How Gender Differences Can Build a Stronger Marriage

Photos by Imagerymajestic, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo: Imagerymajestic, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“We’re sooooo different!” We hear this continually as we meet with couples we mentor who are frustrated because of it. And we’ve said the same thing ourselves about our own relationship.

But what’s “funny” about this is that before marriage, we usually view differences in positive ways. We can’t even imagine that we’ll have problems because our differences don’t seem to be as noticeable as any type of problem.

“Before the wedding, differences tend to seem intriguing, interesting, and attractive. A few months or years into the marriage, however, what seemed so inviting in the semi-fantasy world of dating now seems considerably less than idyllic.” (Phillip J. Swihart, a contributing author to the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)

That’s certainly true with us, and we’ve come across a lot of couples that find it true in their marriages as well.

One of the things that frustrates us is the different ways we approach things that disturb us. Dr Leslie Parrott who is the Co-Director for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University talks about how most women like to have their problems understood and sympathized with (before any problem-solving would begin) and men like to get right to it and solve the problem!

The following is something that Dr Parrott wrote to a woman who is perturbed with her husband because she wants him to listen to her without “immediately” telling her what to do to resolve the issue. Leslie writes:

“My husband and I give marriage seminars to couples around the country, and I can’t remember a single one where a woman in the audience hasn’t asked this same question. And most of the time the question is met with rousing applause from other women in the group!

“The truth is, one of the most fundamental gender issues lies in how we approach problem solving. My husband, a psychologist who teaches others about gender differences, still sometimes offers solutions before he’s heard my heart.

“When this happens to you, remind yourself your husband’s giving you exactly what he’d want if the roles were reversed. While, like most women, you’re content merely to ‘explore’ your problem together, he’s hardwired to fix it. So, in a sense, he feels as though he’s giving you a great gift. Next time, say something to him like this:

‘I’m sure you have solutions in mind, but the truth is, I’m not ready to hear them yet. I need to clear my head by understanding my feelings first and talking them over with you while you simply listen. That’s what will energize me to solve this problem.’

Your husband needs to know it’s OK just to listen, that you’re not actually looking for solutions. Why? Because otherwise he feels as though he’s not doing what you really want. This may seem strange to you as a woman, but trust me, that’s what’s going on inside him. He wants to rescue his proverbial damsel in distress. So let him off the hook. Ease his anxiety. Giving him permission to “just” listen will do wonders in toning down his compulsive problem solving.

“Oh, one more thing. If he starts to interrupt with solutions, gently remind him this is a ‘feelings talk’ right now. I’ve used this shorthand with my husband numerous times. I think you’ll find it helpful, too.” (From Q&A column written by Dr Leslie Parrott in Today’s Christian Woman Magazine Nov/Dec. 2006)

Even though both spouses approach life’s problems in different ways, it’s important to find ways to bridge those differences and make them work for your marriage rather than against them.

In the above case, the man will learn how to be more sensitive to his wife’s need (once he knows he isn’t expected to “fix it”) and the woman will learn to work with the differences between her and her husband so they’re both feeling better about how things should be handled.

On this issue, here’s an article you may find helpful is found on the web site for Crosswalk.com. I encourage you to read it to see what you can learn:

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEN’S AND WOMEN’S BRAINS

We also highly recommend the book that was discussed in the article above: His Brain, Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage written by Dr Walt and Barb Larimore, published by Zondervan.

Our differences in marriage can cause divisions between us. Differences like:

• “She reads people, and he reads manuals
• He doesn’t ask for directions, and she doesn’t appreciate his advice
• She is so mysterious, and he is so practical
• He does not seem to listen, and she seems so emotional
• The list goes on and on…”

However, “when they’re meshed together, they make a wonderful marriage”, as Dr Larimore explains.

“Combining the latest brain research along with their experiences in over three decades of marriage and counseling, Dr. Walt and Barb Larimore explain how the unique design of each sex, particularly the unique brain and hormones of each, results in different habits, tendencies, and nuances of thought and action.”

That’s why we’re so excited for you to obtain this book because we believe as you read the scientific part of this as well as the reasoning and the experience the Larimores’ pour into what they have written, you will better see how your gender differences can make build a stronger marriage.

That is reason we put this article together, and it is certainly our prayer for you!

The above article was compiled by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.

If you have additional tips you can share to help others in this area of marriage, or you want to share requests for prayer and/or ask others for advice, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

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4 responses to “How Gender Differences Can Build a Stronger Marriage

  1. (UGANDA)  Hi, Cindy. Just a few “hearties” on the subject of gender differences. One of the main sources of anxiety in a person are the perceived expectations of them. I say perceived because they’re not always real. With men, it’s very natural, in fact hard-wired, to solve problems that’s why it’s typically male to be practical not emotional, to take time to think about an issue and not talk about it, to offer solutions. Men naturally deal with facts, figures, information and so when his wife tells him she’s feeling weird, he’ll ask “Where? Your stomach, your head? Do you need some water?”

    A gentleman called John Burns once spoke at our church and said his wife once told him that in a time of crisis he was the only one she’d rather be with, and it was totally not because they’re married. He said her reason was that he had the ability to focus on the main issue at hand, not get hung up on boo-hoos, oh-my-Gods!, and I-can’t-believe-its!.

    By the way, one of the main reasons why the male attention span appears shorter than a woman’s is that men are “doers” not talkers. Start doing and he’s with you, keep talking and, oh boy! It’s official and proven, that women talk at least 3 times more (duration and quantity) than men. Baby daughters usually pay attention when you just talk to and look them in the face. Baby sons, after a few seconds, get bored and look around for stuff to do. More so, we talk for different reasons: men it’s to communicate information while women communicate feelings.

    Wives, love your husbands by considering the fact that they’re not wired that way and such, it’s something that may take gradually. In fact, pretty soon talking itself becomes stressful for men. He needs to understand and submit to your need for conversation and verbal communication, you need to understand and also submit to his need to keep words few, and to “get to the point”. Truth is, when someone shows that they are trying by occasionally allowing others to be themselves with no ill-will, there’a a reciprocal effect.

    So taking a leaf from John and Helen Burns, the understanding goes both ways. Trust me, if you tell him often enough not to offer solutions and just listen, it brings along its own frustration because he can’t function like he’s hardwired to. A sense of dis-appreciation and “whatever I have to offer is less than” begins to take root. Also, if he won’t let her care for him, insisting he’ll handle it all himself, she gets frustrated and insecure. I know women who confess that men who know their food and can cook it, or clean and organize their own space, or take care of their wardrobe, or just generally take good care of themselves, make them insecure.

    I really believe that as Christians, perhaps our most fundamental point of digression, and therefore deception and frustration, is losing sight of God’s bigger image, His greater “why” (purpose) for creating a man and a woman. Each is the way we are because we play different roles, but to fulfill a common purpose: to reveal and release God’s glory and dominion over the earth. Unfortunately, we’ve made it out to be simply about us. Him & Her. Men can’t lead anymore because they’ve been intimidated out of their God given place and are caught up in trying to figure out and please the women. Women are too consumed by their own needs to be the helpers God intended.

    I’m fully convinced we all desperately need to get back to the basics. While verbal communication is important it’s not the only kind. The guys who built the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) were of one language, and that was at a time when, Bible says, the language of men had few words. Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us God’s original was simple, but we’ve complicated ourselves. I think when we attach too much importance to some things we lose sight of the greater and more fulfilling aspects of God’s design, totally missing the joys of simplicity.

    Back here in Uganda, women’s rights activists tabled a domestic relations bill in our Parliament several years ago, but surprisingly (or not), a very sizable opposition to the bill came from women. One of their lines of argument was that a woman raised & living out in the village truly only demands of her husband: a roof over her head, comfortable bed, food in the house and children. Most of these women felt these were foreign values that would only complicate their lives, already stressed by poverty, insecurity and disease.

    As of 2008, according to the CIA site, only 13% of Uganda’s over 32 million souls were urbanized. Female literacy was 52%, and 72% for males. That is, of the total literate population who are 15 & over. Simply, over 85% of the population was rural. My point here really, is that first of all we all need to look at each other as unique beings who are no less intelligent, special, gifted etc than ourselves — that each one has something to bring to the table that benefits both –that one’s well-being directly affects the other’s. That way, it’s easier to remain intrigued at the very least, by our differences and it also frees us up to truly love each other by releasing us to have true compassion about each other’s shortcomings.

    Secondly, especially for us who profess to love and obey God, we need to stop conforming to the standards of the world, renew our minds in the Word of God and then, and only then, shall we be able to attest to His good and perfect will for us. If we’re in that place, believe me the romance is sincere, it’s beautiful. And the love! Oh what love! So pure, it’s life-giving!

    I hope I’ve made sense. This is a bit of what I believe and sincerely pray and hope it edifies someone. Hopefully, I managed to offend none but bless most. The Lord richly bless all his children with peace, love, confidence, and at least a slice of heavenly pie!!

  2. (USA) Hi Trin, What you share here is outstanding! Steve and I agree whole-heartedly. Too often either the woman’s perspective is emphasized as being the “right” way to approach a relationship or the man’s perspective is emphasized as being the “right” way. Instead of “right” or “wrong”, how about it being “different?” And different is OK. It’s the way God wires us originally in the womb.

    It’s not that the husband and wife shouldn’t grow and learn from each other and stretch outside of their comfort zone in how they help the other for the betterment of their partnership — that should be a given, as far as marriage partnership. But to try to completely re-make the other — with the emphasis being that either the male or the female’s way of approaching things is the “right” way… well, it’s like trying to turn a leg into an arm or even more-so, like a heart into a brain. They both are VITAL in keeping the body alive, but they do different things to make the body function. One isn’t more important than the other; we need both. They’re just different. And it’s important to recognize that so we can allow them to do what they’re created to do.

    I could go on and on about this because I believe it’s one of the HUGE points we’re missing in how we approach each other as husband and wife — as men and women. We need to bridge our differences, embrace them and make them work for us in our marriages rather than allowing them to cause division. Thank you Trin, for sharing your perspective in this — it’s so needed. And yes, you make perfect sense! We appreciate you.

  3. Don’t get angry at this question Cindy, but, in the article above, why did you tell wives to let the husbands ” off the hook” but didn’t say that to husbands? Wives need the same respect in this and other issues.

    1. Kitt, I’m not angry and perfectly understand your points but I think you’re misunderstanding the point of the article. In the quote that you refer to that Dr Leslie Parrott (a marriage and family counselor, along with her husband Dr Les Parrott) wrote, she’s talking about wives who complain that their husband’s want to “fix” their problems, rather than just listen. This isn’t talking about the husband needing to be more attentive –that is true –they need to be, but this quote is talking about wives who just want their husband to listen and hear their hearts, rather than telling her what she can do or what he can do to fix it. We hear from women all the time that complain about that (it’s not my approach to problems, but it is to most women, from what I’ve seen and what many other marriage counselors have seen. Thus, the article about “gender differences” that talk about needs that are important to be recognized and worked with.

      Kitt, I don’t know what you are dealing with in your marriage. I’m thinking that you sound frustrated and tired because you don’t think your husband is helping enough, and I’m so sorry for that. I’ve seen that many, many times too, and have been there in the past with my husband too. So I know that heart cry. I confess I was fortunate that I was able to get my husband to help when I approached this matter in respectful manners (which railed against the way I wanted to approach him –I wanted to tell him, and did sometimes when I wasn’t as wise, that I would treat him respectfully when he acted in ways that I thought was respectful… however, when I went with what worked, rather than what made sense to me, it’s amazing how well he would step up to the plate).

      I don’t know why most wives (and I say most because there are exceptions) are the ones who bring more of the “heart” into the family –where they seem to see and tend to the needs more than most husbands, but it is what it is. I learned to quit questioning and instead looked at what I could do to work through this situation. I learned eventually to look at it as if I was appointed to be a (loving, respectful) manager of the needs of the home. Since I could see more and seemed to have more intuition in this, I looked at it as a God-given gift that I was given. And I knew I was appointed to bring that giftedness into our marriage. My husband is better at other issues –now that I open my eyes wider, and he brings that giftedness into our marriage. I bring mine. He helps me, and I help him. And together, we make a good team, as long as we view it that way. I quit calling it “foul” when I felt he should be as intuitive as I am, and instead focused on the issue at hand. As a result, God has shown me and continues to show me wiser ways to work with things the way they are, rather than the way that makes more sense to me as a woman. Also, my husband has helped me to settle down a bit not to be overly attentive to needs. Some things are better left alone, rather than tended to.

      Kitt, it’s difficult to explain this concept, and clearly, the things I’ve learned doesn’t work with everyone’s marriage. I recognize that; it’s all a growing experience –one that God can help us with and one that can be gratifying when it’s approached wisely. Every marriage dynamic is different, but there ARE some strings of similarities in most of them. And when we go with things the way they are, rather than what we believe to be the ideal (from a woman’s perspective), there are usually ways to get most “necessary” things accomplished without killing ourselves, or our marriages. I hope I’m able to explain this okay and that this helps. I pray God gives you insight, discernment, help, and hope that better days and better ways are ahead to embrace.