Many people often wonder why men and women have such a difficult time communicating with one another.
Is it because we are from different planets or is there some other reason?
One reason is because we actually have different brains, a female brain and a male brain to be specific. Biology has a profound effect on differences in male and female behaviors.
Starting during fetal development, male and female cells differ as they are triggered by estrogen and testosterone.
Male genes which trigger the urge to chase moving objects, hit targets, roughhouse and play fight are activated by testosterone while the female genes for nurturing, reading emotions and communicating are activated by estrogen.
These innate biological tendencies are then reinforced by social and cultural conditioning.
Baby girls are born interested in emotional expression.
They interpret others’ emotional expressions as meaning about themselves and tend to think that they are doing something wrong when faced with an emotionally flat face.
Girls take these emotional signals as cues as to whether they are loving, annoying or worthy.
Baby boys on the other hand can interpret their mother’s facial expressions before one year of age but then at 12 months of age become immune to their mother’s facial expressions and can easily ignore them.
Boys have a superior ability to track moving objects, are more physically active and have greater spatial manipulation than women.
Boys learn about their environment through movement, which is why you see them jumping, squirming, running and rolling around.
These gender differences can be seen by little boys playing with noisy trucks and weapons, wrestling, pretending to be monsters and building blocks while little girls are often seen gravitating toward playing with dolls, dressing up as princesses and avoiding rough play.
Young girls tend to collaboratively communicate with others during play by stating things such as “Let’s play house” or “I will be the mommy, okay?”
Just because girls are adept at reading emotions doesn’t mean they are not aggressive in their own way.
Even though girls avoid conflict, they walk a fine line between preserving relationships and getting what they want.
They do this by using language, although at times in a bossy or demanding manner, to get desired results.
Girls strive for social harmony and connection whereas boys strive for dominance and to gain status.
Female brains are programmed to be in tune for reading facial expressions, hearing emotional tones in language and attending to nonverbal cues.
The etiology of this necessity dates back to the caveman era, where physically smaller females needed to anticipate male aggression and band together with other females for protection.
During the adolescent years, female teen brains are flooded with estrogen while male teen brains are flooded with testosterone.
As a result, adolescent females focus on communication and relationships, while adolescent males focus on scoring in games and with females.
In order for a female to be turned on sexually she has to literally “turn off” the amygdala which is the fear and anxiety center in the brain so that she can relax and be in the moment.
In contrast, in the male brain, sexual thoughts occur all day and night as they wait for the opportunity to seize a sexual opportunity.
Men’s brains have an area 2.5 times larger for sexual pursuit than women’s brains, which creates an endless loop of sexual thoughts and impulses.
Men are socially pressured to suppress their emotions to appear independent, confident and strong.
Thus, rather than expressing softer emotions, men appear tough as a response to hiding fear and pain.
Men have larger brain centers for aggression and muscular action which makes mate protection and territorial defense more prevalent in men.
Women use talking as a way of bonding with others and maintaining relationships.
Friendships are based on talking, giving support and acknowledging what the other is saying as a way of achieving closeness and equality.
Men on the other hand use socialization as a way of posturing, asserting dominance and commanding attention. They organize in larger groups, placing their focus on status and dominance.
Male conversations are often in the form of orders or ridicule as they tend to be more argumentative than girls.
Thus a man’s conversation revolves around the need or competitiveness and dominance while women seek intimacy and equality.
Problems arise if a male partner stops talking or emotionally responding to a female partner.
As a result, she tends to interpret his lack of verbal communication as either a sign of disapproval, that she has done something wrong or that he does not love her any longer.
When a man sees a woman in distress, his emotional empathy center is activated in his brain but then his cognitive empathy portion of his brain is activated to analyze and solve problems.
Researchers have found that men keep boundaries between the emotions of themselves and others.
They do not allow emotions to affect their thought processes in order to strengthen their analytical and cognitive abilities.
Men learn to hide their fears and to show their love and compassion by solving problems. They do not consciously express emotions on their faces since it is automatic for them to keep their feelings private.
Men are more likely to interrupt their male or female conversational partners, they are less likely to respond to others’ comments as they frequently make no response or comment at all and they are more likely to dispute or challenge what their partner has said.
Females are less likely to interrupt, are more likely to use verbal utterances such as “uh-huh” and use non-verbal expressions such as nodding and smiling to express understanding and empathy.
So what do these differences have to do with relationships?
What is a couple to do?
Of course conflicts arise because of these biological differences!
Men accuse women of being too emotional and sensitive and women accuse men of not being emotional enough and insensitive.
Different interpretations and worldviews are inevitable between individuals and these differences emerge when male and female partners attempt to communicate with each other.
Here are some [tag]tips for improving communication [/tag][tag]understanding male and female differences[/tag]:
1) Males and females often differ in what they think are the important details of what their mate tells them.
Men often want the facts and women often want to talk about the details and the importance of interpersonal relationships.
A man will often interrupt and tell a woman to “Get to the point” which in effect hurts the woman’s feelings. She interprets his interruption as him saying “I am not important”.
It would be helpful for a man to be conscious of the importance that a woman places on narrating her interpersonal experiences and for a woman to refrain from assuming a man’s actions does not mean that he finds her unimportant.
2) Women like to share feelings with each other, offer reassurances and discuss their experiences.
Men tend to interpret women who are discussing their problems as explicit requests for solutions rather than merely seeking a sympathetic ear.
Women often want to share a problem with a man with the hope that he will give her understanding and empathy rather than engage in a problem solving discussion.
Instead a man will often fail to give consolation and focus on practical solutions.
Women like to talk problems through as a way to achieve connection and intimacy, if they want advice or solutions they should directly ask questions such as “What do you think that I should do?” or begin their dialogue with “I just need you to listen without offering advice”.
Men on the other hand should first refrain from interrupting or offering solutions, listen empathetically by saying “Honey, I know how you feel” and then offer solutions second!
It helps to remember that these differences are habits of speech due to a female style vs. a male style rather than to negatively label your partner.
3) Women view asking questions as a way to maintain a conversation while men view asking questions as a way to gather information.
Women interpret aggressiveness as an attack, while men view aggressiveness as a form of conversation.
It is important to realize that women are adept at reading facial expressions and intonation in speech while men are adept at analyzing problems and finding solutions.
4) Women are more likely to share secrets and feelings while men prefer to discuss less intimate topics such as sports and politics.
If men do not want to talk about feelings it is because this tendency does not come natural to them to do so, it is not because they are mean or cold.
In fact, men are more likely to share their feelings with their spouse.
5) Women tend to express agreement and use language to obtain cooperation from others in an indirect fashion while men tend to use language as a way to command and get things done.
When talking with one another realize that women are not trying to be indirect or manipulative to get their way and men are not trying to be controlling by being direct.
6) When men fall asleep after sex, it is actually due to postcoital narcolepsy not because they do not care about their partner. Women often interpret men falling asleep as a signal that they do not care.
The hormones dopamine and oxytocin released after a man has an orgasm lulls him to sleep while these feel good hormones contribute to a woman’s desire to cuddle and talk.
About the author
A native of New Jersey, Dr. Dawn Raffa attended undergraduate school at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, receiving a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy.
She attended graduate school at Rutgers University earning a Masters of Social Work and then went on to complete her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Walden University.
She has been a licensed therapist since 2000 and she is a member of NASW, NJPA, APA and the Mid-Jersey Collaborative Law Alliance.
To know more about Dr. Raffa, visit her website, www.dawnraffaphd.com.
Beck, A.T. (1988). Love is Never Enough. Harper and Row: New York, NY.
Brizendine, Louann. (2006). The Female Brain. Broadway Books: New York, NY.
Brizendine, Louann. (2010). The Male Brain. Broadway Books: New York, NY.
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