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Biff and Mable’s marriage started going into the tank during year two. They are in year twenty-three now. The accumulative result of their attempts at conflict resolution has left them as entrenched combatants rather than maturing lovers. It doesn’t matter what the subject is; within seconds, they are disagreeing. If the topic happens to be on the more profound things of life, they are less civil as they go for each other’s throats.
This past summer, Biff and Mable made their annual five-hour trip to the beach. Mable said it was a pleasant drive. Biff said they never exchanged a word the whole way. Biff stared ahead for five unbreakable hours while Mable kept her head slightly bowed, knitting her mom’s upcoming Christmas gift. That is the way it typically goes for Biff and Mable.
Mable readily admits that she has problems. There are several things she needs to work through. Typically, she talks to her friends at their weekly Bible study. Mable says, “My girls do not try to fix me,” at least not initially. They listen. They try to understand Mable before offering solutions—if they provide solutions at all. Mable said,
If I’ve said it once to Biff, I’ve said it a thousand times: I don’t want you to fix me; will you try to understand me?
Mable angrily said, “He does not get it.” After more probing, she added that she does want anyone to fix her. Most of the time, she merely wants to talk, hoping for understanding but not looking for answers. Mable said that she would be open to Biff’s suggestions if he would spend time talking to her rather than at her.
She is not suggesting that she wants someone to indulge in any sin—if she is sinning. Mable does not want to miss out on sound advice; her passion is to grow in Christ. It’s not one or the other, but it’s the order that matters most—”will you understand me first?” No doubt men and women are different, no matter how our culture attempts to blur those lines.
Biff is a typical guy who jumps all the links in the sequence, pulls out the “wrenches,” and gets to work on the problem. Mable feels more like a project than a person. Biff’s standard operating procedure reminds me of, well, me, which is not what Peter was suggesting (1 Peter 3:7). His appeal was for us men to understand our wives. Why? Because men and women are different.
Here is a helpful suggestion to the men species, as I mostly remind myself. Before you try to fix your wife, please spend some time getting to know her by understanding her. I know, I know, you want to “git’er done.” I understand, but she is not a project on a sheet where you can tick the box. Check, Check, Check, Done won’t work. The good Lord did not wire her that way.
It reminds me of physical intimacy. Generally speaking, it does not take men long to enjoy the benefits of physical marital relations. But the wife? Much different. With her, it’s a 24/7 experience. Who you are outside the bedroom and how you treat her in those contexts assures success or failure in the bedroom. There are other differences too. For example, you might enjoy adventure movies, but she likes chick flicks.
Our differences are not something for either gender to roll their eyes at or mock. That kind of attitude is how divorce happens, or racism exists. God is the one who made females a particular way. It was His doing, and His creative work should be marvelous in our eyes. Responding self-righteously to a wife’s differences, as though being a male is superior, is not the kind of arrogance that will bond any man to his woman or bring glory to God.
The common-sense reason Peter wants us to understand our wives is that they are different from us. Those differences go well beyond what we can observe. It’s sad to watch our culture try to engineer equal outcomes by lowering the bar so that women can achieve the same kind of behaviors as a man. They are socially engineering behaviors, which is impossible. But it’s worse: men and women are different on the inside too.
Understanding a wife has very little to do with what we can see. Those physical, knowable differences are mostly self-explanatory. Peter’s appeal to understand our wives is more about the unseen and the unknown—the things that have shaped her uniqueness. Because Mable is a unique soul, what Biff should know and needs to know about her is unique to her.
Biff’s wife, your wife, and my wife are three unique people. Each one needs specific understanding from their specific husbands so that those men can serve them uniquely. Because there is nobody like your wife, these three helpful keys will assist as you interact with her. Every wife should apply these things to how they think about their husbands too.
Two of the most important books you’ll ever read are the Bible and your spouse. Studying your wife is the implied point of what Peter was saying. It is imperative that you “get inside her mind” so that you can look at things through her eyes. Be sure that you see things the way she sees things. I’m not suggesting that you agree with her. At this juncture, it does not matter if she is right or wrong.
You’re not on a truth expedition as much as you’re on an “I want to know you” adventure. No husband will ever help his wife well if he does not understand her. Here are four helpful ways to know your spouse. Again, these thoughts apply to either spouse.
An aspect of becoming one flesh in your covenantal union is understanding each other. Any relationship is not just about fixing what is wrong with the person. While you should be helping each other in your sanctification, which means “fixing things,” you should also be enjoying each other deeply, according to how God has made both of you as individuals.
Part of our problem with not taking the time to learn from each other is laziness. But there is a deeper issue at play. Our self-esteem can be so high that we want someone to be like us; it’s a selfish way of enjoying another person like us. You’ll see this attitude in our judgments. We typically condemn those who are not like us. The implication is clear:
If you were like me, I would like you.
The blessing of companionship is not about twenty-nine points of compatibility but about being humble enough to understand and embrace a relationship’s incompatibility. Your spouse brings something special “to the table” that you do not possess. Your perceived disadvantage is your biblical advantage. The wise spouse knows this and seeks to take biblical advantage of their differences for the glory of God and the mutual benefit of each other.
God is much bigger and better than a monochromatic creator. He does not want two of you. He wants you to enjoy someone different from you. Your spouse complements you (Genesis 2:18). But you’ll have to do the grunt work necessary to learn and understand your spouse, which means you can’t expect your spouse to react to every situation as you would.
The temptation is to circumvent the future reward of unified joy by not taking the time to see things as your spouse does. We enlist our opinions, options, tactics, and strategies first. It’s the attitude of “how I would do it.” Perhaps you’re right, but if you don’t consider the other person in the relationship, you will devalue them to the point where they may resign in trying to build unity with you.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7).
Do we have this mind among ourselves—the mind of Christ? Jesus was our first missionary, who left place and person to come to another place and to become another person, which enabled Him to sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus positioned Himself to be the perfect helper for broken souls. God became flesh to not only help us but to understand us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15 ).
Having an understanding Savior and friend is the best of both worlds. I’m not suggesting you have to have a spouse, but having that kind of friend is vital to our collective sanity. The way this kind of relationship happens is to “become like” the other person because a spouse’s life experience is different.
They had different parents, siblings, friends, sufferings, educational opportunities, and a zillion other shaping influences. This mindmap talks about how two people are different and the need to know these things. If you don’t, when these two unique souls marry, they will have no understanding of each other, and the chances of them doing well will be nearly impossible.
I trust you’ve noticed that my point changed from focusing on Biff to talking about Biff and Mable because this need is critical for any spouse. Of course, what I’m telling you applies to all relationships. If you don’t take the time to discern the unique person in front of you, that relationship will always spin the slough of shallowness. There is an others-centered call to relationship building.
The way to do this is simple; you ask the other person questions about themselves. God does not put relationship building on par with learning rocket science. Most of us do not have the mental acuity to ascend those levels. Most relationship stuff is Friendship 101. The real issue is whether we will move past whatever barriers are in our way to build intentionally with others.
I recognize that others put up those barriers, but hopefully, that reaction or concern is not your first one. See Romans 12:18. Some folks won’t reciprocate, which is another point for another time. The question for you is: will you live for the other person as Christ lives for you? Perhaps you can reflect on your dating relationship when “studying the other person” was at an all-time high. I’m speaking about that kind of mindset.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).