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Around Our Town...Family

Battle of the Sexes, Part 4

05/01/2006 - Well, for now at least, this is the last article regarding gender differences. Some of you may be glad to be moving on to a new topic and away from my "soap box". On Saturday, April 8, I had the privilege of sharing some of these ideas with a group of men that had gathered at Kelly Walsh High School for a "Christian Men's Rendezvous" sponsored by Rocky Mountain Men of Integrity. It was a great experience to share with them the concepts from these articles, to hear their opinions, and receive their feedback. Although it was a small group of men that were present for my portion of the conference, they all understood and agreed that we have to be careful about using survey data to determine how men and women are "hard-wired".

In taking the focus off of the differences between men and women, I would like to present something I think is more helpful in understanding each other and building a healthy marriage. First, if we look at marriage from a somewhat "old fashioned" perspective, it is all about becoming "one" not accepting that women are emotionally fragile "shopaholics" and that men are unfeeling, unromantic clods who wouldn't bother to come home if they couldn't anticipate getting their sexual needs met! "Oneness", in a healthy sense of the word does not imply the "Jerry Maguire Syndrome" ("you complete me") or that I am emotionally dependent on you or that we no longer have distinct and unique personalities, gifts, and perspectives. No oneness really means that we learn to complement each other in a functional way that brings out the best in both of us! We understand each other's strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities and they understand ours. It takes to complete individuals to make a healthy marriage. In marital counseling sometimes we are faced with the challenge of helping a couple become "two" first so that they can become "one" in an emotionally, psychologically and spiritually healthy manner. In their book Boundaries in Marriage, Henry Cloud and John Townsend have listed basic human requirements of character that both partners must have individually in order to be complete, and that cannot be "borrowed". Each partner must have the ability to: connect emotionally, be vulnerable and share feelings, have an appropriate sense of power and assertiveness, say no, have initiative and drive, have at least a minimal amount of organization, be real but not perfect, accept imperfections and have grace and forgiveness, grieve, think for oneself and express one's opinion, learn and grow, take risks, grasp and use one's talents, be responsible through, be free rather than controlled by external factors, be sexual, be spiritual, and have an intellectual life of your own. Cloud and Townsend propose that everyone possesses these characteristics although not everyone can or chooses to express them.

To illustrate why I believe that this "oneness" approach works better than the "differences" approach. Let's look at a hypothetical couple, John and Marsha. John is in management with a very large corporation. His job is extremely stressful although he loves the challenge, performs well and is extremely successful. He was raised in a family where men do not allow emotional intimacy but are highly sexual. When John is angry, he is not explosive but rather withdraws and escapes into his work projects that he brings home, television or surfing the internet for good deals on boats, fishing gear, and computer paraphernalia. Marsha is a wonderful hostess and loves to entertain and help John in hosting his business associates. Marsha, however, is unhappy and although she appreciates that John is an excellent provider, she is devastated by loneliness and a desire to have a sense of being valued and a emotional connection between her and her husband and between the children and their father. She is very reticent to have sexual intimacy with John.

A "differences" approach to counseling this couple would look something like this: The therapist would help Marsha to understand that her husband is wired differently women need to use words, men aren't as verbal. Therefore, she should allow John his "cave time" and realize that when he does come out of his cave, she should get right to the point with anything she desires to communicate with him. He could easily get overloaded with her wordiness. John would be reminded that sex (a man's number one need) begins outside of the bedroom and that if he desires sexual intimacy with his wife he should spend some time talking to her and listening to her.

A "oneness" approach would be something like this: The therapist would help John examine his belief that sex is only a physiological experience, that vulnerability is weakness and should be avoided, and that he doesn't need intimacy (what is he afraid of?). Then , to help Marsha explore the possible insecurities she might face: low self esteem, negative attitudes toward sex, why she may have picked an emotionally unavailable man and how to be patient with him and herself as they attempt to become "two" and then "one".

I hope this couple of articles has given you food for thought and that you will take cultural definitions, social learning, family history, and a number of other factors into account as you attempt to define masculinity and femininity. In the next series of articles, I want to examine with you the dynamics of stepfamilies.

Comments or suggestions for future

topics? Mailing address:

The Healing Place,

Highland Park

Community Church

411 S. Walsh,

Casper, Wyoming 82601

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