Modern society may fight it, but it’s true: Men and women are different. Not just biologically: We think differently. We communicate differently. Failure to understand this can lead to heaps of frustration.
We need not be confused. To help us, God has given us excellent instruction.
The differences are rooted in biology, created by God, but they go beyond biology. As Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “The female sex hormones cause a woman’s body and mind to be feminine. The male sex hormones cause a man’s body and mind to be masculine. … They produce marked differences between men and women. These differences are mental, physical and sexual” (The Missing Dimension in Sex; emphasis added).
God created men and women—both in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). God does not have sex, but He made humans male and female, with design and for great purpose. He distributed His qualities and attributes between the sexes. Men tend to manifest certain aspects of God’s character, such as strength, ambition and decisiveness. Women tend to manifest other godly traits, like nurturing, sensitivity to others, and attention to detail. When the two come together, they complement and balance each other.
You need the right kinds of male-female interactions to become a whole and balanced person. It is not good for a man, or a woman for that matter, to be alone (Genesis 2:18). The truth is, we are incomplete without each other (verses 21-24). God built complementarity and interdependence into the sexes (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). He wants us to function as a team.
Whether married or single, you need to understand the God-designed differences. There are aspects of God’s character you can learn from the other sex! As you get to know the opposite sex better, you know God better!
Here are points on how to bridge the “language barrier” in your marriage or dating so you can better meet the other’s needs.
1. Understand and appreciate the opposite sex’s uniqueness.
Ephesians 5:22-33 is the Bible’s most profound passage on understanding male-female differences. It is better than bookshelves of self-help books and marriage advice. While pointing to the spiritual reality marriage pictures—Christ and the Church—it also says a lot about how God created men and women emotionally and psychologically. But it takes spiritual depth—and faith-led obedience—to truly understand it.
Verses 22-24 and 33 say a wife should submit herself to her husband, be subject to him in everything, and deeply respect him. Think of what this reveals about a man’s emotional needs.
An old Church manual that describes the differences between men and women lists 10 basic needs of a man: 1) He needs to be admired; 2) He needs honest feedback; 3) He needs to be respected for his role as the leader; 4) He needs to be bolstered and encouraged; 5) He needs recognition for his achievements and successes; 6) He needs the loyalty and support of the opposite sex; 7) He needs a challenge, and to be understood for his masculine interests, drives and ambitions; 8) He needs a woman to be enthusiastic and responsive to his ideas, suggestions and requests; 9) He needs appreciation for the special things he does; 10) He needs a sense of self-worth.
All these points flow out of Ephesians 5. If a wife is applying those verses, she will be meeting these needs.
That outline summarized these 10 points in one broad principle: A man needs a sense of self-worth—treat with respect. This is God’s design. Women, accept and embrace it, and make yourself an expert in meeting his needs! Show him you value his opinions and appreciate his ideas. Being critical and fixating on his weaknesses will hurt the relationship. Focus on the positive. The more you respect a man, the better your relationship will be.
Verse 25 instructs, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” This identifies a woman’s highest emotional need: love.
That outline lists a woman’s basic needs: 1) She needs attention; 2) She needs appreciation, approval and sincere compliments; 3) She needs people and personal relationships; 4) She needs to be loved, respected and treated with tenderness; 5) She needs a shoulder to cry on without fear of rejection; 6) She needs to know that her opinions count; 7) She needs to know a man appreciates her differences and tries to understand her emotional makeup; 8) She needs a man to tell her of his plans so she’ll know how to properly prepare for them; 9) She needs to be assured that he is mindful of her physical limitations; 10) She needs a man to be sensitive, protective and caring of her total welfare.
These also flow from Ephesians 5. A man who applies the Apostle Paul’s instruction will meet these needs! They can be summarized: A woman is fragile—handle with care. Again,this is God’s design. Men, accept and embrace it, and make yourself an expert in meeting her needs! By loving your wife, you nurture your marriage and end up benefiting yourself (verse 28). Even a single man who shows outgoing concern for his spiritual sisters will ultimately receive more than he gives.
2. Men: Love unconditionally. Women: Respect unconditionally.
The profound wisdom in Ephesians 5 is distilled in this verse: “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (verse 33). This command illuminates the deepest needs of men and women. Women need love—men need respect.
This “love” is the love of God. This “reverence” is respect, veneration, deference or reverential obedience.
When these needs are met, a virtuous cycle is at work. A woman who feels loved finds it far easier to respect. A man who feels respected finds it far easier to love. When these needs are unmet, problems result. When a woman is deprived of love, or a man is deprived of respect, that relationship will wither.
Further, when a woman feels unloved, she tends to withhold respect. When a man feels disrespected, he tends to withhold love. If we give in to these natural, carnal tendencies, our marriages will suffer! At some point, someone won’t fill the other’s need perfectly, so that person will withdraw, which will make the first person even less giving, creating a negative cycle. This happens in marriages—and in dating among singles—all the time.
Paul says simply, Husbands, love! Wives, reverence! The command isn’t contingent on the other doing his or her part. If this is to work, it must be unconditional.
A husband must love even when his wife isn’t particularly loveable. He must govern his thoughts and feelings, steer them toward godly love, and act on them. After all, he represents Christ, whose love is unconditional! Even when we sin, He is our Advocate (1 John 2:1).
A wife’s respect cannot be conditioned on what she perceives as her husband’s respectability (within the law of God). She must govern her heart and her thoughts toward him, just as he must toward her. This means not just showing reverence, but being reverent.
A husband and wife who apply this one verse are guaranteed to overcome countless problems, obstacles and misunderstandings. Love and reverence unconditionally!
God’s ground rules demonstrate the way of give. A man must give love to a woman. A woman must give reverence and submission to a man. A man should strive to give godly leadership that earns her respect and is a joy to submit to. A woman should strive to be a lovable woman, to recognize, encourage and receive a man’s love.
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Though men and women are equally qualified to inherit eternal life, the Apostle Peter says men must recognize the differences. Men need knowledge about this to dwell with them peaceably.
Peter calls woman “the weaker vessel,” acknowledging that God made her more sensitive; that word can even mean fragile. God made men generally to be physically stronger and emotionally tougher; Peter says an appropriate response is for a man to treat the woman with honor. A man’s relationship with God depends on how he treats his wife! Your approach to her affects how God treats you—even how much He answers your prayers!
3. Communicate often.
You’ve probably seen couples in a restaurant who are “together” but on their phones, not talking to each other. We can become that couple in our homes! “Those who are thoughtless and selfish can easily find duties or distractions to avoid a heart-to-heart talk with their mate. Many married people fear this type of communication. They are somehow afraid of opening up in depth. They are always ‘too busy.’ They never find the time to truly explore the heart and mind, the hopes and dreams of the very one to whom they are united for life …” (Good News, March 1975).
One reason is that women tend to talk to men like they’re women. Men talk to women like they’re men (in more attractive packaging). But we speak different languages.
Women, for example, tend to talk in circles; men in straight lines. Women tend to be comfortable discussing problems without needing solutions; men tend to want answers. It is helpful to know these things so each person’s expectations are realistic—and so we can be thankful we each bring something different to the relationship. But it takes time to learn. How do you learn a foreign language? By practicing it. You have to practice communicating and understanding your mate!
Build unity of spirit in your marriage through communication. Have sympathy for each other. Cultivate a tender heart and a humble mind in your dealings with each other (1 Peter 3:8). If your mate says the wrong thing, respond with kindness (verse 9). The New Living Translation states: “Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you.” Follow Christ’s perfect example.
4. Don’t be carnal—be converted.
“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11). This requires bringing Christ into your marriage. Respond in a converted, Spirit-led way rather than carnally.
What impairs communication between men and women? One major cause is self-centeredness. This creates competition, unfair comparisons, self-righteousness, prejudice, pickiness, judging, condemnation and worse. How much is your self-centeredness hurting your marriage? We must continually fight our selfishness and vanity and replace it with God’s Spirit and His love.
Another impediment is withdrawing when we’re hurt. This is childish, reflecting emotional immaturity and a lack of conversion. It stifles communication and undermines relationships.
Misunderstandings also hurt: poor communication by the speaker; wrong assumptions by the listener. We must control our human nature. Realize, your first reaction is usually carnal. Understand this, and you can take preventative measures. “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly …. He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:17, 29; New King James Version).
At home, we can let down socially. Our selfishness can easily emerge with our mate. Add kids to the mix, and the potential for problems multiplies. The more children you have, the less time remains to devote solely to your mate, and the easier it is for misunderstandings to arise.
Don’t let those develop! Don’t be carnal—be converted. Don’t let yourself get hurt. Grow thick skin. Give your mate the benefit of the doubt. Believe the best. Trust that your mate loves you and isn’t trying to hurt you. If he or she says something hurtful, realize it might be because you inadvertently hurt him or her. Don’t underestimate the damage that insensitive remarks and other “little” slights can do. Remember your commitment to making the marriage work. Let God’s mind govern you rather than your natural mind.
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Govern your spirit, and you give God a greater chance to govern your home.
5. Learn to listen.
Learning another language requires fine-tuning your hearing and listening for nuances. To understand your mate so you can meet his or her needs, you must listen.
Husband and wife should be able to be completely open with each other, revealing doubts, fears, hopes and dreams. We shouldn’t fear ridicule or criticism. “Men are often more proud than women. They have greater difficulty in admitting that they are afraid. By a harsh word or growl, a man may cut short his wife and terminate a conversation which he fears. A conversation which might unveil part of his true nature if it were pursued. Why? We all fear being judged, being criticized, being misunderstood. And many of us fear receiving unwanted and ill-thought-out advice. Especially advice from a loved one, one who can hurt us deeply” (ibid).
Understanding one another requires skillful listening. As Proverbs 18:13 says, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
“We must listen well—attempting to perceive the emotional colorings of the words as well as the words themselves,” that article continued. “We must take time to allow our mate to unburden his or her heart to us, again and again. We must not offer criticism or judgment during this learning process. We must fervently seek to understand. There is a very close link between love and understanding. Because the very nature of true love is outgoing concern, true lovers always seek to understand, to encourage, to share the depths of their beings with one another” (ibid).
Be candid with each other and express how you feel. If your feelings are wrong, don’t express the feeling—explain it, and admit you need to control it and could use some help.
When a woman has a problem, she tends to talk her way through it. She processes it with communication. Men tend to process in seclusion: The more a problem bothers him, the less he says about it. Without understanding this tendency, when problems arise you automatically have another headache!
She wants to vent.But the husband hears all the problems as things he’s supposed to fix, and it can be overwhelming. Ladies, if possible, hold off before you bombard him. Men, just listen. Don’t feel like she’s attacking you or expecting solutions to everything. Give her your full attention. Ask questions. Show interest.
Regain your first love by “doing the first works” (e.g., Revelation 2:4-5)—the things that built the relationship: spending time together, talking, dating, learning about each other, working to understand each other. “The more time husbands and wives spend talking with each other, the more likely they are to report a high level of marital satisfaction,” reports a Cornell University study.
Share what you’ve been doing. As evening approaches, think on your day and what you can share. Talk about what you’ve been reading and learning. Discuss your Bible study—this should be a regular conversation topic. Talk about more than just the kids; deliberately share other things regularly.
Your marriage is a combination of what you and your mate supply—and what you allow God to supply through you (e.g., Ephesians 4:16). How much are you contributing? Work together to actively add to the supply of love in your marriage. It’s like setting aside savings from every paycheck: Regularly make those deposits so you have funds to draw on when the harder times come.
6. Be patient with your mate’s idiosyncrasies and faults.
William James said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” God doesn’t overlook sin, though He is merciful, patient and forgiving when we repent. But He isn’t distracted by our sins so He can’t see our spiritual growth and our potential. He certainly isn’t distracted by quirks and idiosyncrasies, which tend to distract people. Strive to see your mate as God does.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). This is excellent marriage advice. “Neither give place to the devil” (verse 27). Satan is looking for a place in your home—don’t give him a place! Add love to your home rather than negativity.
Paul continues: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. … Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (verses 29, 31-32).
This beautiful passage flows right into Ephesians 5: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (verse 2). Remember the love God has showed for you and your mate. Follow His example: Treat each other as God does.
In Letters to Philip, the author wrote of a woman who greatly praised her husband. “From the day I started school, clear up to college,” she said, “everyone made fun of my legs. As you can see, they look like tree stumps.” She stood up, and they did. “You know how children are,” she continued. “They can be cruel. Sometimes when I was little I would cry myself to sleep. As I grew older, I laughed with them to cover up. In high school I dated some, but never more than a couple of times with any one boy and you can guess why.
“When I was a freshman in college I met Mark. I liked him right away. I felt so comfortable with him. Then he asked me to go steady and I could hardly believe it. He never made one single reference to my legs. But I did. You know, looking for assurance. Then one night he took my hands in his and said, ‘Frances, I want you to quit knocking yourself. I love you the way you are. The Lord gave you good, sturdy legs. They give me a solid feeling and I like it.’ You know what I did,” she said. “I cried.”
“Then one week,” she continued, “he took me home, and when I met his mother I wanted to cry again. She was a cripple. She wore a shoe that was built up and she walked with a limp. So I looked at him and he looked at me and I think I loved him right then like nobody ever loved a man before. Do you know, that was 13 years ago and now I can honestly laugh about my legs. Can you see why I say he’s wonderful? There isn’t one thing in the world I wouldn’t do for Mark!”
“That’s how God made women,” the author wrote. “They’ll do anything in the world for you if you put them at ease about their faults; build up their strong points; and reach that high level of kindness which seems to say, ‘The blend is what I like. I love you for what you are in toto!’ [Y]ou’ll find [that this acceptance is] a solid fixture in every solid marriage.”
7. Love your mate with all your heart, soul, mind and might
If your mate is converted, he or she is on the God Family level! That means you must apply the “first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Wives, put your husbands up on the God level! (Ephesians 5:22-24). Become an expert in meeting his needs. Give it your all—your whole heart.
Husbands, never forget the level of unconditional, sacrificial love God expects and wants to build in you (verses 25-28). Become an expert in meeting her needs. Give it your all—your whole heart.
Do your part to fill your marriage with spiritual vision, and with God! This is our aim: Our marriages are preparing us for our marriage to Christ (verses 30-32). We don’t want any “language barriers” with our Husband. We need to do all we can to use our life today—to prepare for that marvelous, eternal marriage tomorrow!