for a woman is different than what constitutes an argument for a man.
The third thing–women's brain centers for language and listening. We have 11% more neurons in that brain center for language and listening. What does that mean? And how does that show up? That means we have a larger vocabulary. It means we use more words. Not shocking. My team tells me, “Sharon, you have a lot of words.”
Women use more words to get their point across than men. Do we have a larger vocabulary? And listening–I wouldn't say we're great at listening. I think every single person on the planet can improve their listening skills because most of us just want to talk and not really listen, but the capacity to be able to listen and to hear, and for language. We have more neurons in our brain centers than men do, right? So when we can't understand why they're not listening at the same depth that we are, or that they don't want to open up and they don't know how to communicate in the same way that we do and process through problems in the same way that we do, that's why.
That's why, and I always tell people, think about it. If you go back centuries, go back 10,000 years, men were responsible for getting the food and hunting, and women were responsible for taking care of the community. Women lived in community. So over the course of many thousands of centuries, women have cultivated communication and language and nurturing. Whereas men, if they're out hunting, they're not talking to each other. That scares off the prey. So just from a very basic level, we’ve got to understand that communication for women, that is our sweet spot. And frankly, that's why we want our men to be more like us, because that's where we thrive. That's our comfort zone. That's how we process things. That's how we feel connected to you is through communication. But that's not necessarily the case for men. Men don't connect through communication. I bet you can guess how most men connect.
Number four, the hub of emotion and memory formation, which is the hippocampus inside the brain, is larger for the female brain than the male brain. So what does that mean? That means that we are better at expressing our emotions. We are better at understanding other people's emotions. We have more empathy for other people's experiences. And if a man has ever forgotten about an argument, let's say, of something that happened, but a woman hangs on to every single detail like a camel hangs on to water, it's because we remember this, the details of emotional situations.
So the hippocampus, which again, is responsible for emotion and memory, is larger in women. So why are we better at understanding our emotions? We're not perfect at it. We're better at understanding and expressing and recognizing emotions where men aren't as good. It's not that they're inept or they're incapable of doing that.
It's just that women have a larger brain center for that. And we can remember things. So we'll remember the worst of the worst experiences, and it's really hard for us to just forget about those, and we'll remember the details of the best experiences too. We hang onto those things because our memory center is larger, whereas sometimes men are like, “God, I don't even remember that at all. It was 10 years ago. How can you possibly remember that?” That's all that's happening.
Okay, the last one, and it shouldn't be a surprise–men have a 2.5 times greater brain center devoted to sex and thinking about sex and their sex drive. They also have larger brain centers for anger and aggression. So women have, she used in the book this analogy of like, a five-lane superhighway as it relates to emotions. And men have sort of like a dirt road. It's the opposite when it comes to sex drive. Men have a five-lane superhighway for sex drive, and women have more of a dirt road, right?
It doesn't mean that we don't have a sex drive. Of course we do. It doesn't mean that men don't have memory or can't access their emotions. Of course they can. It just means that we are never–hear me– going to be identical in this way. And that has to be okay. Right? And this is really where I want to bring this home for you is that we cannot like this answer.
We cannot like the answer that men have a five-lane superhighway for their sex drive, whereas we really want them to have a five-lane superhighway for their emotions and being able to communicate with us better. We can want that. Everyone gets to want whatever they want, right? I want to look like Beyonce. That doesn't mean I'm going to, okay? So you can want what you want, but I'm telling you the science behind it, and we are not going to just change our brain physiology that has been created over the course of centuries to just change tomorrow because we want it to change.
So we only have two choices then; either to suffer, to push against it, to want it to be different, even though it never will be different, which will cause us suffering, or to accept it and find a way to appreciate it. That's kind of what I did with the whole singular focus. I don't love that my husband can't process 28 things at once. It would be awesome. Imagine all that we would get done together.
But I found the beauty in, why is it? Why is it awesome that he focuses on one thing at a time, that he's super present for one thing at a time? Sometimes that one thing is me, and that's lovely. Sometimes it's fishing, and that's equally lovely. It doesn't have to be on me all the time. So I think if we can open our minds to the ways in which we see the world, the ways in which we experience the world, the ways we notice other people's emotions, or don't understand our own emotional experience, or the way we communicate, the way we problem solve, all of that is not necessarily the right way. Our way is not the right way. It's just the way our brains function and their way is not the right way either.
It's the way the male brain functions, right? So instead of suffering, I hope you'll find a way to make peace with some of these things so that when they show up inside your relationship, you don't judge it and you don't push it away, and you don't use it as a reason to create real problems and disconnection in your relationship, but rather just another way to better understand one another.
All right? I hope that was super helpful for you, and I will see you next week. Take good care.
If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity Session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.
Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.