How Men and Women’s Brains Are Programmed Differently for Conflict, Mistakes and Resolution
“Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me…” It’s become quite the debate in the Battle of the Sexes dialogue — are men and women equal and the same. Equal and equally capable — absolutely; the same — far from it.
Some researchers argue that the brains of men and women are wired differently. The male brain is wired from front to back, with few connections across the two hemispheres. Women, on the other hand, have more wiring from left to right, so the two hemispheres are more inter-connected. — Psychology Today
First, let’s talk about the difference between masculine and feminine energy; then we’ll go into how Men and Women are designed to handle and respond to stress, conflict, communication, and mistakes differently. We can then understand the importance of polarity in relationships and the dynamics that are at play in relationships when that polarity gets off base.
Polarity: The Masculine & Feminine Explained
In every person there exist two poles — the masculine and the feminine. Each person is comprised of their own unique balance of masculine and feminine energies. I’m going to refer to heterosexual relationships versus same-sex relationships because it’s what I know. However, if you are in a same-sex relationship, you can apply these principles to whoever the more masculine-dominant and feminine-dominant person is in the relationship.
Masculine energies, feminine energies, each are completely different and yet we all embody a combination of both polarities.
In a heterosexual relationship, men typically experience a higher ratio of tendencies that fall into the masculine core — detachment, independence, analytical, problem-solving, competitive while women experience a higher ratio of tendencies that fall into the feminine core — attachment / emotional, interdependence, intuitive, nurturing, cooperative.
Couples fall into discord when a man (or more masculine partner) has defaulted too far over into his feminine tendencies with a woman (or feminine partner) who is also in her feminine tendencies, and/or when a woman is operating from her masculine tendencies with a masculine partner and doesn’t have a chance to relax back into her feminine core.
The outcome could look like anger, depression, frustration, a lot of fighting, emasculation on the man’s side, and the woman feeling like she’s doing everything and doesn’t have any support, safety or clarity from her partner. It can also look like lack of connection — sexual and physical and eventually complete alienation of affection and attention.
And, this imbalance often starts with the different ways men and women are wired to manage conflict and stress. Each has different communication styles and each energy handles mistakes very differently.
How Men and Women are Wired to Handle Stress, Conflict & Mistakes
When it comes to handling stress, the way that the masculine energy will cope with this is to retreat — author John Gray calls this “Cave Time”.
To manage conflict and stress, men detach into independence; they turn inward; they go internal to problem solve and find a solution; they turn inward to work it out in their mind.
The feminine energy, on the flip side, will go into connection, interdependence, collaboration. She will reach out to her community to discuss problems. The man, the masculine, wants to get away from the problems until he has solutions while the woman wants to connect, and experience empathy and support around the problems.
This is also at play in their problem-solving strategies.
And there is science that validates how our bodies need different hormones to manage stress, based on sex. For those born sex male, Testosterone is their stress hormone whereas those born sex female need greater estrogen to manage stress. And activities that fall into the previously mentioned categories (competition vs collaboration for example) generate different hormonal output -- in our example competition creates testosterone, collaboration creates estrogen.
For an interesting take on Testosterone and Estrogen, watch this episode of Huberman Lab with Stanford-based professor of neurobiology Dr. Andrew Huberman:
The masculine will take action. He needs to figure out the solution, he needs to go into his own space, deliberate with himself, and come to a conclusion about immediate action. If he’s unable to come to a short-term conclusion he needs to let it go until he can take action.
The feminine energy reaches out for support when it comes to problem-solving. She likes to talk about issues; she likes to talk about the problem and gather information before returning to the table to face the challenge.
And, when it comes to mistakes that have been made, again the masculine energy is very action-driven to find the solution, while the feminine tends to express empathy and regret that the mistake even happened. She then tries to make up for that mistake being made.
So why does this all matter?
It matters because these distinctions demonstrate the different makeup that the masculine and the feminine have in their energies and motivations. And when each person is operating in his / her unique polarity, when both parties are fully expressed in their natural energies and their natural states, it drives passion, connection, understanding, and leads to a healthy relationship overall. When the polarity is out of balance, the relationship starts to be disharmonic, with more frequent misunderstandings, disconnection, nagging, and ultimately, a complete break in sexual intimacy.
It’s important to understand that when a woman sees her man retreating or leaving a conversation of conflict, she often will read into that as a lack of connection. She sees his departure as abandonment and as unhealthy for their relationship because it’s in direct conflict to how she is biologically programmed to handle problems. Her makeup and her tendency is to go into communication and to express empathy and to get support and to communicate around that problem, whereas her masculine partner’s tendency is to retreat, to go into his own space, to develop a solution, to come up with an action plan and then return back when he can communicate that action plan, or when he can actually take action.
Conversely, when a man sees that his woman is going into her feminine coping skills of reaching out to her friends, speaking to her community, it can often look like she’s attempting to make an assassination on him with her girlfriends, and rally support and rally more arsenal, a better army to come back at him when he’s trying to defend himself. (We’ll get to defending himself later when we revisit this on the masculine and the feminine.)
Have you seen this at play in your own relationship?
Guys — Have you noticed that your woman will reach out to all of her friends, her mom, her sisters, her family, to discuss when you guys are in conflict and get an understanding of what’s going on and really refer to her tribe, if you will? And have you noticed that you go into your own private space to formulate an action plan, to find a solution, to figure out how to rectify your mistake with action versus rectify your mistake with understanding?
Women — Have you noticed when your man retreats into his own space? Have you taken that as a symbol of him not wanting to be in connection with you, as him not being interested in really finding solution and empathy and working together on coming up with a creative outcome to your discomfort or your conflict?
Perhaps this breakdown of the biological tendancies of masculine and feminine will actually bring more empathy and more understanding into your relationship. Biologically, the sexes simply operate differently when fully expressed in their native core energies. A woman fully expressed in her feminine can identify when her man is activated in his masculine core, that he’s actually finding ways to show up for her when he displays his action-oriented and solution-driven approach to managing her stress and emotions. A man fully expressed in his masculine core can understand that when his lady goes to her tribe for consultation, that she’s actually activated in her feminine and that’s her effort to be in service to the relationship. That is what it is to be in aligned polar states, and once that polarity is activated and appreciated, then divided couples will actually get back to a place of passion, connection, love, understanding, and mutual movement.
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Love and Light to you and your partner. Onward!
This post is from the Happy Partners Project —the creator of the acclaimed Relationship Check-In™ Method -- a science and psych-backed process for strengthening relationships. It also creates science and psych-backed products that support couples and individuals with building and sustaining healthy and blissful relationships.