The Impact of Gender Distinctions on Marriage

The distinction between male and female is very real and very deeply rooted in human nature. In the very first chapter of Genesis we are told that "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27; emphasis added). The implication is clear: the distinction between the sexes is not only basic to human nature, it's also uniquely reflective of the divine. In some way we cannot fully grasp, it presents us with a visible image or picture of the unseen triune Creator.

This basic truth has profound implications for the marital relationship. That's because marriage, from the biblical point of view, is all about the beauty, the glory, and the challenge of bringing the masculine and the feminine together and blending them into a whole that somehow embraces and transcends the distinctive qualities of either sex. The Scripture cited above (Genesis 1:27) suggests that this union reflects the image of the triune God as nothing else in creation can. The apostle Paul says that this is "a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:32). In other words, it's something we cannot completely explain; we can only affirm it by faith.

Husbands and wives may not be able to grasp the full significance of these profound theological truths, but they do need to learn how to live with their practical ramifications. The first step, of course, is to identify some of the key differences between males and females. We may summarize them as follows.

A man's orientation toward life tends to be outward. He is explorative in the sense that he is compelled to discover his identity and purpose out in the larger world. He places great stock in knowing that he has what it takes to accomplish the task at hand and is determined to "deliver the goods." Unlike a woman, who is content to "linger" in the moment, he wants to know what's next. Generally speaking, he's an opportunistic doer, a risk-taker, and an initiator. Because it's in his nature to make things happen, he tends to be active, aggressive, competitive, and dominant.

In contrast, a woman's perspective tends to be more inwardly directed. An innate sense of the preciousness of her own femininity enables her to be "confidently enticing" in her dealings with the opposite sex. She cares more about being than doing – in other words, she values intimacy above action – and finds the reason for her being in relationship. When forming relationships she is wisely and selectively receptive. She seeks security and prizes modesty. She is caring and nurturing by nature, desires equity and submission in relationships, and uses words primarily to communicate feelings and thoughts rather than information or ideas.

If you're married, we'd suggest that you and your spouse sit down and study the distinctions we've summarized here very carefully. Feel free to expand, edit, or customize them as you see fit – we realize that each individual is unique, that there are many different "styles" of masculinity and femininity, and that every reader can probably cite a number of additional characteristics that seem basic to his or her identity as a man or a woman. Then take some time to discuss their practical implications for your relationship. Begin by opening your hearts and minds to the idea that you are divided by some very basic sex-related distinctions – in other words, that your spouse is a creature who is similar to you but who is also different at a very basic level. If you can grasp this concept, you will have taken an important step in the direction of deeper and more genuine mutual understanding.

Once you've made this basic acknowledgment, help one another understand that these differences need not be an obstacle to a successful union. In a very real sense, they're the fuel that makes a healthy relationship work and keeps it running. Within the context of marriage you have an opportunity to talk them through, work them out, and reconcile them in creative and constructive ways. Correctly managed, this struggle – and it is a struggle at times – can supply you with the energy and power you need to build a strong family and a lasting home.

If you'd like to discuss these ideas at greater length, call our Counseling department for a free consultation.


Related Video
Identify Your Spouse's "Love Needs": Gary and Barb Rosberg urge couples to understand and celebrate differences that can enhance their marriage.

Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children Into Authentic Masculinity & Femininity

What's the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible

Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences

Love and Respect

What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women

Straight Talk to Men: Principles for Leading Your Family

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Copyright © 2015, Focus on the Family.