219 – Deciphering the Gender Code
It was early in our marriage. I don’t remember the specifics, only that there was a major communication breakdown. We were both talking in perfectly coherent speech. But we obviously were not speaking the same language. And it wasn’t the first time. Finally, it dawned on me what was going on.
I had married an alien.
There really was no other explanation possible. There was some kind of language barrier going on. Like one of us was a native English speaker, and the other learned the language later. Maybe at the Greater Intergalactic Royal Language School (GIRLS).
Sound familiar? Communication is one of the major issues couples struggle with. These communication breakdowns illustrate a larger, and more obvious, point. We’re different. And while this can create difficulties at times, in the long run, our differences actually make our lives work better than if we were all the same.
Eve Got the Raw End of the Deal
If we go back to the creation accounts in Genesis we can see that these differences were intentional on God’s part. In Genesis 2:18 we read, The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
The word translated as “suitable” here might better be translated as “corresponding.” In other words, God didn’t say that the man needed a helper to meet his needs–that’s why none of the animals were “suitable.” Rather, the man needed someone who could work with him, to fill in the gaps, so to speak. By definition, then, this person would be different from the man. And along came Eve.
Eventually, they sinned. Eve’s initial sin was believing the word of the serpent over God’s own words. Adam’s initial sin was one of inaction: he stood there and watched while the serpent deceived his wife. Not to go off on a tangent here, but, Hey guys! If a serpent is tricking your wife into sinning against God, you shouldn’t stand there and watch. You should pick up a stick and kill the serpent!
Adam and Even compounded their sin by hiding from God, then Adam actually blamed God and Eve for his sin: “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree…” Nice one, Adam. And then the curse. Actually, curses. And here is where Eve got the raw end of the deal.
For women, the curse of pain in childbearing is not the worst part. The rest of Genesis 3:16 says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” That’s a terrible curse! Man’s curse is that it will be a lot harder for our work to be productive (vv 17-19).
So the woman’s curse was relational, and the man’s curse was task-oriented. And this summarizes a major difference between the average woman and man–and explains much of the sin and frustration in the world. A woman is wired for relationship–“a helper”–and this was corrupted by sin. For instance, women often ache for marriage and won’t leave an abusive relationship for fear of being alone.
A man is wired for task–God “put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2:15)–and this also was corrupted by sin. Thus, men tend towards workaholism or laziness. Two extremes of the same taint on our view of work. In both cases, something is taking the place of God in our worldview-either relationships or work becomes an idol.
Modern psychology has come to the same conclusion. In a study he wrote about in his book, Sixteen Men, psychologist Dr. Loren Pedersen found that, contrary to academic opinion that all gender differences are cultural, there are actually a set of traits that are very different in the majority of men and women.
He found that about two thirds of men tend toward “thinking”, and two thirds of women tend toward “feeling” when giving a Myers-Briggs personality inventory. This gives us insight into how women and men view and react to the world differently. These are generalizations, of course. But they ring true for the vast proportion of my own experiences, and for most men (and women) I have talked to.
Since men tend towards “thinking,” it makes us more oriented toward problem solving. We also are more willing to take on challenges often because we feel like we have assessed the “risk-reward” equation to our satisfaction. The ramifications of this are that we often want to “fix” everything. We can also be arrogant and even unsafe.
Since women tend towards the “feeling” side, it makes them more sensitive to a person’s emotions, seeking connection and intimacy. This can make men uncomfortable.
Using Pedersen’s study, Geoff Gorsuch with the Navigators created a set of “rules” that help to generally describe how men and women see the world. Look at the table below to see the ramifications–both positive and negative–of each approach.
Most men tend to seek emotional space, while women tend to seek emotional intimacy.
Most men tend to seek challenges while women seek security or safety.
Most men tend to “fix” rather than “accept.”
Most men tend to process information linearly, while women process in a more integrated fashion.
Chart: Gender “Rules”
Men and women tend to see life differently. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Embrace the Differences
The attributes and tendencies of men are often used–on TV, in movies, even in sermon illustrations–for comic relief. We are portrayed as emotionally clueless buffoons.
The important thing to remember about these differences is that they do not give either gender an advantage over the other. Going back to the word in Genesis, they are corresponding. We fit together like pieces of a puzzle. My strengths match up to my wife’s areas of need, and her strengths match up with my areas of need. They help us in our parenting, managing our household, involvement in church, and our friendships.
Here are some “tips” for inter-species–oops, I mean inter-gender-communication. You can share these with your wife as well!
We did a workshop on this topic at FUEL 2013. Most of the attendees were wives. I was explaining to them the perspective their husbands have and how different it is from their own. I found myself somewhat apologetic for men and our focus on task over relationship.
But then, one of the wives said something profound: “Don’t apologize for how men are! My husband is just like you described, and I like it! We need someone in our marriage who can put the emotions aside and make a tough decision. I need someone who will push me to take risks. It’s good for me that he focuses on things one at a time while I’m trying to do five things at once and feeling overwhelmed. God made us this way for a reason. I’ll take the negatives, because the positives are so great.” Wise words.
So take heart! God made you the way you are. And He made the women in our lives the way they are as well. If you’ll pay attention and realize the motivations of a woman’s heart, you will (usually) be able to decipher the gender code.
Success That Matters and Marriage Prayer events provide many useful lessons for couples wanting a better marriage. Think about bringing one of these events to your church. Go to maninthemirror.org and select the ‘Events for your men’ icon for more information.