Two Halves of a Complementary Whole

Professor Mary L. Heins, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI


What our God-given gender differences are and how understanding them can help you communicate better with the opposite sex.

We don’t have to read very far into Genesis before we learn that God created two different genders as part of creation. Genesis 1:27 clearly indicates “male and female he created them.”

In the second chapter of Genesis we learn that God gave these creatures very different assignments — assignments that he by creation knew they were suited for.

Adam’s assignment? “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

Eve’s assignment? “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

God gave each a different focus, a different orientation. Adam was put in charge of the garden — a task to be accomplished. Eve was given the assignment of nurturing and caring for another person.

From the beginning of creation God designed men and women to complete each other, that together we might accomplish his plan for us and all people.

Why is it then that men and women today seem to spend more time competing with each other than in emphasizing the “completeness” that God created? “Just like a woman!” “He just doesn’t get it!” Gender-bashing jokes and comments abound as we live and work together.

Instead of promoting gender war, God’s children will want to encourage gender peace and a greater understanding and appreciation of the other gender — be it a spouse, a child, or a co-worker.

Gender Differences

There are many reasons for the communication differences in men and women. Biological variances include hormones, brain functioning, and emotional processing centers in the brain. Cultural differences from the games we play as children to the advice we get from parents (“Big boys don’t cry”) (“Girls shouldn’t climb trees”) impact how we view life around us and thus how we interact with those around us.

– Emotional boundaries in women are much thinner than in men. Call it “herd mentality” or “restroom togetherness” – women are more prone to do things together, feel responsible for others’ situations, neglect their own needs for the needs of others, and are quick to feel abandoned.

Men, on the other hand, with thicker ego-boundaries, make a clear distinction where their person stops and others begin. They are less likely to become involved in others’ problems, tend not to experience others’ feelings as their own, and are very quick to feel suffocated when a spouse or someone else pressures or nags them.

– Men and women approach “talk” from different perspectives. For a woman, talk is the essence of relationships — talk is used to build rapport. Talk is a banquet to be savored, a journey to be embarked upon. Women view conversation as a collaborative effort where all should be equally involved, working toward a mutually satisfying interaction experience.

Men talk for the purpose of accomplishing tasks — to report on tasks done. The purpose of talk is to exchange information, send a message. Men view conversation as more of an individual effort rather than a give-and-take amongst participants.

One need only compare the describing of a party to understand the differences in talk between husband and wife. The wife will include minute details, people’s feelings, attire, home decoration, and menu items. The husband will report he talked shop with two colleagues.

Husbands need to provide opportunities for wives to sit and tell the whole story in every detail, while wives need to remember that “short and sweet” is appropriate at times.

– Another gender difference in male/female communication is the area of disclosure. Women see revealing personal details as important for relationship-building, because disclosure cements relationships.

Men have a much stronger sense of privacy and generally avoid disclosing personal information. They consider disclosure of personal information as risk-taking, because others might perceive them to be weak. For this reason, husbands are concerned about what their wives are sharing with their friends over lunch, and wives ought to be sensitive to their husbands’ concerns.

– “He never listens” is a common complaint of wives and women in general. We just listen differently. Women listen by nodding their heads (even if they are not agreeing), saying “um, uh-huh,” and looking the speaker in the eye. Men frequently confuse the head nodding with agreement instead of the woman’s encouragement to keep talking.

Men do not listen as “loudly” as women do. Men listen “silently” and often are looking elsewhere, which women perceive to be disinterest. Because men have a tendency to want to jump to solutions, they struggle with listening more than women do.

-It is in reacting to problems and showing support that men and women frustrate each other the most. When a wife shares a problem or concern with her husband, she is looking for someone to listen, someone to identify with her struggle, someone to empathize with her. When a husband hears his wife’s concern, he wants to solve the problem for her and tell her what to do. Men excel in giving advice — even when it’s not sought. “Honey, I can tell you’re upset, what do you see as your options?” is much better than “Honey, this is what you should do!”

Ladies, we automatically show support and pitch in whether we are asked or not. Men assume if someone needs help they will ask. For many years I carried the groceries in from the car thinking my husband surely could see what I was doing and he didn’t want to help. It never occurred to me that a simple call for help was all I needed to have those bags delivered from the trunk to the kitchen. Wives, if you want help, ask — don’t assume that he doesn’t care. Husbands, be alert to offering your help (not to be confused with advice) before your wife asks.

– Finally, male and female friendships differ. Women’s friendships define who they are. A woman’s best friend is usually another woman. Female friends and mothers and daughters need to talk regularly. (Dads, don’t complain about long-distance phone bills.) Talk is the glue that holds relationships together.

Men’s friendships define what they do. Most men will say their best friend is their wife. Men’s friendships with other men are usually described as task oriented. When men get together they “do” things — play cards, hunt, fish, go to football games. Women “do lunch” to maintain contact with female friends; men “do lunch” for business purposes.

Isn’t it wonderful that God created male and female! If we view each other as complementary pieces and seek to better understand, appreciate, and celebrate our differences, we can be a greater blessing to all those with whom we communicate.


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