Understanding Your Mate Is Vital in Marriage

by James Rudy Gray

Miscommunication is almost always the result of differing assumptions. It is both typical and easy to encounter a married couple that may have become so conflicted and defensive that they fail to see accurately who the other person is.
People in counseling will often believe something about their mate that is not based on who their mate is but who they are. We all have this tendency to see the world through our own viewpoint. In a marriage this form of projection can be dangerous to the relationship.
A popular complaint from estranged couples is that they are simply not compatible any longer. The truth, however, is not that they are no longer compatible but that the differences between them seem insurmountable.
Familiarity with the basic differences between men and women must be part of the process of discovery, understanding, and growth if a couple desires to move forward in their marriage. John Gray in his best-selling book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, observed that the number-one complaint men have about women is that "women always try to change us." The women's number-one complaint about men was that "men do not listen to us."
Men are usually fix-it type people who are solution-oriented. Women, on the other hand, are more relationship-oriented and really want to feel an emotional connection with their mate. Men and women also have different communication energy. Someone has estimated that a man will average about 12,000 to 14,000 words a day while a woman will average around 24,000 to 26,000. Another writer has pointed out that men average about 6 minutes per telephone conversation while women average about 20 minutes.
Dr. Willard Harley, drawing on more than 25 years of experience as a marriage counselor, identified the five most basic needs in a marriage for men and women. His book, His Needs, Her Needs, was eye opening for many. He states that the top five needs of a woman are: affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. The top five needs of a man are: sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration.
Those basic needs are very different. A typical complaint among men is that they want sex more often than their wives. This is true. Sexual fulfillment did not make the top five in Harley's list for women but it was number one for men. That observation does not imply that one is right and the other is wrong but that men and women are different.
Since God made us male and female, He also created basic differences between men and women. For example, some overseas research indicates that men may actually have about 3.5 billion more brain cells than women. Does that men are smarter? Women apparently have many more synapses (links) between the two brain hemispheres than men. Does that mean women are smarter? It simply illustrates that we are different.
Any counselor would be wise to help a couple in therapy to identify what the differences are, accept the differences as okay, and work to help them learn to appreciate the differences. By growing in a genuine appreciation of the differences between them, a married couple can build greater intimacy.
The real key to helping couples build stronger marriages is not the differences between them but how the couple handles the differences. Differences should be seen as part of the overall design of God, whereby a male and a female in marriage can actually compliment each other, rather than competing. God's ideal is that we accept each other and learn to compliment each other through our differences.
If a counselor can succeed in helping a couple learn to work hard at seeing things from their mate's perspective, many disagreements and much miscommunication can be avoided. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a couple simply list the things each really enjoys. It is often surprising when the two lists are then examined in the counseling session. This exercise can underscore the presence of differences and also the right each has to be different from the other.
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