Getting Better All the Time
[Note: January and February’s posts began a three-part series helping wives understand the way their husbands think. You can read those posts here: Understanding the Mind of the Man You Married and here: Mr. Fix-It. All three posts are adapted from Gary Thomas’s newest book, Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Influencing Your Husband. This month’s post also has much relevant information for husbands, so we hope both husbands and wives will take advantage of this information.]
For the last couple months we’ve been discussing the differences between male and female brains and how these differences can impact a marriage. As this series comes to an end, let me ask couples to do much more than merely understand your spouse’s neurological differences. I want you to appreciate them and even try to learn from them.
It is God’s providential design that most of us will become the fullest, most mature person we can become by living in an intimate partnership with someone of the opposite sex. We must learn to understand and respect each other, and not arrogantly think our brain is superior. For most of human history, men have looked down on women as “the weaker sex.” For most of the past two decades, men have been portrayed as the troublesome (and sometimes even “toxic”) gender: vulgar, stupid, and clueless.
Neither attitude honors the God who created men and women to think differently and act differently. We need each other.
Husbands have much to learn from their wives and the way the female brain functions, and wives have much to learn from their husbands and the way a male brain functions. It is God’s wise plan that children be raised by two people with two different kinds of brains, thereby getting the best (and also, unfortunately, the worst) of both. The happiest of wives will be the ones who learn to respect their husbands’ brains and thank God for them, learning what she can, understanding why he does what he does and doesn’t do what he doesn’t do, and learning to cherish him in the midst of it. And vice versa.
Here’s what’s so astonishing: as we age, men’s and women’s brains begin to resemble each other’s more and more. Men gain more estrogen, and women more testosterone, and in this we become fuller and more well- rounded individuals. How astonishing it is that Jesus, while still so young (barely thirty when he started his public ministry), demonstrated the perfect balance of typical male and female strengths— courage and gentleness, forceful action and empathy, violent action (turning over the tables) and humility.
The fact that our brains evolve chemically leads to some very good news for marriages. It means that the best years of your marriage are likely still in front of you.
Wives, if you can learn to live with and appreciate your confusing male- brain husband through his twenties, thirties, and forties, there’s a surprising payoff in his late fifties and beyond: because older male brains produce less testosterone and vasopressin, the ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases, which means “hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain.”*
Your husband is gradually growing into a person who will likely be more in tune with your emotions, more capable of making sound judgments, and more relational overall. If you divorce a man in his forties, you’ve likely lived with him through his most difficult relational years, and you may miss his most tuned-in, empathetic years.
This isn’t a promise—biology isn’t destiny, and though stereotypes tend to be true, they aren’t absolutely true. But the potential for your husband to become a person who is more aware of facial clues and more relationally in tune with you is high.
This explains in part, but of course doesn’t excuse, why older men are often able to date much younger women. It’s not just the money. A younger woman may well grow weary of a twenty- or thirtysomething male brain with its hypercompetitive, territorial, and sexually predatory nature and find it refreshing to have an older man who is more relationally aware. God’s ideal plan is that this man’s new awareness should be a gift to his wife who has been with him for three or four decades. When a man leaves his wife at this stage, it’s a double hit: she suffered while putting up with him in his more insensitive years, and then she misses out on what may well be his most relational years.
The younger woman’s devotion may be confusing to the original wife. The ex-wife may remember what this man was and thus not understand the new wife’s affection, while the new wife appreciates what he is and not understand the ex-wife’s rejection. This situation is terribly sad and goes against God’s creational design.
What a blessing to go through the early decades together, learn to understand each other, and then appreciate those golden years when your brains have gotten used to each other and you share decades of the same memories, the same children, and the same grandchildren.
If you value relational connectedness and understand the slow evolution of the male and female brain, it really is true that “things are getting better all the time.” A gentler, kinder, more relationally aware husband is likely on the way.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com
*Dr. Louann Brizendine, The Male Brain.