Whether Mars Or Venus, Men and Women Need To Be On The Same Planet
By: Henry Cloud, Ph.D.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the differences that men and women have in communication, and sometimes, with good results. But in my experience, singles do not suffer as much from the differences in their communication as they do from their lack of clarity in their communication. In short, they have misunderstandings that leave them with a lot of hurt, disappointment, and discouragement about relationships in general. Have you ever experienced any of the following?
- Feeling like you were “more than friends,” and then abruptly hearing that you are not?
- Feeling like you were “just friends,” and then finding out that someone feels very angry and betrayed because you are not “more than friends?”
- Wanting a relationship to work so much that you give in to things that you really don’t want to do, and then resent it later?
- Or, wanting a relationship to work so much that you give more and more of yourself only to find it not work in the end?
- Dating someone, getting somewhat serious, and then finding yourself surprised by their lack of spiritual life when it looked otherwise?
These are common experiences in the Christian single world. But do they have to be? What causes these problems? And does the Bible have anything to say? In this and the following two issues we will be looking at these questions that concern “misunderstandings between the sexes.”
Misunderstanding #1: Are We More Than Friends?
Bryn sat in my office heartbroken. She had been telling me for a few months about her new love interest, Mark. As she had described the relationship, they had begun as friends, and she thought that to be a good idea. She said that she had known too many people who had begun relationships romantically and then when the initial buzz was gone, there was not much left. She had wanted to begin on a sure foundation.
She and Mark would do things together, sometimes in a group, and sometimes alone. She was loving the friendship, and in the beginning, it was clear that they were “just friends,” in terms of anything that Mark was doing or saying.
What had begun to trouble me as her therapist was that she was talking about a relationship that was “just friends,” and defending that while all along having a secret fantasy (at least secret to him) that things would progress to being more. I did not object to her not laying all of her cards on the table at once, for that is often how dating goes. People are friends, spend time together, and then open the door for more. What troubled me was the increasing deepening of her feelings that she was experiencing and it continuing to be hidden.
Then it got further complicated. Every now and then, when spending an evening together, they would find themselves watching TV on the couch, and little by little moving from hugs, to holdings, and further along to full “make out” sessions. But, the problem was, there was no mention of a change in the status of their relationship. They were still “just friends,” yet acting at times very differently than friends act.
With each physical encounter, or each time that Bryn would do some kind of favor for Mark, her hopes and feelings would grow. Again, on the surface not a “problem.” But in the balance of things, a very real problem. The real issue was that this friendship was having very different expectations from each of them, and neither one was talking about what was going on. Mark was enjoying having someone do such nice things for him. She would come by and cook, go places at the last minute with him when he felt lonely, and lots of other “caretaking” kinds of things. And he was not about to gripe about the growing physical affection that he was receiving. But, Mark was having all of these benefits of the relationship without the responsibility of the commitment or the definition of being more than friends. There were no clear expectations of what he was supposed to be delivering. She was giving a lot, with high hopes, but he was just along for the ride.
It did not surprise me when she came in and said that Mark had a new girlfriend. He came and told her, like you would with any other friend. And to him, that was normal, because in his mind, that’s all he and Bryn were, “just friends.” She was furious and wanted him to explain the time spend together and the physical affection. He said nothing except, “I thought we were just friends and enjoying it.”
Clearly he was not an innocent victim of her expectations. Mark had acted in ways that friends do not normally act, unless they have some sort of understanding of what they were doing at any given moment. Usually friends who spend that much time together talk about it, laugh about it, or something. But at least it is understood. It is in the light and clear. In this case, as in so many others, things get dark and murkey.
The solution is the old Scriptural command to “live in the light.” As Ephesians 4:25 tells us, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” At some point, friends or people dating must define what they are looking for in the relationship. It may be that they do not know, and that is OK too, as long as they say that. It is OK to say, “I don’t know where this is going. I am open to finding out.” That is a clear message, even if it is lacking closure. The problem comes in when someone is saying one thing, and secretly holding on to another reality, or saying one thing and acting in another way. Saying friends, and acting more usually is a formula for hurt. Some points to remember:
Be honest with yourself first. Know what you want. Stop fooling yourself
If you are being “strategic,” at least take ownership for that. Maybe you want to start as friends and see what happens. But if you don’t disclose that, remember that the other person may have no idea that you are feeling or hoping for more.
Make sure that your behavior matches your level of commitment or definition of the relationship. Friends usually are not at the beck and call of another. They have mutuality to their relationship. If you are becoming “too convenient” to someone, either with favors or physically, that is not a good sign that you are in a healthy friendship.
At some point, get it all out on the table. Hold each other accountable for behavior. “If you say we are just friends, what was that kiss about?” or “If we say we are just friends, then why do you get jealous when I date someone?”
When the reality is different in any way from what is understood, talk about it.
Practice forgiveness and understanding while you are trying to figure it all out. Friendships go through a lot over the years. Give each other some slack.
Friendship is a good thing. But if you are hoping for more, be clear about it. Otherwise, you may lose a good friend.
Misunderstanding #2: “I am giving too much” and “I didn’t know you minded.”
A while back, I received the following question: I’ve got a good friend I’ve been close to for years. We went to college together, and remained close even afterward. About a year ago, he took a job in another city, and we still email and phone each other regularly. Problem is, whenever he’s coming back to town, he makes a lot of plans for us, talks about how excited he’ll be for get together, but never seems to come through. Occasionally, after he gets in town, he never shows up for our plans, or shows up three or four hours late. When we do get together, it seems like he just takes me along to help him run errands. I understand that he has other people here he wants to spend time with, and things to take care of, but how do I explain to him that his inconsiderateness is taking a toll on our friendship without stressing our friendship myself by bringing it up?
Last month we began looking at misunderstandings in single’s communication. The first misunderstanding dealt with “are we more than friends?” This month the question is, once you have decided whether you are friends or more than friends, do you like what is happening? Are you doing more than you want and feel like you are getting “used” in a relationship? Are you being pressured into doing more than you feel comfortable with in a dating relationship? Are there other ways that you feel “taken advantage of” in any context?
This problem is one that many singles have. Sometimes it falls into the category or a pushy person who is insensitive and does not really think how their behavior is affecting others. But often, it is the fault of the one who is “giving too much,” because of another miscommunication. The miscommunication is this: my heart is saying “no,” but my behavior is telling you yes.
Regina was a sweet Christian woman that I worked with in another setting many years ago. I walked into her office one day and asked how she was doing. Immediately her eyes welled up with tears, and she began crying. At first tried to hide it, but then she spilled her guts. She was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that she had to do, fearing that she would never get it all done.
Although I was not her direct supervisor, I knew what her responsibilities were and it did not seem to me that they were past her abilities. I could not understand the reason why she was cracking. So, I told her that. Then she revealed more. It was not her work that was killing her, it was the work of one of her co-workers. It seemed that this person was always asking her for little favors, “could you drop this project off for me?” or “can you finish these proofs for me and get them to the printer’s?” And being the “sweet Regina” that she was, she always said “yes.”
But while her behavior was saying yes, her heart was screaming “leave me alone.” I have heard the same stories from single women who were having sexual relationships that they did not want to have, but were not being direct with their boyfriends. I have heard it from friends who were being drawn in to being someone’s entire support system in time of need and getting burned out in the process. The contexts are different, but the issue is the same.
Are you giving more than you feel comfortable with and not telling the other person? Have you asked yourself “why?” I think there are several reasons people do this:
- Fears of facing conflict
- Fears of not being liked
- Fears of being abandoned and rejected if they do not comply with another’s wishes
- Fears of being perceived of as “selfish” by God or others if they say “no”
- A history of controlling relationships
If you can identify with any of these fears, you have to address them first. But even if you get past the fear, there is still the problem of communication. Remember, the Bible does not have any problem with your saying “no,” and having a limit on what you want to give to someone. What God does have a problem with is saying “yes,” and meaning “no.” (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12) It is that point that we have lost integrity in the relationship.
The sad thing about most of these situations is that the person on the other end “just did know.” That is what they often say: “Gosh, I never knew you felt that way. Why didn’t you tell me?” If that is there reaction, then you have finished the circle of communication and they accept your limits, like a good friend should. If they don’t accept them, and begin to get angry, you have another problem. At that point it is not a communication problem, it is a problem of freedom and control. And you probably should stop giving altogether until that issue is faced.
But, that is for another day. Until then, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Then both of you will know what the truth is in the relationship. And, painful as it is sometimes, the truth will set you free.
Misunderstanding #3: Are We Equally Yoked?
The Bible tells us that being unequally yoked with non-believers is not a wise thing to do. It basically says that the problem is a lack of having a common life. (2 Cor. 6:14-15) Most serious Christian singles that I have known take that to heart and do not let themselves get too serious with someone that does not share a common faith with them.
Every now and then, I will get a letter, or a call on the radio program, from someone with a story of misery regarding their decision to become “unequally yoked” with a non-believer. It is usually not because the person is a “bad person,” but because they do not have a common spiritual grounding. They are going in different directions in life. But for the most part, I don’t hear about that issue very often.
But, there is another issue that I do hear about from Christian singles in their dating experience, and then from Christian singles after they become “Christian marrieds.” The issue is one of having an unequal spiritual commitment as believers. And many times, this issue, like the others we have been following in the last two issues, has to do with a miscommunication in dating.
The miscommunication comes in two forms, and it is usually for the purpose of “making the relationship work.” Here are the two miscommunications:
- “I will communicate more of a spiritual life to you than is a reality so that you will like me. I know that you are serious about God, and because I am serious about you, I will act like I like Him as much as I like you.”
- “I will communicate less of a spiritual life to you than is a reality in my heart so that you will like me. I know that you are not too serious about God, and because I am serious about you, I will act like I don’t really like Him as much as I like you.”
Terry was really into her relationship with God. She had been a Christian for a long time and basically had oriented her entire life around following Him. He was the most important thing in her life of 32 years.
But Terry also had a very deep longing in her heart for a significant relationship with a man. She had dated several mature Christians and for one reason or another, nothing had developed in recent years. She was becoming somewhat despondent about her future in love and marriage, and really wanted to have children.
Then, it happened. She met Max soon after joining a new health club. And she quickly began to get infatuated. He was physically fit and attractive, aggressive in the business world, a lot of fun to hang around with, and a person of good character. He asked her out several times and she liked being with him. Slowly, they began to get closer.
Early on, when she had told him that she was a Christian, he had told her that he was too. In fact, he used to go to the same church that she did. But the more time she spent with him, she could see that pursuing God was really not a big part of where his heart was. He went to church a few times when she mentioned it, but for the most part he liked to pursue other activities on the weekend. She thought about it many times, but in her heart of hearts she knew that she was afraid that she would scare him off, and she had not felt this way about anyone for a long time. Nor had he. They were falling in love.
It was for that reason that for a while Terry did not really feel the distance growing inside herself between the part of her that loved Terry and the part of her that loved God. The energy of the infatuation and the newness of the relationship kept her from seeing what was happening inside of her.
But slowly the inevitable happened. Because of the crisis in the physical area that emerged as Max was wanting sex and she was resistant, and because she was growing more openly dissatisfied with his lack of spiritual hunger, they began to quarrel. The magic was wearing off. In the Bible’s words, they were finding that they had less in “common” than they thought.
The same thing happens in the other direction. I knew one couple who were both serious about their relationship with God. A mutual friend set them up, knowing that they would hit it off for several reasons, one of them being that they were both Christians. Diane was working in an insurance company, but only for a while, until her missionary status was cleared. She was headed for the mission field sometime in the next year. Larry was an attorney, active in his church, but in love with his career.
The story was similar to many love stories. They met, fell in love, and thought that they shared everything together. One thing that was very important to Diane was that Larry would spend so much time with he talking about God and in prayer times with her. She had found her ideal. And he was so into Diane, that he would have done anything to “land her.” He was smitten.
They fact of the matter, however, was that Larry was “doing anything to land her.” He had never prayed so much in his life. He had never spent all of his spare time in church activities. The level of involvement in spiritual things that he was experiencing with Diane was not only foreign to him, in reality he did not share them in his heart. He loved God, but they were very different in the level of commitment to Him. I did not even sense that it was a good or bad thing, just different. Much along the lines of Romans 12 that speaks of different people having different amounts of faith.
Finally, it hit him. Larry could not live in the “heavenlies” the same amount of time that Diane could. He was feeling more and more separate from her as time went on. Slowly, he was feeling separate from himself as well, as he had not been honest with her about who he was.
It is not my intent to judge either Larry or Diane. But to evaluate them, it was clear that they were on different paths spiritually. What was sad was that Larry had not been honest with her from the beginning. He had “faked it” in order to get her to like him. And although I will not go into the details here, the heartbreak in the end was devastating. It could have been avoided, I believe, if he had been more honest from the start. I think that there may have been a chance that they could have even grown together and realized that they were different mostly in style and less in love for God. Who knows. But the reality was that there was a miscommunication on the part of Larry. And in the end, both were the losers for it.
Certainly being unequally yoked with unbelievers is a problem to be avoided at all costs. Most people know that. But people are not as aware sometimes of the need to be honest with other believers about the reality of their spiritual life in a relationship. It is part of intimacy, to be known just as you are. Don’t fake it. Be real and honest. Sometimes believers at different levels of spiritual development can be a good thing! One person can show the other things that they never knew and begin a new life for them. But in the relationships where that happens, they are honest about where they are. Be real, be honest, and as Paul says in Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” If you are operating in the truth, that is where God lives. And if He wants to close a gap in two people, He desires that honesty is being expressed. In the end, you will desire that too.
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