Today I find myself thinking about the differences between boys and girls, men and women, husbands and wives. This, as a way of understanding how men’s orientation toward the concept of marriage is shaped by genetics and socialization, and why this basic—ingrained?—orientation may need to evolve if the marriage is to be built on a solid foundation.
I heard a story on NPR recently that examined the differences in infant boys and infant girls. In the experiment, a Plexiglas barrier was placed between the baby and its mother, so that the baby could see mom, but could not reach or touch her. As expected, the girls, more mature at this age, figured out quickly that they were upset, and began to cry. The boys, after a while, discovered they were frustrated, and began seeking ways around and over the barrier, becoming angry when they were unable to do so.
Backs up what I used to observe when our kids would encounter adversity on the sports field: Girls get sad, boys get mad. This is not me being a chauvinist; it’s an academic study that happens to support my own bias, and which I therefore endorse.
Here’s what boys are NOT taught by their peers growing up:
Colossians 3:12 12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
For most boys, our orientation toward the world typically becomes one of competition—for the parents’ attention versus siblings, in sports, in school, for the ability to impress the girls. Not surprisingly, this, along with our genetic predisposition to action, causes many of us to approach the institution of marriage with the idea of winning. Seeking out the ideal girl or woman, crushing the competition for her affections, convincing her of the indescribable joy in store for her as your mate for life, and getting interest-free financing on the ring.
Anyone see anything in here about kindness, humility, meekness or patience?
Once we’ve landed her, and have had a few years to get adjusted to the reality of living together, this male orientation easily produces a mindset in which the relationship is seen as a zero sum game wherein fun is set against responsibility. And, typically, he sets about winning, having as much fun as he can get away with, and doing as little as possible to keep the family unit intact without incurring the absolute wrath of his spouse. Winning.
His spouse, by the way, came up learning how to nurture and communicate with those around her, probably has a predisposition to understanding our natures, for better or worse, and generally is not surprised to get the short end of the transactional straw. In Iris Krasnow’s book The Secret Lives of Wives, a number of wives share stories of how they found happiness with the smaller share. I joke with Nancy about arm-wrestling her for the last piece of her peach pie. For many couples, their marriage IS the pie. They do “arm-wrestle.” And the men “win.”
Matthew 20:26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.
One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way of my own relatively short spiritual journey is that my language of love, acts of service, is in fact one of the behaviors Jesus insists we adopt as members of the Body of Christ and, on a smaller scale, as husbands. (Talk about a lucky break.) It took me years to appreciate this, during which I feel I slacked on Nancy, notably while our children were growing up. I was out of town too much of the time, trying to pack a week’s worth of living into a two day weekend. I was very transactional. I was trying to win.
In the early 2000’s, Nancy’s career path and mine crossed. Hers was on the way up, after 13 years at home with the kids. Mine was trending downward. Eventually, I adopted the attitude that I would focus on taking care of a few more tasks of running the house than before, which included grocery shopping and most of the cooking. This was what I could contribute to the marriage while I was having career issues. This was also about the time I began my conversion, after 50 years of having been intentionally un-churched, which may or may not be a coincidence.
Mark 10:43-45 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The over-arching lesson of all of this for me: if we as men adopt a posture of service to God, our spouses, and our children, early in our marriages, it will produce more aggregate happiness, and God will smile on us for having seen the wisdom of His Son’s many lessons, quoted here in Mark’s gospel. In my case, the language of love was there, but I was unwilling of or unable to acknowledge the Holy Spirit, urging me to be a better husband. I think it must be a rare marriage, indeed, in which the husband is committed as Jesus prescribed, and the wife (and relationship) is not happy, content, and aligned with the Word of God. Gentlemen, it is so NOT about winning.
Great writing Bruce! Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight into marriage.
I always appreciate when men help explain men. Thanks for the insight, Bruce!
Bruce, well said! One of the reasons the Catholic church honors Mary is because she is a faithful and strong woman and a model for so many.