The emotional life between men and women is influenced by the affective necessities and customs of each.
However, it is true that there are certain patterns that repeat with a certain consistency in heterosexual relationships.
In other words, we’ll say that the cliches and expectations don’t just come from nowhere. Women’s expectations concerning men (and vice versa) in the relationship tend to conform to patterns that repeat. But they repeat in an individualized manner, like gender.
It is not good to fall into generalizations. We should understand that what biology determines and what society encourages always comes in direct convergence with the livelihoods of each person, whether man or woman and in any condition.
The emotional convergence between men and women in a relationship
We always hear men “complaining” or “making cheap jokes” about the emotionality of the woman. On the other hand, women tend to accuse the man of not being affectionate enough in the relationship.
We think that the other “could change” if he or she really wanted to, setting aside the peculiarities that both unite us and distinguish us on a biological and social level.
We don’t always stop to think that the cerebral circuits that govern the manifestation of our emotions are activated differently. This is one of the origins of our distinct realities.
So, for example, it is not true that men don’t fall in love. But it manifests itself in a different way for each individual, because the convergence of gender roles, biology, and our vital experiences conform us into what we are.
Therefore, we break off from a common base that makes those “prototypes” expressed through expectations be a relevant aspect in the way in which a heterosexual couple operates.
In this sense, and having all of this in mind, we can be certain without lifting a finger that the emotional processing of the masculine brain differs from the feminine.
Concretely, the difference resides in the use of two cerebral systems that function simultaneously (the mirror neuron system and the temporo-spatial summation).
We will explain this with a story in which most of us will be able to see ourselves reflected.
Martha is going through a rough stage in her work. She needs to unwind and for her partner, Daniel, to listen to her and embrace her. It so happens that when Martha begins to tell him her problems, Daniel starts to suggest to Martha what she can do.
Martha loses it, for she thinks that Daniel is not understanding her and is not caring enough about what is going on with her.
Daniel, on the other hand, suffers greatly seeing his partner in such bad shape, but he doesn’t know how to help her. Martha rejects all of the alternatives he offers her.
If it were possible for us to scan Daniel’s brain when he sees Martha cry, we would see how the two aforementioned systems of emotional reading activate.
The first to activate would be the Mirror Neuron System (MNS), which allows Daniel to empathize with Martha’s emotional pain.
Simultaneously, Daniel’s brain activates the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The TPJ is in charge of analyzing the situation and searching for solutions. This is the termed cognitive empathy.
We shall say that the TPJ is responsible for fabricating a clear border between one’s own emotions and those belonging to someone else. This keeps certain mental processes safe from the emotions of others.
It tries to analyze the situation and find the most practical solutions possible.
So, while we observe Daniel’s brain in that moment, we will find that it tries to find solutions to mitigate his partner’s pain.
His cortex will be activated at the moment he asks Marta with complete naturalness how many people will be needed to accomplish the work ahead.
This, as most readers will understand, will irritate Marta. She will respond, “What difference does it make? I’ll have to get it done with the team I choose,” with a look of resentment fixed on Daniel.
However, Daniel’s brain will recognize the harsh tone from Marta’s last comment, for the male brain will have deactivated the emotional empathy zone while it tries to find a solution and cognitively empathize with her love.
Following this train of thought, Daniel will offer her the wonderful solution that his brain has proclaimed: “Hire seasonal, temporary, or part-time employees.” The cerebral areas of well being in Daniel’s brain will automatically light up as he shares his brilliant idea.
Nevertheless, the pleasure will last exactly as long as Marta’s expression about moving. She will only cry or feel regret knowing that her partner doesn’t understand her state of excitement and that he’s not giving her the attention that she really deserves.
What is happening is not what they both interpret, but that they are experiencing two pretty distinct cerebral realities.
The reflection of two cerebral realities
Daniel tries by all means to help Marta in a practical and objective way. His emotional logic tells him the best thing he can do: find solutions.
However, Marta is on another plane; she seeks in her partner an emotional connection on her level.
In this sense, we must conclude that the man’s emotional background is not less complex or less valid than a woman’s. Many of us function differently on a cerebral, social, and individual level.
We can understand this as a problem of understanding or a way of complementing.
For that reason, now that we have this information, maybe this is the moment that we recognize this and make a much more balanced emotional life between men and women in relationships.
Recommended sources for further research:
Carlson, N. (2014). Physiology of Behavior. Pearson.
Brizendine, L. (2011). The Male Brain. Harmony.