Focus on the Family Broadcast

Finding Strength in Each Other’s Differences (Part 1 of 2)

Finding Strength in Each Other’s Differences (Part 1 of 2)

In a discussion based on their book Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, Bill and Pam Farrel explain how a husband and wife can understand and appreciate one another's differences. (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date: April 12, 2011



Bill Farrel: My goal is to listen to her for 30 minutes straight, because if I can listen 30 minutes without throwing in my male perspective, she’s happier and she likes me better–

Pam Farrel: Yeah–

Bill: –and we both win.

Pam: –like all of a sudden, he gets more handsome. His ideas are more brilliant, just because he’s listening.

Jim Daly: Wow.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: (Laughing) Well, if your wife thought you’re more handsome and brilliant just because you listen to her for 30 minutes, wouldn’t that be wonderful? We’re gonna help you learn how to do that on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we’ve got a great program for you today.

Jim: John, you think it’s that easy? We have discovered the secret to marriage after all–

John: Absolutely.

Jim: –these years. (Chuckling)

John: Listen for 30 minutes.

Jim: Listen and you’re gonna be considered brilliant. No doubt it’s a good first step. I mean, it’s gotta be, but men and women are simply so different that we often don’t hear each other and that’s the point and it’s, I think, usually the guy’s ears are turned off quicker than the wife’s ears. God has uniquely wired us with those differences and in fact, it’s our opposite traits that we find so attractive, that typically lead us to our mate. I mean, she or he possesses those things that we want in ourselves. And with God’s help, we can find ways to celebrate those differences and actually make our marriage stronger as we learn to listen to each other, which is the key, how to complete one another and I think that’s a wonderful, biblical perspective.

You know, Focus helped over 830,000 couples last year build a strong marriage and I want to say thank you to those folks who have supported the ministry and helped make that happen. And if you haven’t given recently or maybe never given to Focus on the Family, but you enjoy listening to the broadcast, it would be wonderful if you could partner with us, especially here at the end of the year, because about half of our annual budget is raised right now and that helps us plan for the future. So, if you want to stand with us as we help these families, I want to say thank you.

John: And you can become a monthly partner with Focus on the Family in the work we’re doing to strength marriages when you call 800-A-FAMILY or you’ll find details for donating at .

Jim: And John, we’re coming back to a great program with Bill and Pam Farrel about finding strength in each other’s differences, like I just mentioned, instead of letting our differences divide us. And the Farrels have written a number of books, including Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti. They’re co-founders of Love-Wise, an organization that’s been helping couples build lasting relationships, for the past 30, 35 years through their books and conferences.

John: Yeah, this is some pretty engaging conversation and if you don’t have time right now, you can get an extended download with both today and tomorrow’s content. We’ll link over there from our website and we also have it available through our mobile app or on CD. Here’s Bill and Pam Farrel now, explaining how, indeed, men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Jim: I gotta ask you. Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti.

Bill: Uh-hm.

Jim: What in the world does that mean? (Laughter) How am I a waffle?

Bill: Well, you know, we started doin’ the research early on in helping couples, ’cause we could tell that these differences between men and women are a big issue. And we found that most people aren’t really interested in the research language. I mean, it’s like–

Jim: Yeah.

Bill: –computers, you know. Most people, they don’t want to know the in’s and out’s of their computer; they just want to know how to use it.

Pam: Yeah.

Jim: Right.

Bill: Well, relationships are the same way. So, we started saying, “God, would You give us a word picture that would help men and women know how to work with these differences that You’ve built into them?” So, it actually came out of a meeting with a couple, okay. And this guy called me up and he said, “Bill, can I bring my wife in. I think she’s broken.” (Laughter) You know, so I was intrigued.

John: Wow. (Laughter)

Bill: It was just like, “Yeah, bring her in.” (Laughter)

Jim: You’re not supposed to laugh. (Laughter)

John: Sorry. It just struck me as funny. (Laughter)

Jim: He’s not well trained. (Laughter)

Bill: So, they came to my office and to his credit, he’s married to one of the most verbal women I’ve ever met. It was just amazing. They walked in my office, sat down. He looked at her and said, “Go ahead.” (Laughter)

John: Now you’re laughing.

Bill: And on that cue–

Jim: ‘Cause I can picture it.

Bill: –she started talking. Yeah, she just started goin’. And he looked at me and looked at her and looked back at me and said, “She does this all the time.”

Pam: ‘Cause she was jumping from subject to subject to subject to subject to subject to subject. Help! (Laughter)

Bill: And it was one of those moments where I said, “Well, listen, think about her conversation like a plate of spaghetti. There’s a bunch of noodles on it. All those noodles are touching each other and as soon as she’s touched every noodle on the plate, she’ll be done.”

Pam: Now …

Bill: So, he did, you know, he just kind of leaned in and listened and 55 minutes later

Jim: Oh.

Bill: –she ended.

Jim: That was a big plate of spaghetti. (Laughter)

Pam: Yeah, she was like, “Ah! That’s awesome. Okay, if I’m like spaghetti, what’s he like?”

Bill: And I said, “Well, you know, we’re out of time for today, but we’ll meet in a couple of weeks.” (Laughter) Yeah, ’cause John, you can tell, like I–

Pam: Ah.

Bill: –I haven’t really found the picture yet. So, I said, “Guys, you gotta help me. I got two weeks. I need a picture of how men process information and it has to be food.”

Jim: Oh.

Bill: So, my sons were making toaster waffles one day and I said, “I think that might work.” The way us guys process information, it looks like the top of a waffle–a bunch of boxes. All those boxes are separated from one another by walls. And the way we as men, process life is, the first issue goes in the first box, second issue goes in the second box, third issue goes in the third box and so on. And we spend time in one box at a time and one box only. So, when a man is at work, he is at work.

Jim: Yeah.

Bill: When a man’s in the yard doin’ yard work, he’s doing yard work. When a man’s watching TV, he’s watching TV. And because of this single focus that men bring, we tend to be problem solvers by nature. We go into a box, figure out the problem, assign a solution, move on. And if we get to a box and we see what the problem is and we don’t know what the solution is, we move on.

Jim: I knew you were gonna say that (Laughter); we just keep movin’.

Bill: Yeah, because we like to focus on things we know what to do with.

Pam: It’s compartmentalizing. That the fancy word for it, but hey, it looks like the top of a waffle–

Bill: Uh-hm.

Jim: Now we–

Pam: –like compartments.

Jim: –someone might be listening and thinking, “That’s not me. We’re the opposite.” Does that happen? Does it always fit this way?

Bill: Well, I mean, you know, we’re oversimplifying the issue.

Pam: But it does go back to estrogen and testosterone and we’re hard wired by God. It’s Genesis 1. God made us male and female.

Bill: Right.

Pam: So, some of the differences are hard wired in because of our biology.

Bill: And the reason why people say what you just brought up is that it’s affected by everything. So, it’s affected by our spiritual maturity, the homes we grow up in, our communication skill.

Pam: Our personality and motivation.

Bill: Right, the experience we’ve had in our education and career, it’s affected by everything. But University of California Irvine just recently put out a report that said, men have exponentially more grey matter in their brain than women do. And women have exponentially more white matter in their brain than men do. And they describe the grey matter as little places of computation and white matter’s where all the connections in the brain are.

Jim: Uh-huh.

Bill: So, women have more connections in their brain and men have more places to do computation. So, it’s a physical difference that affects the way we process information. But like everything else in life, it’s affected by our growth. It’s affected by our maturity. It’s affected by our life experience.

Pam: We like to think of it as how a computer works. There’s the hardware on the computer and then, you add the software. And the software’s where the differences and the nuances like we’re a little bit different than that come in.

Jim: With the box analogy for the male brain, why is it that women find some of that particularly difficult, some of those boxes particularly difficult?

Bill: Well, I think it’s because of a general misconception we all go into marriage with. And I’ll just state it personally for me. When I married Pam, really what I was hoping for was somebody who looked like a woman, but processed life like a man.

John: How common is that, though?

Jim: Pretty common.

Bill: Well, I see it everywhere. And it isn’t that we deliberately thought that going in, it’s just kind of the expectation we carried in. And I see with women, they struggle with, I want a rugged man who interacts with me like my girlfriends. And so, we have this misconception going in that we didn’t even know we had, but suddenly, you get in the mix of life and you start to realize it.

Jim: You gotta unpack that one a bit–a rugged man who interacts with me like my girlfriends.

Pam: Yeah, sensitive and caring and all those wonderful traits that we love, but we also want him to be able to slay a dragon and you know, we love it when all those things come together perfectly, but you know, I’m the mom of three boys and with slaying dragons comes a whole bunch of dirty white gym socks and that’s the part that we didn’t anticipate, you know.

Jim: When we go into marriage, especially early newlyweds, they do have that expectation, don’t they? They haven’t learned yet that the brain chemistry is different.

Pam: Uh-hm.

Jim: And many couples, 25 years married, haven’t figured this out. And that’s why today’s program is so important. But what would you say for that new couple, that they’re tryin’ to understand that. Yeah, my husband, my new husband doesn’t listen to me. (Laughter) What do you say?

Bill: Well, I’ll tell you what I wish somebody had told me the first year of marriage. I wish somebody had told me, “Bill, learn to take turns.” ‘Cause I went into marriage thinking, we’re gonna develop this communication rhythm between the two of us and we’re just gonna get in sync with each other and most of our conversations are just gonna be awesome for the two of us. And then we’re gonna make decisions together. We’re gonna be in sync on our decisions. And I was lookin’ for kinda this perfect unity and–

John: On your terms? (Laughter)

Bill: –well, I just thought it was a general principle of the universe, John (Laughter), you know, that it could be found and it could be lived out. And my relationship with Pam revolutionized when I realized, you know what we really need to do is take turns. But there are conversations in our home that are awesome for Pam, not so awesome for me. But there’s other conversations in our home that are really good for me, not so awesome for Pam. But when we learned to take turns and give each other freedom to do that, both of our needs get met over time.

Jim: Did you find that one of you tend to complete the other’s sentences more than the other? (Chuckling) Was that ever a problem for you?

Pam: I definitely complete sentences more often. (Laughter) Yeah, Bill will start and I’ll just like take off on it and add a paragraph or two. I think for me, the thing that helped probably save our marriage was knowing that there’s some boxes on every man’s waffle that don’t really have words. Some of ’em have phrases or sounds, like “Uur!” “Hooah!” You know, we were drivin’ our boys.

Bill: He just went, “Aah!” And I went, “What’s up?” He goes, “Nothin’. I just wanted to say that.” (Laughter)

Pam: All righty then! (Laughter) But for me, it was really realizing that some of the boxes on every man’s waffle are absolutely positively blank. There are no thoughts. There are words. There’s like nothin’ goin’ on in those boxes. And guys go to those boxes to rest and recharge

Bill: And yet, for us guys, we’ve been doin’ that since we were little boys. So, like we don’t see anything strange about it. We don’t think there’s anything unusual about it. And then we get married and our wives start pointing this out to us and acting like something’s wrong or something’s broken.

And I remember sitting in my office a lot with couples, trying to explain to women that her husband has this blank box and there are times when he’s thinking nothing.

Pam: And she’s like, No! There’s no way! You have to be thinking somethin’.”

Bill: And it’s a hard thing for them to accept, because they don’t experience it.

John: They think there’s some sort of rejection or something else going on behind the scenes. I mean, if he really loved me, he’d be talking right now.

Pam: Uh-hm.

John: Right, is that common?

Pam: Or what’s he thinkin’ about? I mean, he doesn’t want to share; what’s goin’ on? There’s like this–

Jim: He’s hiding something.

Pam: –yeah, uh-hm.

John: Our guests today on “Focus on the Family,” hosted by Jim Daly are Bill and Pam Farrel and we’re talking about their book, Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti and this is pretty interesting stuff, Jim. I mean, I–

Jim: It is, John.

John: –I’m really enjoying the humor that you all bring to what could be a pretty tense (Laughter) kind of a realization in a couple’s lives.

Jim: Hey, Pam, we were just talking about it, but talk about this box jumping concept and how we do that.

Pam: And you know, one of the things that’s like so important I think, for a woman to realize is, that guys have to move from box to box to box. We’re like spaghetti. How our mind works, it looks more like a plate of spaghetti. Social scientists call it “integration.” If you follow one noodle around a plate of spaghetti, it looks like it touches pretty much every other noodle on the plate. And that’s the way we women are wired. We travel through life making emotional connections to the people and things that matter most to us.

And because of that, we’re really like awesome at multitasking. I mean, we can be on the phone with our girlfriend; we’re listenin’ to “Focus on the Family.” We’re like, “Honey, tune in; it’ll really help you.” At the same time, we’re writing our Christmas card list and our grocery list and our to-do list for our husband and our eight kids, as we’re tellin’ the kids in sign language to “Quit fighting! Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” Got a load in the washer, a load in the dryer, we’re cooking dinner. We open and shut the over door with our foot. I mean, we are amazing multitaskers.

John: Wow!

Pam: That’s how–

Jim: That’s pretty good.

Pam: –we are wired. (Laughter) And so, in conversation, that’s the way we approach life, as well, which is very different than the way guys approach conversation.

One of the things that helped me with Bill is to realize that he has to move from box to box. He’s not like a plate of spaghetti that can just jump, jump, jump, jump, jump. And so, when I want to talk to him, I say something like, “Okay, I just need to noodle around. Are you ready for me to download my files?” So, then he can get in his “listening” box and that’s all he does then. But it was really important for me to realize that, because sometimes I would like pour out my heart and he’s watchin’ football. You know what? He didn’t remember a lot of that conversation, you know? Or he’s in front of the–

Bill: Yeah, that–

Pam: –computer.

Bill: –that response, “What was that, Hon?” (Laughter) Doesn’t really endear her heart to me! (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah! (Laughter)

Pam: Yeah. Or he’s in front–

Jim: “You don’t love me.”

Pam: –exactly (Laughter) or he’s in front of the computer, workin’ on his sermon or workin’ on some problem and I’ll be sharing some, you know, calendar thing with the kids. And then an hour later, I’ll be talking again and he’s like, “Well, you didn’t tell me that.” “Yeah, I did. Don’t you remember?” No, because he was in a different box. And so, when we women realize that guys have different boxes, we can simply push “pause” and say, “Honey, when you’re ready to move boxes, I’d love to talk to you (Laughter) about something.” And that will save a whole lot of trauma and drama at your house.

Jim: Yeah, we’re laughing about this, but it really, this is one of the core sources of conflict in marriage–

Bill: Absolutely.

Jim: –communication. And it takes, unfortunately, it takes a long time sometimes–

Bill: And–.

Jim: –for couples to figure this out.

Bill: –let me make an appeal to men who may be listening. You know, we tend to view conversation as, there’s a topic on the table. We’re lookin’ for an answer. And as soon as we get the answer, everybody’s gonna be good.

Jim: Right.

Bill: Well, most females don’t work that way, because their life’s always going. They’re always thinking about the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and it’s all connected together. And when you have your whole life in front of you all the time, you can’t solve it all. And so, it creates this need in them to be valued and cherished and to say, “You know what? I’m fascinated with you. I don’t necessarily understand you all the time, but I’m fascinated with you.” And when we give that message, our wives kinda settle into the relationship and they find a sense of security and like, “I can do this with you.”

And as men, we tend to not like them having that need. We just want ’em to get to the point. We want them to [be like], “You know, can’t you just figure it out? Can’t we just make a decision? Why do you have to keep talking about this? And “Didn’t we talk about it yesterday? Why are you bringing it up again today?” And we interrupt that whole need in their lives.

And as men, if we can say, you know, our job is to stay fascinated with our wives and to stay curious about our wives and to solve issues when they say, “This needs to solved.”

Jim: Well, let’s talk about conflict, because I think, if we can today give a tool in the hands of couples that are struggling, resolving conflict would be certainly one of the best things we could do. How do we do that? How do we give them something to help them in their conflict?

Pam: Well, one of the things to keep in mind is, because we women are like spaghetti, that means when something is on our heart, we really do need to download those files. We need to be able to travel through and talk through and talk through and talk through and talk through whatever that issue is. And sometimes that can get a little laborious for the husband to feel like, “I have to listen to this again?” But it really will do him a favor if he does allow her to just travel through and share all of her emotions, especially if it’s like all at once and she can just dump. And that will help her not be so emotionally volatile, because it calms her down.

Bill: Well, like in a simple way, you know, when a wife comes home and says, “Honey, you know, how’s your truck going? I thought about your truck today, ’cause well, I drove by your favorite truck store, ’cause I was on my way to get an outfit, ’cause there was a sale goin’ on down the street. And you said we had a little bit of extra money and I found this outfit that I knew was gonna look really good on me, because well. ’cause it was my color. ‘Cause last year, I learned all the colors that look good on you, what colors don’t look good on you. And this was in my palette and so, I knew I was gonna look really good in it. I was gonna surprise you with it, because I love when you go, ‘Oh, Baby, you look really good in that.’ And so and you know, to help you, it reminded me of the color Mrs. Obama was wearing, you know, a couple years ago. Remember when she went from the inaugural ball to inaugural ball and she changed in between each of ’em. I think it was the second one. She was wearing kind of that yellow dress and (Laughter) it was kind of that color and–“

Jim: I’m gettin’ tired. (Laughter)

Bill: –yeah. See and (Laughter) they get rolling on this and as guy’s, our eyes glaze over and we start to feel like we can’t succeed at this and so, we bail out of the conversation or they get upset and they say, “Can’t you shorten this? I mean, where are you goin’ with this?” And they’re always drivin’ their wife to the point.

Pam: But if they woulda hung in there just a couple more sentences, she woulda said something like, “Oh, that yellow dress was, you know, really a pretty color on the President’s wife, because it was kinda like that color of yellow. Oh, you know, that the Olympians were wearing, you know, from that German team that had the yellow stripe down it? And wow, that was really sad when those Olympians were like racing, but she fell at the very end. And it was just so sad. It was like our friends. Some of them, their marriages are just falling. And I think we should just stop and pray for our friends right now, Honey.” And while we’re praying, he’s asking, “So, what about my truck? Didn’t this start with talkin’ about my truck?” (Laughter)

Jim: Box one.

Bill: Yeah, box one.

Pam: So, he’s been frantically trying to keep up with us. But the good news is, she was just two sentences done and now she feels like, “Wow, he really listened to me. He cares. He cares about our friends. He cares about our life. He’s praying.” I mean, he’s winning big bonus point[s].”

John: This is so not normal for a lot of guys.

Bill: Can you change that, John? A lot of guys? (Laughter) Ninety percent of guys? This is not normal.

John: I’m thinking about a conversation I had with Dena not terribly different than that (Laughter) just a few weeks ago.

Jim: Okay. (Laughter)

John: She called me while I was in my work box.

Pam: Oh, yeah, that’s always a challenge.

John: And I mean, we’ve tried to learn that, that’s not a good thing.

Bill: Right.

Pam: Uh-hm.

John: And she started going on and I said, “What’s the point?” (Laughter)

Pam: Oh, you made points with that one! (Laughing)

John: She rightly said, “Well, I’m sorry to have wasted so much of your valuable time.” (Laughter) And we had some unpackin’ to do there, because (Laughter)–

Jim: True confession, John. (Laughter)

John: –well, you know, the conflict–

Pam: That was honest.

John: –came because I was in a box–

Pam: Uh-hm.

John: –and it wasn’t a listen box.

Jim: Right.

John: It was a “here at work” box. I’m solvin’ problems; I’m moving on. Got lots to do. And she was communicating and I blew it. I mean, I just didn’t listen, and gauge, oh, she needs me to just pause and listen. So, I heard–

Bill: Now …

John: –you say, taking turns, Bill.

Bill: Well, can I be bold enough to say that you probably both mishandled the situation?

Pam: Right, ’cause I learned early on that, that happened to us a lot, because when I have a thought, I need to share it with the whole world. And I interrupted Bill all the time. (Laughter) And so, I learned.

John: So, you were calling to share thoughts–

Pam: Yeah.

John: –frequently there at the beginning.

Pam: And it really interrupted his process, working and all that. He was a pastor and so, I said, “Okay, what if I just call once a day? I’ll like save it all up on a half a piece of paper

John: Make notes.

Pam: –make notes.” And he’s like, “Okay, that’s good. Then I’ll just get that listening box out and once a day [listen]. And then things started to really ramp up as the kids got older. And so, actually I have a file. It’s called the “Ask Bill File.” And I collect things all week and then we have one big business meeting and really get all the stuff out. But if it’s an emotional thing and I really need to talk to him right then, I’ll say, “Okay, Hon, do you have like five minutes? It’s probably five minutes, maybe 10. It’s kind of a big deal. Can you clear your plate–

John: Hm.

Pam: –shift and listen to me?”

Bill: And notice–

Pam: And that helps.

Bill: –she gave an introduction. That’s what us guys need. If we’re gonna jump from the work box to a relationship discussion, we need an introduction, ’cause then we’ll shift. But if you catch us before the shift, we’re almost always ineffective.

Jim: You touched on a couple of helpful points there though. Again, if a couple is struggling with this, they’re not communicating well, you talked about keeping a file, maybe it’s a list.

Pam: The “Ask Bill File,” yeah. (Laughter)

Jim: But is that something that you actually practically did?

Pam: Oh, we do and we still do it to this–

Jim: You still do it?

Pam: –day, because our offices are now next to each other. And so, now I’ll just sometimes shout from my office, ‘Oh, da, da, da, da, da,” just ’cause a thought goes over my mind. Now that’s really not helpful. (Laughter)

John: And you’re checkin’ the score saying, “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” (Laughter)

Bill: Usually I’m thinking, “I just heard her voice. I was probably supposed to hear something.”

Jim: Yeah.

Pam: “And I have no idea what I’m supposed (Laughter) to remember.”

Jim: Pretty soon, you’re gonna be putting a big hole in that wall. (Laughter)

Bill: And again, the key to this whole thing, you know, because we started off about conflict. I mean, this is how a lot of conflicts start. It’s not that there was a huge issue on the table. It’s that we responded naturally, assumed our spouse was gonna react well and it didn’t happen.

Pam: And so, we take offense at that, thinking that they don’t love us. They don’t care about us. They don’t value us. When really, they were just kind of functioning in the way that we were hard wired by God.

Bill: Yeah.

Pam: And so, we have to compensate for those differences and accept those differences. That’s really what the Bible says in Romans.

Bill: Romans 15:7 says, “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God.” And in these areas of gender differences, acceptance is really the key. But I accept that Pam’s different than me and will always be different than me. And rather than try to change her so she operates more like I do, if I can learn to take turns and accept the way she does things, our relationship goes much, much better.

Jim: Well, and sometimes it’s just that intensity. I think for example, sometimes men struggle allowing a woman to finish her sentences.

Bill: Right.

Jim: I think that’s pretty common.

Bill: Oh, yeah.

Jim: Or to lead in the–

Bill: Right.

Jim: –the conversation.

Bill: Right.

Jim: What advice do you have there for the guys in that case?

Bill: Well, the first thing is, we have to see the value in letting her talk more. Because again, it doesn’t necessarily meet our need. But like, one of the things we point out in the book is that men and women relieve stress very differently. And women tend to relieve stress by talking through all the stuff involved. I mean, it’s like I like to describe it as, it’s like a great big meatball comes flying out of the sky and it lands on her plate of spaghetti and it sends noodles flying everywhere. So, she has to go collect all the noodles and get ’em back on the plate.

But now she has to integrate the meatball, because it’s become part of her life. And so, she has to figure out why is this here? Why did God bring it into our life? What does this say about me? What does it say about you? What does it say about us? And there’s all these issues attached to i

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Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti

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