Using Your Emotional Brain to Improve Your Relationship

By Lisa Franchi on October 22, 2013

Many women complain that men are often tuned-out emotionally, whilst most men complain that women are too emotional. What could be the reason?

Scientists have known for a while that men and women have slight differences in brain structure and neuronal wiring. For instance, in 2001, Harvard researchers found that certain parts of the brain were differently sized in males and females, which help balance out the overall size of the brain. They also found that the frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision-making and problem-solving, and the limbic cortex, responsible for regulating emotions were larger in women. On the other hand, the amygdala, which regulates sexual and social behaviour and the parietal cortex, which is involved in space perception, are larger in men.

What makes the female’s brain more sensitive to emotions? To answer this, we have to go back to the ancient times, when most women spent time with fellow women in their communities and their children. Men, on the other hand, spent most of their time with small groups of men, hunting and gathering. Due to constant communication and social interaction, the female emotional brain has greatly developed, and is now 25 per cent larger than that of a male. This is why women are far better at detecting subtle changes in mood, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Having a more profound emotional brain is also the reason why women tend to spend so much time thinking about their relationships. Meanwhile, men spend more time thinking about sports and work – today’s version of hunting and gathering.

Reaching a Compromise

Whilst it is often viewed as a problem – women being emotional and men being less emotional – it actually has advantages. Basically, it sets the balance in a relationship. The male tune-out works well in giving protection against distress, so one can stay calm even all the others are falling apart. On the other hand, the female’s ability to stay emotionally tuned plays a crucial role in supporting and nurturing others during difficult moments.

Still, the differences in the emotional brain of men and women sometimes fuel problems and misunderstandings. For instance, women may think that their partners are no longer interested in them when they don’t talk much during conversations, or when they choose to go out with friends than to stay with them at home. Fortunately, women can easily deal with these relationship issues. Here’s how.

Make conversations short. It’s not that he is not interested in what you are saying or he finds the topic boring. It’s just that emotional conversations often stress a man out. Some men can tolerate only a 10-minute conversation. More than this could trigger ‘emotional fatigue’. By being mindful, you can easily determine how well (or how long) your man can stand conversations. When the man starts to show discomfort or seems to be shutting down, most women would ramp up at this point as they would feel ignored or rejected. This should not be the case. The emotional discomfort shown by the man is just an indication that it’s time to take a break and return to the conversation later. If you proceed, his nervous system would trigger the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. This means he could be angry or would walk away. If this happens repeatedly, he will be forced to avoid conversations, resulting to bigger communication problems. Don’t blame it to your man; blame it to his emotional brain. He doesn’t have as much emotional stamina as you.

Give him a little space. Next time your man asks permission from you to go out with friends, paint that big smile on your face and say the magic word “Yes!” Here’s the thing – the male and female brain needs the natural chemicals serotonin and dopamine to feel good. Serotonin makes us feel fulfilled and happy because it calms our emotional brain and dopamine makes us feel energised and more motivated. Now, physical affection heightens the serotonin levels in both men and women. Touching, kissing, and sex all trigger the brain to release serotonin. But contrary to women, too much serotonin makes a man’s testosterone drop. This is why they often fall asleep easier after reaching orgasm – a sudden drop in their testosterone levels result to emotional and physical fatigue. To increase his testosterone levels, he needs dopamine. Where will he get this? He can get it from playing or watching sports, hanging out with friends, accomplishing something at work, watching television, and taking physical risks. So encourage him to pursue his own hobbies and passion whilst you give time for yourself to enjoy yours. The more time he spends far from you, the more he’ll miss you.

Set aside your intuition, at least for a while. Women are very good at sensing emotional discomfort in men even before they realise they are having such. When you sense there’s something wrong with your man, don’t push him for an answer. He might just tell you “I’m fine”. And even though you have a very strong intuition that he is not okay, just let it be. At least, you have helped him assess his own emotions especially when he seems not to identify what’s causing him to feel that way. If you give him space, he will come back later to you and confide.

The differences between a man and a woman’s emotional brain may seem like a source of problem. But really, they occurred for a purpose. They are there not just to create balance, but also to make a couple more connected to each other.

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