Our gendered teachings in the church can make it difficult for men to communicate directly with their wives, too.
Yesterday we looked at how common teachings in evangelical churches can make women feel like they’re in sin if they try to communicate directly with their husbands and ask for what they want or need. Today I want to turn the tables and look at what men hear that can undermine communication.
1. You must be content in all circumstances.
This first teaching, that I also mentioned yesterday, isn’t gendered, but it permeates all of our Christian culture. While it is true–contentment is something to practice–its application to marriage has been harmful. Yes, we need to be content, but this should not be used to say that we shouldn’t bring something up that is bothering us.
Being content with what we cannot change does not mean that we should fail to address what we can change.
Yet being unhappy or discontent in a relationship is often framed as a spiritual issue where you have a problem with God and a lack of faith. Again, not helpful for direct communication.
2. You’re supposed to die for her, so you can’t be selfish.
Now let’s get into the specifically gendered teaching.
Men are often told to focus on this passage:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
These are beautiful verses expressing how a husband is to care for his wife–but taken to an extreme, it can make it sound like a man is selfish and being unloving if he has any of his own needs. He’s supposed to sacrifice for her; to die for her; to give himself up for her. So what right does he have to show any discontent?
I have known very, very goodhearted men who took loving their wives to such an extreme that they didn’t confront their wives, even when their wives were in very destructive patterns with mental health, physical health, or even with relationships with the kids. The husband stood by her and loved her anyway, even as he was growing sadder and sadder, and she was hurting herself.
Loving her doesn’t mean you let her get everything she wants; loving her means you want God’s best for her. And that means that you step in when she’s heading in a bad direction!
And you can’t have an intimate marriage if you don’t share your own wants and needs, too. A marriage is about two people being vulnerable; it is not about one person disappearing so the other can get whatever they want. Often this dynamic grows out of men feeling truly selfless and wanting to follow Jesus, but it does, in the end, just make intimacy less and less attainable.
3. You’re supposed to lead her, so you need to figure things out on your own.
Okay, now let’s turn to the opposite problem: some men veer towards the “I have to give everything up for her” side of gendered teaching. Others veer towards “she has to give everything up for me because I’m in charge.” This is what is taught, for instance, in Love & Respect–that he has a need for “insight”, that his insight needs to be respected, that he is in hierarchy and authority over his wife, and so what he says goes.
Some men feel the great responsibility of this, and it weighs on their shoulders. Some men use this as an excuse to avoid doing things they don’t want to do (for instance, in Love & Respect, Emerson Eggerichs said his wife was being “disrespectful” when she asked him to stop leaving wet towels on the bed and candy wrappers on the floor, and the solution to this dilemma was that she stopped asking because he was the man.)
Whether a man is doing it out of good motives or selfish ones, the net result of feeling that he is in charge and he must lead means that he may make decisions without properly communicating with her. It means that when she tries to bring up something that is bothering her, he can choose to disregard it, because she isn’t being “respectful” or honoring his “insight”.
You may also enjoy:
- Pastors, Can You Start Preaching What You Practice? about how having a husband make the final decision is actually quite rare in practice, while common in belief. And that practice increases divorce rates by 7 times.
- Our Submission Series
- My book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage
He may feel that Johnny should not take soccer this semester, for instance, because the family schedule is too full. But instead of explaining his reasoning or asking for her input, he may simply announce it and leave it at that.
Feeling that he has to figure things out on his own, too, means that he may not share his feelings with his wife, and get her to help him work through them, because as a man he’s supposed to be able to handle all of this. To express any wants and needs to his wife means that he is not actually in charge. If he needs something from her (other than sex–the books all say he’s allowed to need sex!), especially her counsel, then he isn’t really being a man and he isn’t leading.
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4. Women aren’t capable of telling you what they want.
Guys also start out with a deficit when it comes to direct communication, because they’ve been told their whole lives that women won’t tell men what they want; men are supposed to guess. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn even writes about 3 reasons why women won’t tell you what they need–mainly, that they’re testing his love and seeing if he thinks she’s worth the effort to figure it out. (What Shaunti doesn’t mention is that in all of her advice to women she’s told women NOT to communicate directly).
If guys assume that women don’t communicate directly, then they’re more likely to discount what a woman is saying and assume that he actually knows what she’s thinking, even if she’s not saying it (or even if she’s actually saying the opposite). He’s also less likely to communicate with her, because he’s been taught that’s not how she works.
5. Real men are stoic. They don’t have feelings or needs.
Finally, I’ll leave the most important one to the end again: being masculine means that you don’t have needs or feelings. Being strong means you can’t be vulnerable.
Actually, being strong means that you’re able to be vulnerable. When a man has confidence and is strong, then he’s truly able to open up and share himself. But that’s not the image of manhood that we’ve been given.
And so men are often left either not even able to name what they’re feeling, because they’ve been taught their whole life to suppress their feelings, or feel unable to communicate their feelings, because to do so feels like weakness.
Intimacy can’t grow when men can’t express what they think or feel.
The idea that women are emotional and men are not is simply untrue. We all have emotions. That’s how God wired us! And throughout Scripture men demonstrate a wide variety of emotions. Our modern church, I think, is more interested in presenting a cultural version of manhood and womanhood than it is really looking at what the Bible says about it!
You may also enjoy:
- Our emotional maturity series
- Do Christian resources promote emotional immaturity–especially in men?
- Our podcast on men & emotions
So there you go–5 reasons why men can have trouble with direct communication because of how the church has primed him, to go along with our post on women and direct communication.
I hope that we can get beyond all this and learn to honor emotions and truth, which are both central in Scripture. I hope that we will remember that Jesus is Truth, and that a truly intimate relationship means that we have to value each other enough to let each other in. And I hope we will stop covering up our own emotions with shame.
What do you think? Have you seen these elements at play in your marriage, or in the marriages around you? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Direct Communication Series
- 5 Reasons Direct Communication is Difficult
- 6 Elements of Direct Communication
- Why Direct Communication Feels Mean--and Why It's Not
- 3 Reasons Christian Resources Tell Women Direct Communication is a Sin
- 5 Reasons Christian Teaching Discourages Men from Communicating Directly
- The Direct Communication Podcast
- The Real Solution to Nagging
- 10 Tips to Talking to Your Spouse About Your Sex Life
- 10 Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Spouse
- How to Have that Conversation You've Been Putting Off
And please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, with lots on having difficult conversations and resolving conflict!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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