Why Men and Women Have Difficulty Communicating with Each Other

It is a serious mistake to assume that men and women think the same way. Henry Higgins’ lament in My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man,” is not without foundation. His mistake, however, is his failure to recognize that when it comes to communicating, men and women are complementary and not identical.

There is a biological basis for this lack of symmetry called the corpus callosum, a nerve bundle consisting of several hundred million fibers. It is the largest collection of white matter in the brain and serves as a bridge or pathway that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. By analyzing magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of 949 people aged 8 to 22, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have found that male brains have more connections within each hemisphere, while female brains are more interconnected between hemispheres.

What this means is that because the female brain makes better use of both hemispheres of the brain, it is better suited for multi-tasking. Females, therefore, tend to have verbal centers on both sides of the brain. Their brains are said to be more bilaterally symmetric than the brains of males who have verbal centers only in the left hemisphere. Another way of putting it is to say that the male brain, because of fewer nerve fibers in the corpus callosum than that of the female brain, is more specialized and is more suited for spatial processing and sensorimotor speed whereas the female brain is more suited, in addition to multi-tasking, for attention, word memory, and verbal abilities.  To put it simply, male and female brains are wired differently. This creates the possibility of communication difficulties.

Because the corpus callosum works differently in males and females, men tend to think of things one step at a time while women, who are constantly making use of both hemispheres of the brain, think of more than one thing at a time. This tendency has been called “women’s intuition.” On the other hand, men can be “absentminded.”

An amusing but revealing example occurred between the wife and husband of a St. Louis couple. The husband had a habit of waking his wife with his snoring. The two consulted a snore therapist, and the wife was instructed to tell her husband to roll over on his stomach whenever he began snoring. Soon enough, when the husband began to snore, his wife said to him, “turn on your stomach.” She felt that, given all that they had gone through, he would understand this cue and promptly roll over onto his stomach. She did not know about the corpus callosum. The husband did not know what she meant. He isolated her instruction from their lived context and thought she was telling him to activate his stomach the way one would turn on the radio. She became furious and could not believe that her husband could be so obtuse.

The next evening, they went to a party where the wife interrogated all the men present and asked them what they thought “turn on your stomach” might mean. To her consternation, they responded the way her husband did which led her to believe that her husband was not being recalcitrant but merely responding as a male. Maybe, she began to think, men and women process information in different ways which lead to communication problems.

Two things can be drawn from accepting the biological fact that male and female brains function differently. The first is to be patient and withhold judgment about the other. The second is to understand what each is saying in the context of their different ways of processing information.  The man tends to think of one thing at a time. This is suitable for logic which requires the ability not to be distracted. The woman tends to add something to what she hears. If a man asks, “what’s for dinner?” that’s all he means. But the women will read into his question and ask, “Are you hungry?” “Do you want to eat right now?” “Can’t you see that I’m busy?” “Why don’t you make your own supper for a change?” The poor husband is defeated under this avalanche of seemingly irrelevant questions. On the other hand, when the wife asks her husband what he thought of the wallpaper in their neighbor’s apartment they just visited, he is apt to say, “I didn’t notice.” Men tend to get locked into their left hemisphere while women are happy to utilize both hemispheres at the same time.

It is useless to claim that communication difficulties between men and women are the result of social conditioning. Studies have been carried out on infant brains that have not had time to be affected by social conditioning. The differences are essentially natural, biological, and realistic.

Lisa Sergio has written a book entitled Jesus and Woman which is the fruit of studying how Jesus responded to women in a different manner than the way he responded to men. To women it was “in reach,” touching the hearts of others and carrying out a personal mission. To men it was “out reach,” assigning them a broader mission that extends to the four corners of the world. In assigning different missions to women and men, Jesus is affirming their personal differences. It is not in the least bit surprising, then, that His different approaches to men and women would be consistent with what science tells us about the structure of the brain.

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College. He is is the author of 42 books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on amazon.com. He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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