Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Walt Larimore, MD and Barbara Larimore's new book, His Brain, Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage, (Zondervan, 2008).
Whenever you spouse says or does something that baffles you, you experience one of the many differences between men and women. But once you understand how differently God has designed male and female brains, you can learn how to use those differences well in your marriage.
Then the gender differences won’t alienate you and your spouse; they’ll complement you both to strengthen your marriage. Here’s how:
Realize just how profoundly men and women differ from each other. Male and female brains are dramatically different anatomically, chemically, hormonally, and physiologically. Those differences cause fundamentally different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Appreciate and honor those differences. Recognize that it was God who designed men and women to be different – and to accomplish good purposes. Instead of being frustrated by the gender differences, decide to respect them and learn how to work with them instead of against them.
Understand the differences in how men and women process information. The male brain is highly systemized, with a high ability to compartmentalize, a low ability to multitask, a high ability to control emotions, a low relational orientation, a high project orientation, a high ability to “zone out,” a tendency to act first and think later when faced with stress, an aggressive response to risk, and a tendency to compete with other males. The female brain is highly empathetic, with a low ability to compartmentalize, a high ability to multitask, a low ability to control emotions, a relational orientation, a low project orientation, a low ability to “zone out,” a tendency to think and feel before acting in response to stress, a cautious response to risk, and a tendency to cooperate with other females.
Understand the differences in how men and women communicate. While men’s conversations tend to focus on facts, women’s conversations tend to emphasize the feelings behind the facts. Men solve problems best by thinking about one issue at a time, usually on their own. But women generally need to talk through problems with someone else to process their thoughts. Men approach situations with a strong desire to make decisions and take action, whereas women sometimes just want to talk about how they feel about those same situations. Men tend to speak directly and use words literally, while women tend to speak indirectly. So, wives, give your husbands the time and space he needs to think through issues on his own, be willing to work with him to find solutions you can both act on, and speak to him in direct ways he can clearly understand. Husbands, listen to your wives when they’re sharing their thoughts and feelings about the issues you face, and ask questions to clarify the meaning of what they’re saying.
Understand the differences in how men and women approach sex. Men tend to be physically oriented, whereas women tend to be relationally oriented. Men are usually stimulated by images and sight, while women are stimulated by feelings, smell, touch, and words. Men can often initiate sex at any time and in any place, whereas women usually initiate sex less frequently. Men are quick to respond sexually and difficult to distract during sex, while women are slower to respond and easier to distract. Husbands, keep in mind that women respond to what they feel, so make frequent deposits into her emotional bank account to maintain a close relationship that will encourage her to connect with you sexually. Wives, keep in mind that men respond to what they see, so pay attention to your appearance to maintain an attraction that will encourage him to connect with you sexually. Recognize the sex is critical to a happy marriage relationship, because sex causes reactions in both the male and female brains that strengthen the couple’s bond.
Understand conquest versus nurture. Men are motivated by conquest. They tend to define themselves by their work and accomplishments. Women are motivated by nurture. They tend to define themselves by the people for whom they care. So husbands, realize that your wives have a strong desire to nurture you. Wives, realize that your husbands have a strong desire to succeed in their pursuits, and to know that you admire their efforts.
Understand provision versus security. Men are wired to provide financially for their families, while women are wired to provide the emotional security of a peaceful home. Husbands need to know that their wives are doing their best to provide an orderly and inviting home even when they’re also contributing to the family financially, and wives need to know that their husbands are doing their best to provide financially for the family even when they’re also helping with household duties. Both husbands and wives need the emotional security of knowing that their spouses truly love them and their children.
Understand respect versus love. Men need their wives to respect and admire them and their efforts and accomplishments, and to take a genuine interest in their work and hobbies. Women need their husbands to express love for them frequently through words and actions. Husbands want their wives to respect their judgment and abilities, and to express that respect in both public and private. Wives want their husbands to love them by paying attention to them, pursuing them, holding and hugging them, helping them with the children and household chores, and telling them they’re beautiful.
Serve instead of seeking to be served. Decide to meet your spouse’s needs without demanding that your own needs be met, and be willing to make the necessary sacrifices. By keeping your focus on serving rather than being served, you’ll improve the dynamic of your marriage relationship, and inspire your spouse to freely serve you. In the process, you’ll both discover that you’re stronger and more effective together than separately.
Adapted from His Brain, Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage, copyright 2008 by Walt Larimore, M.D. and Barbara Larimore. Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.zondervan.com.
Walt Larimore, MD, is one of America’s best-known family physicians. As a medical journalist, he is a frequent guest about family health topics on a wide variety of media and has appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, Fox News and CNN. Dr. Larimore ha published more than a dozen books and more than 500 articles in dozens of medical and lay publications. Dr. Larimore’s website is www.DrWalt.com and he lives in Colorado Springs, Co.
Barbara Larimore was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. At age 5, she met her future husband and best friend, Walt, when they were in the University Methodist Church kindergarten. An educator by training, Barb taught middle school students while she put Walt through medical school and residency. She then concentrated on raising their children, Kate and Scott. She and Walt live in Colorado Springs and travel and speak together.