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  • Compartmentalization: How it Hurts Men’s Relationship with Women

    You’ve no doubt heard the expression “men are from Mars, women from Venus.” And while we can all point out some major differences between genders, typically those differences all start in one major organ – the brain!

    One of the biggest complaints women tend to have about men in opposite gender relationships is that they sometimes seem emotionally unavailable or distant. This distance stems from what is called “compartmentalization.”

    Sometimes men compartmentalize their feelings and thoughts about many things by keeping these inside. This compartmentalization could be caused by how they were raised or how our society treats boys and men, as well as our societal expectation around men’s behavior. 

    If you were to look inside a woman’s brain, you might find a quilt made from her thoughts and feelings, all stitched together. Women tend to process thoughts and feelings and integrate them into one cohesive “thing.”

    If we were to take a look inside of a man’s brain, we’re apt to find a file cabinet with almost infinite drawers. Men may not fully integrate their thoughts and feelings in the moment. They tend to file these away, each thought and emotion getting its own compartment where it sits until the man is ready to deal with it.

    Compartmentalization Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing

    Historically speaking, men and women have played different roles within the home and society. Women, traditionally, have been responsible for raising children, tending the fire and being the “gathers” in earlier times. They needed to have the skills that allow them to process and integrate thoughts and feelings at one time, they became multi-taskers.

    Men, on the other hand, have traditionally been tasked with hunting for food, keeping the family safe, fighting the wars, and building societies, literally. These are incredibly challenging tasks and ones where it isn’t necessarily feasible to think and feel at the same time. When a man is on the battlefield, fighting the enemy and trying to stay alive he doesn’t have the time or luxury of processing how he feels in that moment.

    In other words, compartmentalization is a natural coping mechanism for men. It has served them very, very well throughout history. Compartmentalization does not make men “bad.” It’s simply an evolutionary mechanism that has allowed men to cope.

    Modernizing the Male Brain

    Compartmentalization is a bit like our natural “fight or flight” mechanism. It served our ancestors well and helped keep them alive. But modern people often do not face the same life or death situations. We’re not, generally speaking, chased by wild mastodons or saber tooth tigers. These days we have mortgage payments and lengthy commutes. But our bodies still kick into “fight or flight” mode and we end up dousing our organs with stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. This wreaks havoc on our health, causing diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

    Fight or flight served its purpose, but it now tends to cause more harm than good.

    Compartmentalization is similar. It definitely has served a great purpose, and it still can in certain situations. But generally speaking, compartmentalization can also wreak havoc on men’s relationships with women.

    Learning to Decompartmentalize

    If you’ve ever tried to wrangle a bunch of baby chicks, you know how hard it is to get them to all move in unison and toward a common destination. This is what it will feel like to decompartmentalize your mind. No one ever said becoming a more well-rounded man was going to be easy.  

    But in order to strengthen the relationship you have with the women in your life, you’ll need to be willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable for a little bit. You’ll need to begin to integrate your thoughts and feelings. You’ll   need to even admit you have them!

    Working with a therapist can be a great way for you to begin your journey. I can give you the tools that will help you begin this important integration so you can feel a closer connection to yourself and the women in your life.

    If you’d like to explore treatment, please reach out to me. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help. [email protected]