Sexual Differences – Respect & Cherishment
When we understand our sexual differences, we are empowered to use them constructively to build great relationships.
We’ve always maintained that our differences are something to celebrate; that they allow us to more deeply appreciate the unique contribution we each make to our shared life.
We can be different, with differing abilities in various areas, without that detracting from our dignity or worthiness. Difference does not mean unequal.
To adapt an overused idiom… apples and oranges are both fruit, but apples make better pies and oranges make better energy snacks at a sports game. We wouldn’t want to be without either!
Our sexual differences are a more controversial topic to explore than fruit varieties, or even differences in human personality or skills. Yet, biological research and common experience confirm that from the earliest stages of human development, even in utero, anatomical and biochemical features for male and female are evident.
We can disregard this research, but the reality of our differences will still continue to impact us and our marriage. We’ve chosen to embrace our differences and strive to understand them better so we can build a stronger union.
One place we find unexpected wisdom on this topic, is scripture. In a letter to the Ephesians, St Paul gave detailed instructions to married couples. Among them was this gem…
“Each of you, however, should love [agapé] his wife as himself, and let every wife respect her husband.” Eph 5:33
When St Paul wrote these words 2000 years ago he was keenly aware of the differences between the sexes and so he deliberately gave husbands and wives different instructions on how to live a successful marriage. Let’s unpack them and integrate his insights with some contemporary research.
1: Respect: esteem; a feeling or attitude of admiration and deference toward somebody or something.
The Latin roots of the word ‘respect’ are ‘re’ meaning to ‘do something again’, and spect’ meaning ‘to see’. In the context of this passage, respect means ‘to see again’, to look afresh. Applying it to St Paul’s words, the call for a wife to respect her husband is a call to see her husband through God’s eyes, as a man with dignity, honour and value.
When we respect someone, we value their opinion and are open to being influenced by them.
Being respected is a deeply powerful experience for a man. In fact, many men will report that they can’t differentiate between being loved and being respected – to them, the two are the same experience. That’s not to say that women also appreciate and need respect.
Practical expressions of respect may include seeking his opinion when making decisions, avoiding the assumption of negative judgements about his motives when something goes wrong, trusting his judgement and experience, and refraining from criticism or put-downs.
2: Cherish: to feel or show great care for somebody; to value highly; to retain a memory of.
The original text of St Paul’s letter uses the word ‘agapé’ for love. This Greek word described the kind of love that was completely other-centred and in service to the other. Our modern English word ‘cherish’ sums it up well. When we cherish someone we value them greatly, they are precious to us, so we care for them tenderly, and we think about them often.
Cherishment is a powerful expression of love for a woman, generally more so than it is for a man.
Practical expressions of cherishment include: providing for a wife materially, caring for her physically, protecting her from harm, doing things to help her and making gestures to show that her husband has been thinking about her. A husband can communicate how much he cherishes his wife by affirming her beauty, listening to her and letting her get close to him emotionally.
Viva La Difference!
Like many of our sexual differences, these traits are not exclusive. Women like to be respected and men also like to be cherished. The differences occur in the relative importance of these two modes of expressing love. Just as we have two hands, but only one hand (either our right or our left) is the preferred or dominant one, likewise with our experience of love.
Most men predominantly experience love in the context of respect and secondarily in the context of being cherished. For most women the reverse is true: she experiences love more powerfully in the form of cherishment, rather than respect.
These differences become even more striking in the inverse, or the lack of love. In a social study, researchers asked subjects to identify what was worse: to be inadequate and disrespected, or, to be alone and unloved. Around three quarters of men said it was worse to be inadequate and disrespected, while the majority of women said it was worse to be alone and unloved.
In other words, a wife’s disrespect is crushing to a husband’s spirit. It dis-incentivises him in the marriage, making it harder for him to love and cherish his wife. Conversely, the absence of cherishment is soul destroying to a wife and frequently leads her to bitterness and disrespect.
That’s not a place any couple wants to be. It’s a downward spiral that leads to marital decay.
It takes more than simply tolerating our differences to avoid this negative cycle; we need to celebrate the differences. Honouring and delighting in our masculine and feminine traits is a pathway to marital joy.
Questions for Reflection:
- What do you see as the most significant differences between men and women?
- How do you experience love? How is it different to how your spouse experiences it?
Posts in this Series
Nature of Love: here
Sexual Differences: here – this post
Loving Smart: here
SmartLoving Keys: here
Discover Your Unique Love Profile: here
Have you got a Smart Relationship: here