What It’s Been Like to Have “Man Brain”

Normally, I describe my brain as a monkey circus with the trainer on strike. I have many thoughts competing for attention, difficulty sorting them out, and too many ideas to put into practice in real life.

But, as anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve recently had some health challenges. When one doctor asked what my worst symptom was, I answered that fatigue was the worst, but not the most frustrating. By far, the most frustrating symptom has been brain fog.

Monkey Circus or Man Brain?

My monkey circus has mostly gone quiet, with only a trick or two at a time. I’ve had to adjust to a different way of mental processing, and when I talked to my husband and grown son about what I was experiencing, it sounded to all of us like I had “man brain.”*

What is man brain? Well, here’s an explanation of the typical differences between men’s and women’s brains, from marriage authors Bill and Pam Farrel. (Remember, these are generalities, and exceptions exist!)

What I’ve Learned

Partly because I want to help other wives understand their husbands better, and partly because I don’t want to forget myself, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned during this time. What has it been like to have man brain, and what has it taught me about my husband and men in general?

“I can’t do two things at once.”

A friend once explained to a group of moms how she was sharing a list of urgent to-dos with her husband, and he responded, “I can’t do two things at once!” We all shook our heads and agreed that if we couldn’t do two, three, and six things at once, we’d never get through our busy days.

Yes, we thought the husband’s response was a bit of a cop-out. Now, I don’t think so.

Since having man brain, I’ve had to tackle to-dos more linearly. Rather than seeing a whole list of items in my head, I have to consider one item and the next and then the next. Frustrated by this unfamiliar approach, I once turned to my husband and son and said, “How do you people get anything done?!”

But they do. My guys just do things differently, one at a time.

Which reminded me how important it is to give my husband time to process an itemized list (of groceries, vacation ideas, whatever) and encourage him to make an actual list or even make one for him to help a guy out. Letting him work linearly, waffle box by waffle box, honors his mental makeup.

“Please get to the point.”

Studies have shown that women are more likely to meander in conversation. Emerson Eggerichs refers to it as “spiderwebbing.” This can create difficulty for some husbands.

An engineer friend of mine explained it this way: If you tell a man the main point up front, then he can organize and absorb what you’re saying and not be asking himself the whole time: What is she trying to tell me? What’s the thing I’m supposed to get or remember?

Meanwhile, like many women, I’m a storyteller by nature. I like to start with some backstory, set the scene and the characters, add dimension with details and subplots, build tension, and just tell a good tale. What’s my point? Half the time, I don’t know until I’m done. Or the point could be the conversation itself.

Now, I better understand the man-brain perspective. Sometimes, I can’t follow a conversation that meanders. My mind keeps trying to home in on the most important point that I need to know. At times, I’ve become as perplexed as a kitten trying to catch a laser pointer light, and I want to say, “Please get to the point!”

It’s been a good reminder for when I talk to my husband or other men. If I have a point to make, I can begin with it—like a thematic statement. If I don’t have a point, or don’t yet know what it is, I can start with something like, “I just want to share a little about my day.” That lets him know upfront there’s no specific takeaway he needs to track.

“What am I thinking? Nothing.”

Like the Farrels explained in the video, I was among those women who took some convincing to believe that someone could think about nothing at all.

Previously, I’d experienced that in only three situations: unconsciousness, deep sleep, and sexual climax. Indeed, that was a perk of having an orgasm—that my mind got a respite from the monkey circus when it went momentarily blank. (Then, the chimps came scampering back.)

But now? I can think about nothing. Literally nothing. It’s eerie.

It’s also useful. I can fall asleep faster. I can dissociate from what the dentist is doing in my mouth. I can get a mental break between projects or tasks. I can shut out concerns I have about my health, at least for a little while.

I already believed my guys when they said they could think about nothing, but I have a better understanding now of what that looks like. I can see why men like their nothing place, and I don’t feel the need to get them to think something if that’s just where they are at the moment. Soon enough, their mind will gravitate to new thoughts, and they can share those if they want.

I Want My Monkeys Back

All that said, I want my monkeys back! I’ve had some improvement in my brain fog, but the whole circus hasn’t returned. And I miss my crazy, overfull, rarely inactive brain. It’s what I know and who’ve I been, and this time has also taught me to treasure how my own mind worked.

But another reason I want my brain back is that my marriage and our family function better when my husband has his approach, and I have my approach, and together we are more than we are alone. Our differences—confusing or frustrating as they can be at times—complement one another.

It’s like Ecclesiastes 4:9 says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” When a husband and wife both function in their strengths and honor one another’s distinctions, that whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, God Himself is described as having both masculine and feminine traits, and it is only with both man and woman that God’s image is thus fully represented in the world.

Now, of course, if I never get my prior mental functioning back, I’m still the feminine half of this marriage! And we are not incomplete. But the general idea remains—that a husband and wife can together reflect God, when they embrace each other’s strengths.

Mind you, gents, that means you also have to appreciate how your wife’s mind works. But today, I’ve focused on how my experience might help wives understand their husbands better.

What About Sex?

Someone by now is wondering what all this has to do with sex, since that’s what I usually write about! Well, a lot of crossed lines and missed opportunities with sexual intimacy relate to our different ways of mental processing and communication.

For instance, wives tend to struggle more with focusing on sex, while husbands find it easier to jump right into that waffle box (and ignore the rest of the world). It doesn’t help if he feels rejected or gets angry when she can’t flip that mental switch as quickly as he can, or if she considers him selfish because he didn’t hear the kids making noise and stop having sex to check on them. Rather, try to make allowances for your differences, and honor one another’s concerns.

Discuss what you’re thinking and feeling, and look for ways to be generous and gracious. Remember that the primary goal of sex is intimacy (one flesh), and intimacy outside of sex promotes intimacy within sex. The more we feel accepted and loved, the more we can be vulnerable with each other, pursue pleasure, and leave the bedroom fully satisfied.

Related posts: When Women and Men Struggle to Communicate | Hot, Holy & Humorous; Why She Communicates the Way She Does (and It May Not Be What You Think) | The Generous Husband (guest post from J)

*Note: Let me be clear that I don’t think brain fog = man brain. Web MD says those with brain fog can be “confused or disorganized or find it hard to focus or put your thoughts into words.” That can look different, depending on your original mental functioning. For instance, if my husband got brain fog, he might lose his singular focus and get the monkey circus instead. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!

16 thoughts on “What It’s Been Like to Have “Man Brain””

  1. This is perfect. I can totally relate having had COVID lingering brain fog. I definitely find my brain working more on a waffle level than spaghetti so often. I never related it to a man’s brain. So this really helps me put things into perspective. Thank you so much!

  2. “Please get to the point!” Yes! I have said this to my wife and my (adult) daughter. There is a saying we used a lot in the military, bottom line up front.

    And yeah, we can absolutely think about nothing.

  3. Wow–so glad my husband has never told my adult daughter to “get to the point”. I’m sure many women have felt like telling men get to the point, but that would be considered disrespectful.

    I think the waffle/spaghetti thing is a bit more nuanced—like the expectation of multitasking. I’m a nurse and the expectation that I and those with other healthcare jobs are able to multitask is a must in many environments. You have to have a few things cooking in your brain at once and must be able to shift priorities as needed.

    But within the home the multitasking thing I think is partly a socialization thing–mom can be interrupted at any time and dad cannot. Mom has to make sure she doesn’t burn dinner while changing the baby’s diapers while at the same time she is thinking she is too tired to go out after supper to buy school supplies, and then when she comes home she is supposed to get herself in the mood to be with her husband.

    Regarding the monkeys in your head—my own opinion is that becomes a bit more challenging with aging—that can be a blessing and a curse.

    1. Well, the notion of “get to the point!” isn’t something I would say to someone or want said to me. I was merely expressing what happens in your head when you’re struggling to follow and really looking for the main point.

      And I agree that some of this stuff is socialization. Though we never had anything like this in our home—”mom can be interrupted at any time and dad cannot”—yet my sons came out pretty much in the male brain category.

      And if the scenario you describe about dinner, diapers, school supplies, and getting in the mood is happening, that’s NOT OKAY. There’s multitasking, and there’s being taken advantage of. I agree we should prioritize sex in marriage, but a fair amount of that should be the husband taking on his responsibilities and meeting his wife’s emotional needs so that both spouses can enjoy sexual intimacy.

  4. I’m my marriage it’s the opposite. My wife can’t multitask to save her life. I multitask better than she does. So when everyone talks about how much better women’s brain’s think then mens we just laugh.

    1. Yes! This is why I say that we talk in generalities about men/women, but there are So Many Exceptions. It’s really not even that exceptional to be different; it may be a minority, but it’s common.

      1. It seems to me that personality also plays a role. I would apparently “meander” while talking to my Choleric/Sanguine mom growing up, and she would often ask me to “shop around for a point”! I’m a strong Melancholy so details and the manner in which I arrived at a particular point matter, at least to me :). I’m not sure how often I do this with my husband (although he does sometimes clarify a main point, “So I need to do “x”?), but if I do he (being a Phlegmatic) seems much more tolerant – and he sometimes does this himself if he’s relaying a funny story about something that happened that day. I might say the difference is whether we’re task or people-oriented, but being task-oriented myself I don’t even fit that rule. I do find the “waffles vs. spaghetti” analogy helpful, though.

        1. Good point! (And interestingly enough, I’m a melancholy with a strong splash of choleric. Hubs is melancholy/phlegmatic. 🙂 )

          1. That’s very interesting as I’ve had enough run-ins with cholerics (albeit mostly non-believers) to know that I could never be married to one as a melancholy. But maybe your and your husband’s individual mixes of personality types – melancholy tempered by either choleric or phlegmatic – is what makes the difference. I think my mom’s mix of temperaments allowed us to be close while I was at home, and yet my dad is also a melancholy so one would think we’d see eye to eye but we didn’t.

            Have you written an article on sex and personality types? Maybe you should! 🙂

          2. Oh, I’m so fascinated by personality types! That’s a good idea. I should mull it over. Thanks!

  5. “I just want to share a little about my day.”

    This is a GREAT line for story-telling wives to remember and use! When my hubby knows I’m just looking to share, he’s much more relaxed in the “journey” of the story than if he feels like he needs to listen for a main point/problem I’d like him to help me solve.

    Praying for your continued improvement!

  6. Yes! Sex and Temperaments. LaHey wrote quite a bit about this but that was years ago. I tend to see people, including my spouse, through this lens. I’m Choloric/Phlegmatic and she is Meloncholy. So I’m emotionally retarded and she’s very sensitive. It’s awesome. 😂

    1. I don’t think one can be a Choleric-Phlegmatic as these are polar opposites on the personality chart – which is also a main reason why these types pair up in friendships and marriage (my in-laws being an example). But we’ll see what J has to say when she posts her “Sex and Temperament” article :).

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