Today is Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate romantic love. Such love ushers many people into the most satisfying and most frustrating relationship of their lives. Isn’t it odd how the same relationship can be both.
Romantic love, I’ve often said, is how God tricks us into getting married. Romantic love is temporary. It can’t last, and it was not meant to last. It often blinds us to the most serious faults and flaws of the other person. It puts us into a position where we have to choose if we will actually love the other person. What often happens is that people, no longer experiencing romantic love (we’ve fallen out of love, they say) and faced with the reality that they have to choose whether or not to love this other flawed person decide to jump ship to find romantic love under the illusion that next time it will last. Love is hard, for many reasons, but this, not romantic love, is the essence of marriage as Tim Keller writes in the third chapter of The Meaning of Marriage.
In the sixth chapter, Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller writes about the differences between the sexes. This is one of the things that makes marriage so satisfying and so frustrating. I’m guessing they decided to have Kathy write the chapter so it would sound softer as she communicates the reality of complementarianism in the Scriptures. She distinguishes that from traditionalism. She teaches the biblical truth, but reminds us that how past generations fleshed it out is not how we have to flesh it out. She makes some good points.
But I want to focus on the reality of the differences between the sexes, the part that makes the relationship so frustrating. There are some days that CavWife and I are in synch- we’re thinking the same thoughts together as if we had some Vulcan mind meld or something. Other days it is like we are talking two different languages.
Here is the passage I want to point out:
Inside a real marriage there will be conflicts rooted in gender differences that are seismic. It is not simply that the other gender is different; it’s that his or her differences make no sense. And once we come up against this wall of incomprehensibility, the sin in our heart tends to respond by assigning moral significance to what is simply a deep temperamental difference.
There are times when you argue but you aren’t exactly sure what you are arguing about. Your spouse will remain a mystery to you, and there are crucial moments when it will drive you crazy. CavWife is often saying she’s trying to understand how I think. She never will. I don’t understand how I think sometimes. And I don’t understand how she thinks somehow.
CavWife has what she calls the principle of even wear. This is the reason for the periodic moving of the furniture, the turning of the cushions and the mattress. This often involves work for me. And I feel discombobulated in my home for a few days until I understand the new lay of the land. This happened every few months in Florida. In our new home, the living room only works in one layout so only the cushions get flipped.
But the principle of even wear does not apply to towels. Why? I don’t know. I don’t get it. So when she washes the towels, they are not replaced with the next set towels. So inevitably I’m left standing there with wet hands. Like a kid, I wipe them on my pants. We’ve tried to discuss this. We get nowhere, we hit the wall of incomprehensibility.
We are in the process of preparing for the adoption of 2 children. CavWife wants to wait to paint the room until we choose quilts. Huh? Most of you women get this. Guys, we don’t care if the quilt matches the walls. We just want to get the painting done so we can watch the game. The wall of incomprehensibility.
This is a silly example. It is not significant, though it can cause frustration on my part. The problem is that sometimes that wall is in an important place. This can create huge problems in a marriage. But the problem gets bigger if, as Kathy notes, we begin to attribute sinful motives to the other person. We’ve moved from differences of perspective into sinful attitudes. As Paul Tripp would say, this is when the internal lawyers get involved to defend us and prosecute our spouse. If we don’t back off and recognize the root of the disagreement, we may contact the flesh and blood lawyers.
If you don’t recognize that your spouse has a different perspective on things, and that it might be rooted in gender differences you will cause untold damage in your marriage. You will make all sorts of accusations that hurt the other needlessly.
What are some of the gender differences that are often misunderstood, and often corrupted. Kathy mentions the male propensity for independence. Men typically need more time apart from their spouse. They move into the world, but they come back. The woman can see this as rejection. The man, in his sin, can turn this into individualism in which the man never returns home emotionally. He remains disconnected, as if he has no need of his wife or afraid of being consumed by her seeming neediness.
Women are more interdependent, more relational in their approach to life. They nurture others and need others. This can look, to some men’s perspective as helplessness, or simply dependence.
The hope we have, in the midst of the wall of incomprehensibility, is the gospel. We discover that we are loved and accepted despite our flaws, real or imagined. We discover that as objects of his love and affection, we can offer love and affection to other unlovely, at the moment anyway, people like our spouses. The power to love them does not come from us. It ultimately comes from him who loved us and gave his life as an atoning sacrifice. The wall of hostility between the spouses can be breached just as much as the one between Jew and Gentile was. Jesus does not make us like one another. He makes us like Himself, particularly in the capacity to love people we don’t understand.