Love, Affection, and Gender in Marriage
Below are several areas to consider with your fiancé/spouse within the topic of Affection, Love Languages, and Gender Differences. The subject matter and Scriptures should serve as a starting point, but it is not meant to be exhaustive.
SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION AND BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES
God designed and created two genders.
God created the male and female genders before sin entered into the world. Both males and females are created in the image of God, according to His design. (Genesis 1:27)
God intends for us to be loving.
The command to love one another is repeated throughout Scripture. Expressing love to your spouse is one way to show your love to God. (John 13:35, 1 John 4:7, Romans 12:10)
Developing our love for one another takes time and work.
As part of our growth in Christ, we have the privilege and duty to increase our love for one another. Adding charity (Christ-like, self-sacrificing love) to brotherly kindness (friendship love) is part of this process. (2 Peter 1:4-7, Colossians 3:19, Titus 2:4)
Compassion and tenderness is vital in a marriage relationship.
Being compassionate and tenderhearted is very important in relationships, particularly within the context of marriage. (Ephesians 4:32, 1 Peter 3:8)
Gender differences is an important area to learn in marriage.
Take the opportunity to learn from each other. Your spouse is the best person to teach you about gender differences. Regardless of what you may see in anyone else’s marriage, you have to learn to adjust to your spouse. (Proverbs 1:5, Proverbs 24:3)
Affection and gratitude are interrelated.
Affection often stems from a true sense of gratitude. Cultivating gratitude for your spouse will lead to more honest expressions of affection. (Colossians 3:15, Hebrews 13:15-16)
Affection can be defined as tender feelings of love that are expressed to another person. There are two parts to the definition: (1) tender feelings of love and (2) expressing those feelings to another person. Showing affection is a necessary way to honor and nurture one another and keeps love flourishing in your relationship. Marital affection needs to be regularly and deliberately maintained.
You will need to teach your spouse about what things are most meaningful to you and should not expect your spouse to “read your mind” or believe he or she should “just know.” The belief, “if he/she really loved me, he/she would just know to ______” is unfair and incorrect. Expecting your spouse to think and feel the same way as you do is also a common marriage myth. Express your thoughts, feelings, and expectations about affection clearly.
Couples should express affection daily, weekly, monthly, and/or sporadically and should avoid letting busyness lead to disregarding affection. Try discovering intentional ways to express affection to your spouse every day. For example, connecting with a kiss when leaving for work or when coming home from work, is a simple, daily expression of affection.
Giving and receiving affection varies from person to person and often depends on one’s personality, life experiences, and family background. Regardless of these factors, you need to develop the skills necessary to show affection to your spouse. Being unfamiliar with how to show affection is no excuse for not making the efforts necessary to show this form of love to your spouse. Knowing each other’s love languages can help guide you when choosing how to show affection to your spouse.
Love Languages and Affection
The five basic love languages are some ways affection can be shown. Love is a core need that everyone is born with, and as a spouse, you can help meet this need by learning, and then speaking, each other’s love language. While most people enjoy receiving love in all of the following ways, generally speaking, one or two love languages will communicate love and affection most powerfully to your spouse.
1.Words of Affirmation
Someone who has a primary love language of Words of Affirmation receives love through encouraging words and compliments. This person can resonate with Proverbs 12:25, “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” For these individuals, kind words that build up, show appreciation, and communicate loving feelings are an essential part of feeling loved. He/she needs to hear the words that affirm his/her worth and abilities in order to believe you truly love and honor him or her. Loving words expressed regularly and on an ongoing basis, will provide long-lasting positive effects in your marriage.
Examples of Words of Affirmation could include:
- Verbalizing your appreciation: “Thanks for helping me out today; it really meant a lot to me that you were there.”
- Noticing: Thanking your spouse for something routinely done but rarely recognized: “Thanks for being a great father/mother to our children” or “I really appreciate you doing the laundry.”
- NOTE: People with a primary Words of Affirmation love language may be very sensitive to how requests are phrased. Ensure your wording is sensitive to this, as you do not want compliments to seem like demands.
2. Quality Time
Jesus, amidst all the demands placed on Him, made sure He set aside sufficient quality time to spend with His disciples (Mark 6:30-31). God loves it when we spend time with Him in prayer and in our meditation on the Word. Likewise, an individual whose love language is Quality Time will feel most loved when his or her spouse spends time being with or doing an activity with him/her and giving undivided, focused attention to your spouse. People with this love language often like to spend time together, having meaningful conversations. When engaging in quality conversation, the focus should be on hearing one another’s thoughts, feelings, and desires rather than problem-solving or giving advice and should allow time for connection.
Examples of Quality Time could include:
- Finding time daily to connect with your spouse and share thoughts, concerns, and highlights of the day.
- Planning a special outing with just the two of you or doing an activity that your spouse enjoys. For example, you could prepare a picnic and take it to a local park or go for a walk together before or after work.
- Making household or yardwork tasks more meaningful by doing them together.
- NOTE: Be careful not to let work, family responsibilities, and even church activities (e.g., being on too many committees at once) lead you to neglect spending time with your spouse. Occasionally, say no to an invitation and instead spend that time with your spouse.
From the beginning of time, our heavenly Father has revealed Himself as a generous giver of good things (James 1:17). God has given us his Son (John 3:16), the beauty of Creation (Genesis 2:15), and gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4). Proverbs 17:8 tells us “a gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it.” An individual with the primary love language of Gifts sees gifts as visual symbols of thoughtfulness and expressions of love. Gifts can be purchased, found, or made and the price of the gift is usually of little regard. Gifts, whether small or large, are more appreciated when they are given as genuine tokens of love and give evidence of consideration.
Examples of Gifts could include:
- Dropping by their office with a special coffee or lunch.
- Listening to their dreams and wishes and then finding a corresponding book/picture/verse to gift them.
- Finding a picture of you two from a special date or trip and framing it.
- NOTE: Buying things for your spouse without showing interest in or spending time with him/her, etc. will seem like you are trying to buy love. Remember spouses with a Gifts love language feel loved because of the thoughtfulness the gifts reflect.
4. Acts of Service
Jesus gave us the example of being a servant. In Matthew 20:26-28, Jesus was clear that we, as His followers, are supposed to have servants’ hearts. An individual with an Acts of Service love language feels loved when their spouse displays a servant attitude by their actions. You can express love to a spouse with this love language by helping with everyday tasks/chores. This will include acts done “on the spur of the moment” as well as times when you plan to set aside time to help. Acts of Service require various degrees of time, energy, and effort; however, the key is performing them out of love and not out of a sense of entitlement. Jesus performed this kind of Acts of Service out of love and desire, not obligation (John 13:1-10).
Examples of Acts of Service could include:
- When your spouse requests a chore to be done, trying to get it done before he/she has to repeat the request.
- Getting up a little earlier than normal to do one of your spouse’s duties he/she normally does in the morning. For example, if your spouse usually makes the coffee in the morning, take on that job occasionally and then prepare him/her a cup just the way they like it.
- Washing your spouse’s car or filling it up with gas.
- Taking the initiative to clean up a room in the house or do some yardwork.
5. Physical Touch
Jesus understood the power of touch and He took the time to hold young children. Jesus “put his hands upon them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). Even though He had the power to heal without physically touching, He took that extra step with many of the people that He healed (Matthew 8:3, 15; 9:29). Nearly everyone appreciates an appropriate hug, kiss, or other loving touch. Learning which touches speak the most love to your Physical Touch spouse is vital.
Examples of Physical Touch could include:
- Making touch a part of your daily routine, hugging or kissing when leaving for the day or coming back together.
- Learning how to give back rubs or massages in a way your spouse enjoys.
- Putting your arm around your spouse when sitting next to him/her.
- Holding hands often: while praying, when walking side by side, when you are sitting by each other.
- NOTE: Even within a marriage relationship, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to touch. Do not confuse the Physical Touch love language with being sexual. Most physical touches are simple reminders of love that do not lead to sexual intimacy.
Learning about each other’s love language.
Remember your spouse will most likely respond best to a combination of all of the love languages even though he/she is likely to have one or two that are most important. Do not be surprised if you and your spouse have different love languages, as this is very common. Your goal should be to learn continually about your spouse’s love language(s) and to teach your spouse about your love language(s). Expressing love in marriage is part of an ongoing process. It is not a “one-time-fix” or saved only for special occasions. An attitude of, “I told him/her I loved him/her when I married him/her, he/she should just now know it” is neither Christ-like nor healthy in marriage. Making the effort to express love to your spouse in the ways that are most important to him/her is a true act of love and is honoring to Christ and your spouse.
Different by Design
Are differences good or bad?
When two people come together in marriage, they will discover they have many things in common and many differences. These similarities and differences stem from things such as temperament, gender, culture, family-of-origin, life experiences, and a host of other sources. God can use your similarities and differences to strengthen your marriage, yet Satan desires to use misunderstandings, differences, and conflict to harm your relationship. One of the best ways to prevent Satan from gaining an advantage in this area is to work to acknowledge, understand, and appreciate differences while also continually submitting yourselves to Christ. Understanding some of the ways in which men and women differ is an important aspect of respecting and appreciating your differences.
Making differences a strength.
As a married couple, you have the opportunity to appreciate one another’s differences and the variety they add to your relationship. In addition, you can learn to compromise and work together when differences try to keep you apart. Gender differences are designed by God to help provide balance in a marriage and guard against the dangers of an unbalanced life. The respective qualities of masculinity and femininity in the husband and wife allow the couple to become more Christ-like together.
Gender differences should not be taken to mean one gender is more loved by God or has more ability to hear from God (Galatians 3:26-29). Rather, by God’s design, gender differences allow husbands and wives to complement and support one another as these unique roles have been commissioned to husbands and wives to give God glory. Husbands and wives need to remember each spouse possesses inherent value as a child of God. For example, in Romans 8:17, being “heirs together of the grace of life” infers both having ability to connect with God and receive His blessings and gifts.
The discovery of gender and individual differences can be humorous, frustrating, and surprising. Try to see these differences as beneficial to the strengthening of the marriage and to the pursuit of holiness for each individual.
Insight from Ephesians 5.
Cherishing Love and Respect: In accordance with the scriptural directives to husbands and wives, women and men generally receive love in different ways. Note the specific words used in Ephesians 5 point to the need and desire for men to be reverenced [respected] and for women to be loved [cherished].
- Ephesians 5:21-22, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”
- Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
- Ephesians 5:28-29, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
- Ephesians 5:33, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
Husbands: Nourish and Cherish your Wives: The instruction to each husband to “love his wife even as himself” (Ephesians 5:33) coincides with the primary need of women to be loved. In order to feel loved, women need to perceive and feel they are secure, cared for, and cherished. Just as taking care of your body allows for a healthy and long life, nourishing and cherishing your wife allows your marriage to be healthy and long lasting. The Greek word for love in this passage is agape, which is unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Husbands consistently need to give this kind of love regardless of the circumstances. Keep in mind women can be particularly sensitive to actions that do not reveal love, such as angry silence or insensitive statements. Each husband is instructed to honor his wife, which means to treat her as a person with immense value (“giving honour unto the wife,” 1 Peter 3:7). This honor needs to be clearly communicated so when your wife interprets your words and actions, she concludes she has immense value.
Wives: Respect Your Husbands: The instruction to women to “reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33) supports the need for godly order and for men to perceive they are trusted, admired, and respected. Just as women need to feel loved, secure, and cherished, men need to feel respected. Giving him respect is both a way to show him love and point him to Christ. The power of showing respect to your husband is revealed in 1 Peter 3:1. The difference in the type of love needed is further revealed in Titus 2:4. Older women are instructed to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands.” The Greek word for love in this verse comes from phileo, which refers to a friendly kind of love. In friendship love, respect is key. Husbands need to feel their wives’ support and admiration. Men can be particularly sensitive to actions that do not reveal respect such as negative criticism. Criticism can be particularly damaging to men because it leaves them feeling inadequate and disrespected.
Husbands need to learn how to show love, and wives need to learn how to show respect in ways that are meaningful to their spouses. Communicating love and respect may look different for every couple. Considering the “love languages” is one way to ensure you are communicating clearly.
Areas where gender differences often emerge.
Following are several areas where gender differences between men and women are often present. Remember these differences may or may not be present in your marriage and may emerge more or less strongly in your relationship than in other relationships. The important thing is for you to identify how you and your spouse think, feel, and relate together and not how other married couples think, feel, or relate.
Biological Differences between Men and Women: Some gender differences can be explained with a look at brain structure. The left side of the brain is logical, concrete, and rational while the right side of the brain is more intuitive, emotional, and artistic. Women tend to have more connections between the two sides of the brain and as a result, women more consistently use both sides of the brain while men tend to use one side at a time. This characteristic can help explain some of the differences between the genders in areas of achievement orientation, emotional expression, and communication.
Communication: Women have a tendency to express and verbalize more than men. When communicating, they will ask questions more readily than men. Women more often want to know the emotional, relational, spiritual, and logical aspects of an issue. They are also generally more perceptive and have an innate ability to read people because they are able to assimilate more information and process it together. Men seek concrete facts. Talking is the source for the solution of many predicaments in a woman’s life, whereas, for many men, going away by themselves and thinking is a more direct way to a solution.
Emotions: Men and women often deal with emotions differently. Many women thrive on expressing and receiving emotionally rich information, yet some men can be easily overwhelmed by strong expressions of emotion and may perceive their wives as being “moody.” Often, men need to think about feelings before sharing them. When feelings arise, a man may have a tendency to act and to try to do something about it rather than talk. Neither way of approaching emotional issues is wrong as long as they are not characterized by rigidity or excessiveness. Each spouse should strive to be respectful and accommodating of the other. When a wife’s moodiness is due to things outside of her control (e.g., hormonal shifts during her menstrual cycle or during pregnancy), husbands should try to be supportive and, at the same time, try to not take it personally.
Connection vs. Compartmentalization: Most women have the ability to multi-task and tune into many things going on at one time. They tend to be aware of the relational dynamics of a situation that men sometimes miss. Many of the thoughts and issues in a woman’s life connect to other thoughts and issues. When asked the question, “What are you thinking about?” most women can provide a response rich with thoughts and issues that have been running through her mind the past few minutes. Conversely, men tend to have a greater ability to focus and concentrate on any one task. They tend to be task-oriented and single-minded. Therefore, many men tend to organize life by trying to break it up into compartments, so they can focus on one task or responsibility at a time. Men are often problem solvers and like to seize, attack, and conquer the issues life brings.
Achievement Orientation: Success and achievement are strong motivators for men. Therefore, a man’s work and ability to accomplish is very important to his feeling of self-esteem. Whatever happens at work and how competent he feels strongly impacts his disposition. Conversely, for most women their sense of well-being is reflected in how they feel about their relationships. On average, women focus on tasks related to care-giving more than men. Feeling close to others and experiencing harmony in relationships is very motivating to women.
Sexual Desire and Needs: Differences in male and female sexuality are related to the various physical, psychological, and emotional differences. Men generally can become sexually aroused quickly and more consistently than women. For a woman, mood and situation play a large part in determining her ability to be aroused. Men tend to be stimulated by sight while women tend to be stimulated by emotional intimacy. The husband may need little more than the sight of his wife to become aroused, while the wife may need a combination of loving attention, the proper atmosphere, complimentary words, and the right touches. Learning about one another’s differences in the area of sexuality takes time and effort. Keep in mind this is a life-long, ongoing learning process.
Are men and women always one way or another?
The most important factor to remember is regardless of the tendencies of women and men, you need to learn about your spouse and how the two of you operate together. Some couples have “reversed roles” in the areas in which many couples find men and women differ. For example, in some marriages, the husband may be the verbal, emotional spouse, while the wife is less expressive. If you find you and your spouse have “reversed gender roles” in a few or many areas, do not be concerned. Rather, work together to find effective, Christ-like ways to work things out in your marriage.
The following section includes guidance that coincides with typical gender differences. Some points may be applicable for your marriage and others may not. Focus on the points that will be helpful for dealing with the differences between you and your husband.
- Be aware that when having a conversation, your husband may not be as interested in the details of an event or situation as you are. This does not necessarily mean he does not care about you or what happened.
- Realize your husband may not be as intuitive as you are and, therefore, may not notice subtle hints or be able to read people as well (including yourself).
- Try to respect his process of problem solving and realize it does not reflect negatively on your worth if he wants to think through a predicament by himself.
- Avoid giving too much unsolicited advice to your husband. While your intent may be to help him, he may believe you think he is incompetent. This does not mean you should not speak up and share your thoughts with him. Rather, be aware that what you intend to say and how it feels to him may be very different.
- Realize your husband may be easily overwhelmed by expressions of emotion and may want to do something to lessen the emotion. This may lead you to feel he does not care; however, the opposite is often true. Because he cares and does not know what to do, he may try to regain control of the situation by shutting down emotions. Your husband may need time and experience to become more comfortable with how you express your emotions.
• Understand your husband may like to focus on one task at a time rather than multitasking as much as you do.
• Try to understand that whatever happens at work will strongly affect your husband’s mood and feelings about himself. If something goes wrong at work, he will likely carry that burden home. Talk with him about how you can best help him refocus his mind on the things going on at home.
The following section includes guidance and instruction that coincides with the typical gender differences. Some points may be applicable for your marriage and others may not. Focus on the points that will be helpful for dealing with the differences between you and your wife.
- When your wife feels stressed, she will likely want to talk about the problem and have someone just listen. The husband needs to listen actively to her feelings before you offer solutions or advice, if any.
- After actively listening to your wife, ask her if she wants you to continue to listen or if she is requesting feedback or suggestions. Many times, men believe they have to “fix” the problem when what their wives really want is for someone to listen, understand, and acknowledge their feelings. Often, just allowing your wife to express herself fully will help the situation.
- Women are often very relationship oriented. Therefore, men can honor their wives’ strength in this area by realizing the importance of relationships in her life.
- Your wife probably has a desire to hear about and share more details about things than you are. Try to remember them and incorporate them into conversations with her.
- Demonstrate interest in the details of your wife’s life. Regularly ask questions about the things going on in her life.
- It may be difficult for some women to understand the impact work can have on you. Strive to separate work issues from home issues.
For further information, including couple questions and exercises, please see the full document.
For Further Information:
The Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Brains.
This short article provides a good overview on key differences between male and female brains. [crosswalk.com]
For Men Only, Revised and Updated Edition: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women
Authors: Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn
This 208-page book provides much helpful information to any husband and is a practical guide on how to listen to your spouse.
For Women Only, Revised and Updated Edition: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men
Author: Shaunti Feldhahn
This 224-page book deals with what women need to know about the inner lives of men.
The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
Author: Gary Chapman
This book is very helpful in teaching couples how to best communicate and express love to each other. The author describes five primary “love languages” and shows how people tend to both give and receive love in different ways.