People have been observing the differences between men and women for centuries, and some have recently taken to compiling lists of their observations. One list I came across, likely compiled by a group of first grade girls, highlights some of these distinctions:
- Girls are more better than boys.
- Girls chew with their mouths closed.
- Girls don't pick their noses.
- Girls don't smell as bad.
- Girls are more smarter.
- Girls shave more.
Not to be outdone, one anonymous male came up with a list of advantages to being a man:
- A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
- If someone forgets to invite you to something, he or she can still be your friend.
- You can quietly enjoy a ride from the passenger's seat.
- Gray hair and wrinkles only add character.
- You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
We all laugh at the gender differences, but there's more truth in both lists than we'd like to admit. Men and women really are different from one another in so many ways. Some differences, even most, seem rather trivial, but these "trivial" differences have at times ignited conflicts that escalate into all-out warfare and even divorce.
The stakes raise substantially when we try to answer the question, "When do you feel loved?" One researcher, Dr. John Gray, attempted to answer that most basic of questions from the male and female perspectives. He identified twelve ways men and women desire to be loved, and the lists for men and women are radically different. He said that though men and women respond at some level to the types of love on each others' lists, the primary needs expressed by the two sexes are not the same. His conclusions differ sharply from much of what is being written about marriage today by secular authors. But they sound surprisingly similar to advice given to men and women thousands of years before survey methodologies and therapists appeared on the scene.
Ephesians 5:28-29 says, "Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church" (nasb). And Ephesians 5:22, 33 says, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord … The wife must see to it that she respects her husband" (nasb).
These texts simply say that men feel loved when they're respected, and women feel loved when they're cared for. So God gave husbands and wives two different lists of commands. Each one, if followed, will help to meet the unique emotional needs of the opposite sex. A servant-heart is the foundation for both lists, the call to serve each other in love.
How a Husband Can Say, "I Love You"
To live out the high calling of a husband, men must assume the role of a servant-leader. Just as Jesus takes responsibility for the needs of the church, so the husband is to take responsibility for the needs of the home. In saying this, we're also acknowledging the husband's responsibility to exercise initiative. If things at home are not as they should be, men, it's your responsibility to get the ball rolling. When our relationship with God was estranged, Jesus took the initiative by landing in our world. We're told to follow his example.
A servant-husband sacrifices. When we read in Ephesians 5:25 that Jesus "gave himself up" for the church, we're faced with the reality that authentic servant leadership is sacrificial. One author's paraphrase of this text is that "Christ wants us as men to always try to be first to the cross" when it comes to sacrificing for our wives. This is the mark of one who leads by caring rather than controlling.
A servant-husband nourishes. You love your wife by caring for her. Sometimes it's translated "to pamper" or "to rear." What Paul was talking about here is meeting the needs of the other person, helping that person grow to maturity. The idea is that you want your wife to blossom. At the risk of blowing your circuits, I think what's pictured here is a bridal attendant. You see, this text tells us that the church is the bride of Christ. And Christ is the groom. The idea is that a good husband is to be about the business of attending to the needs of his wife, of helping her become all God wants her to be.
A servant-husband cherishes. Cherish as well as nourish. Both are essential for a servant-husband who is intent on loving his wife Jesus' way. It's the contrast between having a routine oil change done on a company car and spending time polishing that '56 T-Bird, that treasure that's parked in the garage. We need both. Every marriage requires routine maintenance to stay in good working order. Part of it comes from the care that's involved in nourishing your wife. But cherishing is essential as well, doing those special things that communicate that vital message, "You, above all others, are special."
Men who wish to cherish their wives must remember that men and women approach sex and romance differently. For men, it's more of an isolated act. However, our wives see sex as a process. It cannot be rushed. It begins not in the bedroom, but the family room; not with touching, but with talking; not with making love, but with making dinner. Remember, for our wives, being served or pampered is the ultimate aphrodisiac. It's a medical fact: Women who feel nourished and cherished have fewer "headaches."
A servant-husband honors. I know of no other command in Scripture to which God connects a consequence like the one in 1 Peter 3:7: If you don't honor your wife, the effectiveness of your prayers will diminish. This is serious business.
When you look at the meaning of the Greek word "honor," you begin to understand why God places such a burden of responsibility on men to extend it to their wives. The Greek word is time (pronounced tee-may). A noun, it signifies something you give to acknowledge value and worth. The idea is to esteem another person in such a way that you affirm her dignity.
A servant-husband understands. Now, what about that admonition in 1 Peter 3:7 to "live with your wives in an understanding way"? For starters, let's dispel a misconception. The phrase that follows, "as with someone weaker," is not a signal of inferiority. The word weaker in this context means fragile. In other words, Peter was saying that a wife is more like fine crystal than a plastic container. Big difference, men, between Tupperware and fine crystal.
We're to work at understanding how our wives think, what their needs are, and how they most desire for us to meet those needs. In the simplest terms, know your wife and know her well. How do you get to know a person? For starters, inquire. Investigate. But this assumes you have a skill for which guys are not normally famous: listening. We need to focus more on listening for the purpose of knowing and understanding our wives.
And how does a husband say "I love you"? He does it by caring for his wife, by sacrificing, nourishing, cherishing, honoring, and understanding her. The beauty of marriage is that love expressed like this has a profound impact on a man's wife. It actually sets in motion a circle of love that creates not only harmony but strength in marriage.
How a Wife Can Say, "I Love You"
The average wife has a lot to learn as she tackles the daunting task of loving and understanding the man in her life. Guys aren't exactly an open book when it comes to reading and understanding their actions, emotions, or words. This business of building a strong relationship is much more art than science. Maybe that's why God provided a specific set of blueprints to guide women in constructing a quality love relationship with a man.
Ephesians 5:22-24 doesn't get much attention these days. The idea of submission is not politically correct, even in evangelical circles. But the reality is that we are wrecking marriages by ignoring it. Perhaps the best approach for addressing concerns associated with this text is to spell out what submission is not. It is not inferiority, intellectual suicide, passivity, or silence. Submission is willingly placing yourself under the leadership of another.
But submission, as important as it is, is not the main issue. Look again at Ephesians 5:33: "The wife must see to it that she respects her husband." When God prepares to put his final touch on this classic passage on marriage, he calls the wife to respect. Why? Because respect is the real issue for men. Submission is not the end; it's only a means to the end. The real target in God's sight is to see wives showering their husbands with a gentle rain of respect. It is the gift that best says to a man, "I love you."
A servant-wife respects. Respect, or reverence, is a gift you can give to men, even imperfect men or ungodly men. You see, respect is not optional; it's essential in a healthy marriage. What can you do if you don't have a lot of respect for your husband? Start by reading Philippians 4:8. Then tell him and others where he excels. Thank God for what is right about your man, not what is wrong. God will hold your husband accountable for the condition of the home, so respect that position of responsibility.
Ultimately, our calling is to the lordship of Christ, not any human being. It is out of respect and worship to our Sovereign God that we give respect to those he places over us in life.
A servant-wife trusts. Trust means so much to a man. As a wife encourages and follows the leadership of her husband, that expression of trust becomes a powerful act of love. It says to him, "I believe in you." The solutions for repairing a lack of trust are similar to the solutions that apply to building up a spirit of respect. Trust comes easier when you let your mind dwell on your husband's strengths. Make a list of the ten best decisions you've seen your husband make and thank God for them.
God has called the husband to lead. What if you don't agree with your husband's direction or decisions? Communicate. Share your input and observations. Every wise leader, like a coach, seeks to use the strengths of his team, especially his number one assistant.
It's only possible to trust your husband if your ultimate trust is in the Lord. When decisions are not a matter of obeying or disobeying God, God calls wives to respect and follow the lead of the man he has brought into their lives.
A servant-wife supports. Another effective tool for loving your husband is to back him up. Every man loves to know that his wife not only believes in him and wants to see him succeed but is also willing to help make it happen. A man feels loved when his wife says, "Wherever you go and whatever you do, I'm in. You can count on me."
But a warning is in order. There is a fine line between supporting and mothering. Respect that line. Men love to sense support, but often pull away from unsolicited assistance. If our wives jump in too often or too soon, it can make us feel as if they don't believe in us or respect us.
A servant-wife accepts. Acceptance flows from the gift of unconditional love. A wife may go into marriage with a sincere vow to love her spouse "for better or for worse, till death do us part." And she really means it. But she also figures that long before she faces death, she will have plenty of time to perfect her beloved. The problem is, trying to "fix" him begins to trigger resistance, even anger.
Does this mean a wife can never mention a concern or a frustration or offer a suggestion for change to her husband? Submission is not silence. God wants to use our spouses to help us grow. Wives—like husbands—are a powerful tool for sanctification. The key is to communicate, not nag. Share your ideas, concerns, fears, or expectations, but then leave it alone. Give God a chance to work and your husband time to change. When the marital atmosphere is full of acceptance, approval, and affirmation, feedback will fall on receptive ears.
A servant-wife admires, appreciates, and is affectionate. Here's a formula for becoming a "Triple A" lover: Admiration plus Appreciation plus Affection. Men yearn for all three. Men are turned on by praise. So wives, never stop admiring your husbands.
Remember that men are drawn to the physical far more than women are. When a man's wife takes the time to make herself look good, it is an expression of love.
For men, affection begins with respectful admiration and builds with sincere appreciation. But it is the sexual relationship with his wife that best says "I love you." Of course, the beauty of this mysterious act of love is that the more you give, the more you're likely to receive. According to God's blueprint, your body belongs to your spouse and his to you. Therefore, work at saying yes to each other. Focus on giving pleasure to each other. And start loving each other—but keep in mind you are indeed different by design.
Adapted from Different By Design by H. Dale Burke (Moody Press, 2000). Used by permission.
Top 10 Ways to show your wife honor
- Praise her publicly
- Say "thank you" often
- Open doors for her
- Wait on her joyfully
- Wait on her patiently
- Seek her opinion
- Take her advice
- Respect her feelings
- Bring her a gift
- Listen, listen, listen
Top 10 Ways to show your husband respect
- Ask for his opinion
- Tell others where he excels
- Listen to his ideas
- Prepare his favorite meal
- Don't mother him
- Encourage his interests
- Give him time to be alone
- Say "thank you" often
- Respond to his touch
- Let him be himself
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.