Understand the Opposite Sex!

Whether you’re single or married, here is advice for making these vital relationships work.

“Women always worry about the things that men forget; men always worry about the things women remember.” “A man falls in love through his eyes, a woman through her ears.” “Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.” “The woman’s vision is deep reaching, the man’s far reaching. With the man the world is his heart, with the woman the heart is her world.”

The differences between men and women have delighted and puzzled us throughout human history.

In ideal relationships, these differences make it so the two can work together as a team, with the strengths of one complementing the strengths of the other. Often, however, those differences create friction, sparks, even explosions.

For singles, those frustrations can be magnified as you navigate the shifting waters of dating life, and each person you encounter presents fresh challenges in how to behave without being misinterpreted or hurt. At times, the complications of opposite-sex relationships capsize what actually could have developed into a deeper friendship—even a happy marriage.

The key to resolving these frustrations requires knowing why men and women are different. There is a reason—one that many people reject. Once it is understood, however, it brings tremendous clarity to the matter.

The truth is that the Creator God designed men and women to be different!

Not only that, He has given us some ground rules for how to make our relationships with those of the opposite sex work. He knows exactly what makes men and women tick. In His Word He gives us insight into how to avoid the pitfalls that can sink a friendship or a marriage—and also, how to satisfy the needs of those of the opposite sex.

A Problem That Affects Us All

We are all naturally selfish. And selfishness is the number-one obstacle to having meaningful relationships—especially with people of the opposite sex. It is a common trap to look at those relationships—whether friend or spouse—primarily in terms of what we get from them, and when the other person doesn’t fulfill our needs and expectations, we can get very impatient. All those beautiful, God-designed differences become sources of irritation and frustration.

Here is some great advice on correcting this problem: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, Revised Standard Version).

Why do you suppose Paul wrote this to the church in Philippi? Because there was a lot of selfishness and conceit—a lot of people looking after only their own interests—esteeming themselves first! We’re all prone to do that.

How easy is it to have a fundamentally selfish approach toward the opposite sex? Within marriage, to think mostly of how the other person should be serving you? As a single, to look at other singles in terms of who can best fulfill your needs?

How to Kill a Friendship

Here are some ways our selfishness can manifest itself. See if you spot yourself in any of these descriptions.

You can be so preoccupied with your own interests or problems that you are oblivious to other people’s needs, desires and feelings. Or you can be so absorbed in your own insecurities and doubts—so aware of your own imperfections and deficiencies—that you stay cloistered up and don’t really give of yourself to others.

You can try too hard to project a certain image in order to impress others, and not be sincere and genuine. Or you can fail to open yourself up to others because you don’t want to be vulnerable to getting hurt, so you never really draw close to anyone.

As a single, you can consistently shut people of the opposite sex down because you interpret any sign of friendliness as proof positive that they want to marry you. Or you can deliberately lead someone on because you like the attention, even though you have no intention of ever pursuing a closer relationship with that person.

You can have overly sensitive feelings, and pull away or get pouty whenever your feelings are bruised. You can hold on to past grievances, even for years, and tend to give a person the cold shoulder in order to punish them.

You can be very picky and negative about what you perceive as another person’s faults. You can have unrealistic expectations of how that person should treat you and end up constantly disappointed.

You can have a firm idea of how an ideal person of the opposite sex should act, and harshly judge someone who fails to live up to that standard. You can so cling to a personal idea of what kind of mate would be best suited for you—maybe a certain physical ideal or personality trait—that you prematurely judge and reject someone, limiting a friendship.

These manifestations of selfishness are friendship killers and marriage wreckers. The tricky thing is, in many of those cases, we can feel justified in holding on to our selfishness.

But here is the beautiful truth: If you want to overcome your own selfishness, building quality friendships with those of the opposite sex is a fantastic way to do it!

The selfishness that hurts those relationships can be knocked down to size if you step out and put a priority on building good, close friendships—if you commit to conquering those barriers created by selfishness whenever they crop up.

Loving and Being Loved

The biblical instruction regarding the marriage state is not only extremely deep, it is also very practical in how to relate to the other sex—even for singles.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Look at this from a woman’s point of view. God equipped women mentally, physically, emotionally and temperamentally to appreciate a man who demonstrates sacrificial concern for her. She wants a man who keeps her on his mind and watches out for her as she makes her way in the world.

Men: A woman loves it when you make her feel special and treat her with respect. Look for ways to express honor for her. Show her that you notice her and are concerned about her feelings. Uphold her dignity. Even as a single man, get in the habit of treating single women with respect—noticing them—giving them the loving concern they need.

God also made men mentally, physically, emotionally and temperamentally to feel fulfilled in providing this love to a woman. He made us to want to protect her, provide for her, look out for her. A man feels deep satisfaction when he sees the look of appreciation in a woman’s eyes for some kindness he has shown her.

Women: Realize that men are flattered when you call on them for help. We like to be the hero. So call! Don’t abuse the poor guy; don’t expect him to up-end his life because you happen to need some help. But don’t be too bashful about asking him if you need an escort, or help in fixing something or moving heavy objects, or you just need a shoulder to cry on. Don’t “drop hints,” being sly and coy and expecting that, if he’s a real man, he’s going to “get it.”

Women need this love—and men need to give this love. This is the way God designed us to function and thrive.

Leading and helping

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). This verse sends many people into fits of indignation. But the truth is, God made men to be the leader in the relationship. He equipped men mentally, physically, emotionally and temperamentally to fulfill that role. A man feels fulfilled when he’s being a leader, taking charge and making things happen.

At the same time, God made the woman mentally, physically, emotionally and temperamentally to appreciate it when the man takes charge and is decisive and strong.

Of course, society today is so hostile to that divinely inspired order that we may find ourselves resisting it. Some men think, I don’t really want to be the leader. Why does it always have to be me? And some women think, I’ve had some bad experiences, and I’d just as soon take charge myself. These “men” don’t really know how to lead anyway, and someone’s got to do it.

But here is the truth: This is how God designed men and women, and anytime we step outside that divine order, there will be problems. Our relationships won’t be as fulfilling. There will likely be friction. There will be hurt feelings, frustrations, anxiety and discontent. If we break this spiritual law, curses will result.

Women: You have found the way to a man’s heart when you understand true submissiveness. This doesn’t mean being his slave. It means being willing, even eager, to help him and see him succeed. Take an interest in his goals and ambitions. Realize, too, how beautiful and attractive you are when you show inner charm, refinement and culture. Western culture favors loud, boisterous women. But godly men love femininity, charm and grace. Gentleness of speech. A woman who is kind-spoken, courteous, concerned about others.

Practice these principles even in simple conversation. Men: Women do admire you when you try to lead in conversation. It’s difficult, but it’s important to learn how to do so naturally. Try to have a few subjects to fall back on in case of an awkward silence. Ask good, open-ended questions to draw her out—but don’t get too personal. Make sure there’s a give-and-take, and neither of you is dominating the conversation. And women: Make it easier for the man to communicate by showing an interest and being responsive. Realize too that men actually appreciate a difference of opinion from time to time. If you disagree, however, don’t be argumentative—be feminine in how you present your point.

Needing and Giving Respect

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). The word reverence means to venerate, to treat with deference.

Women: All men secretly crave your respect. God hardwired us to really want that veneration, deference and reverence. So in your relationships with men, if you give that to them, the relationship will go much further. It will have far less frustration and friction.

Nowhere in Scripture does it say women need to be obedient to all men—only wives to their husbands, children to their parents, servants to their masters. But if you want to improve your relations with any man, here is how: Show him respect. Show him that you value his opinions and appreciate his ideas.

If you criticize him or focus on his weaknesses, be assured that will break down the relationship. Instead, focus on the positive. Try to make him feel like royalty. The more you respect a man, the better that relationship will be.

Notice: God’s ground rules for improving these relationships are all about the way of give. A man must be willing and able to give love to a woman. A woman must be willing and able to give reverence and submission to a man.

In addition, a man must be willing and able to give godly leadership to a woman—leadership that earns her respect and that is a joy to submit to. And a woman must be willing and able to be a lovable woman, and prepare herself to recognize and encourage and to receive a man’s love.

Love Is Difficult—So Start Practicing!

The people around you should be some of the highest priorities in your life. These are the people with whom you can learn how to love!

If you’re practicing politics when you should be practicing love, then you are going to have a hard time making a marriage work.

A single person who believes everything will work out once he finds “the right one” is kidding himself. Selfishness doesn’t just vanish in a marriage—it comes roaring out in many ways. And it kills marriages just as readily as it kills friendships. It must be conquered, and the time to start conquering it is yesterday.

Whether you are single or married, overcoming these obstacles will allow your relationships to blossom. Take advantage of that opportunity! Give.