When Women and Men Struggle to Communicate

Mansplaining.

I know from experience that just seeing that word caused different reactions among readers who believe it exists or doesn’t exist, who find the term accurate or insulting, who now feel understood or irritated. And while this doesn’t capture the whole picture, the line of who reacted how can be drawn between female and male.

If you’re a woman, you’re far more likely to agree “mansplaining” happens, to say you’ve experienced it, and to object to its use. If you’re a man, you’re far more likely to disagree that it happens, to say you haven’t seen or done it, and to object to the use of that word.

But what if I told you that women tend toward a communication style that really irritates men? Have you ever heard a husband say, “I wish she’d just get to the point”?

Well, he’s got a point.

Women are more likely to meander in conversation, sharing personal stories, including details, and checking for understanding as they speak. We often do this because it’s not the point that matters as much as the connection we feel from interacting with the person we’re talking to.

But that’s not how many men approach communication. So it’s understandably annoying for him when figuring out the takeaway feels like an impossible game of Where’s Waldo?

Yes, we’re different.

I’m not highlighting “mansplaining” and “womeandering”—yes, I made that up, and it should totally become a word—to get us upset about the opposite gender’s real or perceived communication flaws. Rather, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how men and women discuss sensitive topics.

From blog comment threads to Facebook post replies to my own interactions with my husband, I’m reminded how much our distinct perspectives play into conversational conflict.

Men tend to be more to the point, even gruff at times, to offer direct advice, and to feel disrespected when their feelings or points are not acknowledged. Meanwhile, women tend to tell stories as a way to convey that someone isn’t alone, to offer more detailed advice, and to feel personally hurt when their feelings or points are not acknowledged.

What’s your communication style?

Does this describe all men and women? Of course not. As I often say, stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re not all-encompassing. The gender continuum really looks more like this:

So you may identify strongly with what I said above (the ends), more in the middle, or in that overlapping part where you’re more like the other gender. Okay, fine. And just to be clear—not identifying with something labeled as men/women doesn’t make you any less masculine or feminine. God just made a variety of us. Still, it’s helpful to understand some generalities to communicate well with the opposite gender on social media and in face-to-face conversation.

And be sure not to take the stereotype for granted with your own spouse. Rather, ask your beloved which, if any, of the following common gender differences apply to them.

MENWOMEN
Converse for informationConverse for connection
Wants to get to the pointWants to share how she gets to the point
Talks more easily shoulder-to-shoulderTalks more easily with eye contact
Responds by offering solutionsResponds by offering sympathy/empathy
Display less tone variation and gesturesDisplay more tone variation and gestures
Views strong challenges as disrespectfulViews strong challenges as insensitive

How does this apply to real life?

If you went back and read blog posts I wrote specifically to women and others specifically to men, you’d see a difference in how I communicate. I also change my approach in the comments section depending on who I’m dealing with, which includes what I can glean about their background and personality as well as their gender. Because men and women tend to respond differently to different approaches.

But too often, we forget this in regular conversation—here on my blog and in my Facebook group, but most especially in our marriages.

Indeed, I was flummoxed this past weekend when I said something I thought was helping my husband and he felt challenged and disrespected. I didn’t intend that, but looking back, I can see how it came across to him that way. The gap in perception was mostly about gender communication differences.

What’s the solution? Well, we each need to give a little. But the burden to adapt seems to lie more with the speaker. That’s what you see over and over and over in Scripture: commands and advice about how we speak to one another. Here’s a sampling:

  • Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
  • Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
  • Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:19). 

We won’t get it right every time. It really is hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. But it’s worth trying, because by making that effort we show love and respect to others, avoid some unnecessary conflict, and experience our own personal growth as we become more other-focused and simply kinder in how we communicate.

What it all means when talking to your spouse.

Now scroll back up and look at the table on what men and women tend to do. This time, instead of seeing whether you identify with the gender you are, ask what your spouse is like and how you could change your speech to cater to their needs. What if you both did that? Wouldn’t your discussions immediately become more productive?

I’m working on this, and I hope you will too.

And if you’re looking for ways to have more productive conversations about sexual intimacy, check out my recent release, Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations about Sex for Married Couples.

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Related post: Why She Communicates the Way She Does (and It May Not Be What You Think) at Generous Husband

This Valentine’s Day, Give Extravagant Love

What makes the real difference on Valentine's Day and in your marriage? It's extravagant love, which comes first from God.

If you’d known me in high school or college, you could have heard my rant about how Valentine’s Day was a ploy used by greeting card companies, florists, and candy makers to guilt people into purchasing things they didn’t need, all to express the love they could have been expressing 364 other days of the year. I gave versions of this same rant my first several years of marriage as well.

And then I became a marriage and sex blogger.

Valentine’s Day is huuuuge in this world. So many couples celebrate this day and want fresh or practical suggestions on how to commemorate their special love. It’s a great time to speak about how to romance and honor your spouse, because people are listening.

Not to mention that sales of marriage and sex books, affiliate-linked products, and more increase this time of year. That’s just a fact. And on that note…hey, look, a great place to buy lingerie! (And they’re offering 25% off on lingerie and boxers through Valentine’s Day with the code LOVE25.)

Honoring Intimates Logo

Anyway, over the years, I’ve dug myself out of my cynicism, written many posts about Valentine’s Day, and learned to appreciate it as a holiday with origins in a lovely tale about a priest who continued to perform wedding ceremonies despite a ban by the king—because he believed in marriage. Here are those (many) past posts:

Here’s some simple advice.

But today, just a few days before Valentine’s Day, I want to offer simple advice about how to treat this holiday. Actually, it’s not even my advice. It’s ancient advice, with great wisdom. Here it is:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans, chapter 12, verse 10

That’s from the New Living Translation, and here are some other translations of that same verse:

  • Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (NIV).
  • Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor” (CSB).
  • Be devoted to each other with mutual affection. Excel at showing respect for each other” (ISV).

What is extravagant love?

People often talk about unconditional love, but I prefer the phrase extravagant love. To me that connotes going above and beyond, the same prescription here translated in words like “take delight” and “outdo” and “above yourselves” and “excel.”

On this holiday that focuses on romantic love, maybe it’s a good time to take stock and ask how we’re doing on this one with our spouse. Are we showing them extravagant love? Love that goes above and beyond what we’ve done before, what we think we’re capable or, what we believe they even deserve.

On this holiday that focuses on romantic love, maybe it's a good time to take stock and ask how we're doing on this one with our spouse. Are we showing them extravagant love? via @hotholyhumorous #Valentines #marriage Click To Tweet

But here’s the real core of the matter: You can’t do extravagant love on your own.

You can do extravagant gestures, extravagant gifts, extravagant romance. But day-in, day-out, through-all-life’s-challenges, trying to show extravagant love to your spouse in your power can wear you out.

If you want a really great Valentine’s Day, and marriage, ask yourself what it means to show genuine affection to your spouse and to take delight in honoring them. What would extravagant love look like? And then ask God to pour His love into you so that you can pour it back out to your beloved.

I don’t think I can give better advice than that. Happy Valentine’s to you all!

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Happily Book Review: Contrarian Advice for a Great Marriage

On Tuesday, we released another podcast episode on Sex Chat for Christian Wives, but this one was unusual: we hosted a male guest. Kevin A. Thompson is the lead pastor at Community Bible Church in western Arkansas, speaks at marriage and parenting conferences, and has authored two marriage books, including Friends, Lovers, and Partners.

I don’t know how I originally connected with Kevin, but I’ve read his blog for some time and interacted with him online. I’ve been impressed with his willingness to address tough topics from a biblical viewpoint. And he came at it again in his most recent book, Happily: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last.

(Note: I received a copy of this book free from the author, but I promised nothing but to read it. My decision to write this review is entirely my own.)

Kevin starts by discussing our tendency tend to believe that happy and unhappy marriages occur through luck or by getting certain rules right, like “you must find and marry The One.” However, the real way to both avoid divorce and have a happy marriage is to embrace eight contrarian commitments he outlines in the book.

These contrarian commitments are Jesus’ contrarian principles for our lives, laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, the section we call the Beatitudes.

The First Commitment

For example, the first commitment is to Happily Humble Yourselves. Easier said than done, right? And yet, think how many marriage struggles are caused or exacerbated by our lack of humility. As Kevin says, “At the heart of nearly every marriage problem is pride,” but he also points out that “most of the people we meet who lack humility are not arrogant; we are insecure.”

What if we instead had a right perspective of ourselves in comparison to God? What if we understood our value, so we didn’t fall prey to insecurity, as well as our insufficiency, so we didn’t fall prey to arrogance?

What if both of you approached your next conflict with humility? And what if you approached your marriage bed and all the issues surrounding it with true humility—neither arrogant nor insecure? Wouldn’t you listen better, make your requests in a more loving way, pursue help more quickly?

The Second Commitment

Now take the second commitment he covers: Embrace the Hurt. What?! you say. I didn’t get married to get hurt!

Well, are you breathing and in relationship with anyone on this earth? Then welcome to some hurt. In our broken world, that’s how this goes. We will disappoint one another. But that does not mean you cannot have genuine joy, because hurt can result in healing and growth.

Kevin reminds us, “Marriage reveals our flaws and exposes our greatest wounds.” It’s the iron sharpens iron principle, which I discuss at more length in my devotional book Intimacy Revealed. That friction reveals our flaws and gives us an opportunity to improve ourselves and serve others.

Of course, there’s a big difference between the regular, inherent hurt we feel when our differences rub against each another and the pain of abuse. If you’re experiencing the latter, you do not happily endure that. Kevin states that we need to distinguish which pain is a caused by a problem not to be tolerated and which is the result of our imperfection and need for growth.

For those in abusive situations, seek help. Today. Now. Stop reading this blog post and go research abuse resources in your area.

For those in the regular conflict of marriage, Happily‘s prescription is to mourn the emotional pain we feel when let down by others. Which will inevitably happen. But then seek how to grow together through the hurt.

The Commitments & the Beatitudes

As you can see, these two commitments reflect the first two Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-4:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The remaining six commitments do the same:

  • Happily Avoid Both Apathy and Aggression (“Blessed are the meek…”)
  • Happily See Marriage as Bigger than You (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”)
  • Happily Refuse Power Struggles (“Blessed are the merciful…”)
  • Happily Live in Truth (“Blessed are the pure in heart…”)
  • Happily Make Peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers …”)
  • Happily Endure Whatever May Come (“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…“)

Maybe some of those commitments surprise you, especially when paired with the word Happily.

Yet what made the difference in my own marriage when it was failing? Yes, I benefited a lot from specific resources that helped me work through issues in our relationship. My ministry is all about providing that kind of resource for couples who are struggling or simply want to improve their sexual intimacy.

But the key for me and my marriage was, through prayer and intention, living out biblical principles day to day: principles like those found in the love passage in 1 Corinthians 13, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and the Beatitudes as covered in this book. Once you shift your attitude to that of Christ, you can make real progress in your marriage.

Once you shift your attitude to that of Christ, you can make real progress in your marriage. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

And as Kevin says, those who put in the effort to have a good marriage may feel lucky, but it’s because they put in the effort that yielded the blessings. I recommend this as a book for a couples to read together and discuss, but it’s also good for one spouse to read and put into practice. Check it out here:

And be sure listen to our podcast episode with Kevin here:

Hubbies, Losing Weight Could Improve Your Sex Life

In a recent post, I tackled my concern that society as a whole and women in particular are harming male body image with unrealistic appearance expectations. Most of our husbands will never have a six-pack (unless you’re talking about the beer sitting in your fridge). Instead, we should appreciate the real men in our lives for who they are and how they look.

But here’s the flip side: I hear from wives struggling in their sex lives because their husband is seriously out-of-shape and overweight. I’m not talking about a few pounds. Rather, it’s a big health problem that negatively affects their sexual intimacy.

Once we ditch the ridiculous notions about body image, we are freer to embrace what really matters about our bodies: caring for our health. That’s simply taking care of the body God gave us. And while it applies to both women and men, I’m specifically addressing husbands today.

Once we ditch the ridiculous notions about body image, we are freer to embrace what really matters about our bodies: caring for our health. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

(For more about the wife side, check out Putting Your Body to Work to Help You Feel Beautiful, a guest post from Gaye Christmas or Feel Beautiful: Dust Off Your Exercise Shoes!)

Poor health can lead to performance issues.

Obese men have a 50% increase in erectile dysfunction compared with “normal weight” men, partly because obesity is related to medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that affect both sex drive and performance. But also because obese men have lower levels of testosterone. Additionally, wives tell me their out-of-shape husbands fatigue more easily.

And some men worry about how big their penis looks when surrounded by a lot of bulk and are thus reticent about being naked and making love.

This doesn’t mean that being obese or out-of-shape means you’ll have problems or cannot engage in sex. Don’t put your sexual intimacy on hold! You can still have a good sex life now. But trimming down and getting more fit will have a positive impact on your own health and your sexual intimacy.

Some positions are off-limits or at least hard to do.

If a man outweighs his wife by many, many pounds, some man-on-top positions are going to be difficult to accomplish, if not impossible. Look, my hubby only outweighs me by about 30 pounds, and I sometimes push him up a little and say, “You’re crushing me.” Not, not literally. But it doesn’t feel good to have a whole bunch of weight pressing down on your body.

Again, don’t wait to enjoy sex! Chris Taylor of The Forgiven Wife wrote a wonderful two-part series on plus-sized lovemaking. I highly encourage you to go read it: Enjoy a Plus-Size Sex Life, Part 1 and Part 2. Christian Friendly Sex Positions also has an entire section with Sex Positions for Plus-Size Lovers. But the reality is that more angles and positions will open up once you pursue better health.

By the way, this is not true just for overweight people! One can certainly be out-of-shape and still in the weight window your doctor recommends. Any out-of-shape spouse will notice an increase in flexibility and stamina after investing in better health and exercise.

Taking care of your body can increase your appeal.

Let me begin here: The last thing I want to do is “fat-shame” anyone or suggest that some body types are less attractive. I don’t believe that at all! But if your actions indicate a lack of care in how you value your own body, it can be harder for your spouse to value your body as they should in the marriage bed.

And now and then, I’m contacted by a wife who says that her husband has gained so much weight that he has lost the musculature typical of the male build. With his high ratio of body fat, he sweats more and thus struggles with smelling good. There aren’t many clothes that flatter him. And it’s just not the man she married.

Every time I get those messages, I encourage the wife to accept and embrace the man she married. You do not need to wait for a lot of progress in the health/weight area to begin enjoying your sex life as much as possible. Moreover, a spouse should be an advocate for their beloved against the problem of obesity, not in contention with their beloved.

But I understand those feelings—the disappointment the wife feels that she isn’t quite as attracted to her husband as she used to be or could be, if only he would make some effort to care for his body a little more. Most of these wives are not asking for the superhero body, just wanting to see more of the man they love.

Let’s wrap it up.

Of course, I am aware that one’s weight is related to hereditary factors, health conditions, medication side effects, and more. But again, I’m not talking about some extra pounds, which are no big deal, but rather life-impacting obesity.

Moreover, I encourage you not to make goals based on height/weight charts, which do not take your particular body into account. If you want a target to aim for, get a health professional to do a full workup on your body that considers your bone structure, body fat percentage, etc., and you may find your goal weight is far less daunting than what was on the standard chart.

And lest you guys think I’m calling you out unfairly, I want to say that yes, I could say almost all of this to women as well. While I hate the ideal-body expectations out there that cause women to struggle so much with embracing their beauty, I also know that taking care of yourself is an important aspect of both life and your marriage. Your health matters.

But husbands, if this post describes you, could you take a step this coming week toward better health? Could you commit to doing something, a small something even, that shows you want to do better for yourself and for your marriage?

Sources: Gain Weight, Lose Your Sex Life? – Everyday Health; Erectile Dysfunction – Cleveland Clinic for Continuing Education

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What A Colonoscopy Reminded Me About Marriage

Yesterday, I had my first colonoscopy.

If you have not had one and don’t want to hear about this screening until you absolutely must, I suggest you stop here and click away or fixate on the happy penguins I’ve provided below.

via GIPHY

For those still reading, let’s talk earnestly about colonoscopies. They stink. Not because the scope part is bad; you’re knocked out and don’t remember a thing about that part. But the preparation of clearing out your colon for this necessary screening can be brutal.

My preparation time

Now there’s a range of experience, with some reporting it’s not that bad and others describing tearful times on the toilet during which their discomfort on a scale from 1 to 10 would be 12½. My experience fell somewhere around an 8.

I was warned by wonderful friends, but the first few hours after I drank the first bottle of clears-colon-quickly juice, I was fine. A few visits to the restroom, but no big deal. I thought I’d weather this thing like a champ.

And then, it hit. Like a tornado appearing in the horizon, moving at ballistic speed, and ramming into you with all the force of “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Then comes the second bottle of solution. And I’m using the chemical definition of “solution” here, because if this is the solution-answer to anything, I don’t want to know the question.

Of course, this is all timed the night before in a way to make sure you sleep as little as possible. Maybe so that you’ll be too weak to fight back when you get to the surgical center and remember exactly where that scope is going.

Without going into further detail, let’s just say that one’s dignity is not exactly a high priority during this preparation process.

Two other couples in the waiting room

What does this all have to do with marriage? Well, the morning of the procedure, two other couples were also waiting in the lobby to be called, and both were clearly married—one much older, and another middle-aged like us.

When the elderly man was called, his wife was in the restroom, and he was very concerned about not being able to touch base with her first and leaving behind her purse and belongings. The front desk staff reassured him and took care of the wife’s stuff, and when she emerged, they immediately informed her where her husband had gone.

With the second couple, it was the wife getting the procedure, and as she was filling out paperwork, her husband simply brushed his hand over her head and hair—loving and familiar, a simple reminder he was there.

Sweet, huh?

And it’s my turn…

Once called back, I was given the first bed in a row of intake rooms separated by curtains. From that spot, I could hear the initial questions a nurse asked the people coming through for a procedure. When queried about whether the staff should talk to a spouse about how things were going, every person said yes. Meaning the marrieds had someone there, caring how things went, trusted to support and advocate for the patient.

Then there was the moment when my RN informed me that colon is “aired up” for visibility during the procedure, meaning afterwards…the air needs to come out. As in, they want it to come out. For a Southern gal raised with a certain view of manners, this is a challenge. I replied, “Great, so you call the spouse back into recovery, and then we’re supposed to fart all we can with them there?” The answer is yes.

Yet I know that even after all of that, my husband will find me attractive. Go figure.

Finally, there was the recovery time as I was waking up from general anesthesia. If you haven’t experienced this, it’s a bit like going from tipsy to buzzed to sober. (And now I just realized that I’m also assuming you’ve been intoxicated at some point in your life and let you know I have. I don’t do it anymore, but I was once young and stupid. Anyway, digression over.)

In that tipsy state, your filters are down. I found myself saying stuff with no ability to track the thought fully before it spilled out of my mouth. I mean, much worse than my usual inability. And what did I say? I got mushy and gushed to my husband about how much I love him.

Benefits of marriage that aren’t in the vows

Look, this marriage thing ain’t always easy, including the sex part about which I mostly write. I don’t pretend otherwise. It requires intention and effort to foster the kind of relationship we should have for a lifetime of love. But oh, the benefits!

  • Someone to drive you to and from your medical procedures
  • Someone to “have your back” when you’re unconscious and unable to speak for yourself
  • Someone who cares how you’re doing, including the health of your colon
  • Someone who loves you in spite having seen up-close-and-personal photographs of your colon
  • Someone who still thinks you’re sexy, even after you’ve farted while lying on a gurney in a hospital gown

The author of Ecclesiastes knew this too when he wrote:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(4:9-12)

What have you learned about the benefits of marriage in the face of health challenges or procedures?

Oh, and if you’ve had a colonoscopy, you already know this, but if you haven’t, it’s in your future. Allow me to provide one important tip: if at all possible, before your colonoscopy prep, purchase a toilet with a bidet. Just trust me on this one.

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