July 19, 2018

The Common Difference between Single Men and Women

Gary Thomas — 

During a recent sermon, I got a few laughs of recognition when I described what I see as a huge difference between Christian women and men who are looking to get married. Of course there are many exceptions, but quite often I see this:

A Christian woman is in a serious relationship with a man when she recognizes some warning signs and red flags. Her first instinct isn’t to “run,” it’s “How can I make this relationship work?”

When I talk to Christian guys, however, it’s often comically the reverse. They are dating an attractive, healthy, personable, funny, intelligent, godly and wise woman who earns more money than they do. When I ask when they plan to pop the question, their response is often, “I can see all those qualities, but what if there’s someone even better out there?”

I don’t know if this discrepancy results from the perceived lack of available, thoughtful, and gainfully employed Christian men, but both Lisa and I have seen it far too often. We knew a couple that had us a bit concerned, wondering if the woman was making too many concessions. As gently as possible, both of us tried to point out what she was going to accept for the rest of her life (many of the things we didn’t think would ever change), but she moved forward.

My heart broke when Lisa explained to me, “Gary, if I could have convinced her that she’d find another solid, decent Christian guy to marry in the next five years, I think she would have broken off this relationship. But she doesn’t think there’s anyone better out there. She thinks it’s either make this relationship work or be single for the rest of her life.”

However it breaks down by gender (again, I’m admitting this is a stereotype with numerous exceptions), these are the two tendencies:

“How can I make this relationship work?”

and

“What if there’s someone even better out there?”

The danger of the first tendency, “How can I make this relationship work,” prior to marriage, is that it may excuse many things that shouldn’t be excused. It’s one thing to help a spouse with whom you have children confront and overcome an addiction. It’s another thing to willingly go into marriage and plan to conceive children with someone you know is going to be fighting (or worse, not fighting) an addiction for perhaps the rest of their life.

It’s one thing to figure out how to deal with more of a temper than you thought your partner had once the honeymoon is over; it’s another thing to go into a marriage fully aware that one misstep can set this person off for a fifteen minute rant. I’ve said this many times: if your significant other seems a little too angry as a boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she will seem much too angry as a husband or wife.

If your natural default position is “How can I make this relationship work?” just be aware of your tendency: are you excusing something you shouldn’t? If so, guard against it. Bring others into your relationship to gain perspective and objectivity.

Those whose tendency is to ask, “But what if there’s someone even better out there?” often have a distorted view of marriage. They tend to be a little more selfish, and they frequently fail to understand that a great marriage is about building something more than it’s about finding someone. Making a wise choice is the starting line, not the finish line. You’ve got to add intention, purpose, chosen intimacy, etc.

In fact, there are likely hundreds of people with whom you could build a God-honoring and even happy marriage if you’re willing to work at it. Some choices are certainly wiser than others, but no person is the “complete” package, in the sense that for the rest of your life you risk finding someone with a set of strengths that look very attractive in comparison to your current partner’s. Comparing a new infatuation (which launches neurological blindness) with a more mature relationship isn’t fair, though. It goes back to thinking marriage is about finding someone instead of building something together.

By the way, if your hesitancy is based on thinking you need to choose the “right one” so that you can have an “easy” marriage, just talk to some married people. No marriage is ultimately “easy.” Two sinners living in one house creates sparks: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

Instead of wondering whether there’s “someone even better,” spend your time considering whether you’re with a person of faith whom you respect, are reasonably attracted to, are compatible with in the most important areas (read The Sacred Search for what these are) and possesses the necessary relational skills to keep growing a marriage. If those qualities are present and growing, you’re well on your way to a wonderful marriage and a wonderful life. You’ve found a perfect God, so you don’t need to find a perfect mate. The key to happiness is learning to embrace a life of worshipping Jesus rather than desperately pursuing another human being.

Knowing your tendencies is helpful so that you can guard against the natural weaknesses all of us carry. It may sound contradictory to put these two against each other because they seem like opposites—one is too quick to pull the trigger, the other is frozen and can’t move their finger if their life depended on it. But notice the difference: one woman moves forward even though there are numerous red flags. One man won’t move forward even though there is much reason to do so. One can’t say “no” and one can’t say “yes.”

The first group needs to pay more attention to the red flags, and the second group needs to give more consideration to the positive qualities. An abundance of problems should cause you to pull back or at least pause, and an abundance of positive qualities shouldn’t be ignored by the off chance that somewhere out there, someone even better is just waiting to meet you. Think of all you’re missing out on by not beginning to build a life together right away.

I’d love to hear from all the singles out there if you think this stereotype holds true, or whether I’ve just gotten a skewed view of what’s happening in the world of singles these days.

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54 responses to The Common Difference between Single Men and Women

  1. I have settled twice. Both men were totally different but had addictions. The 2nd husband seemed like a good catch, but that still small voice aka Holy Spirit said NO very softly. I tried to reason it out and went ahead with the marriage. Hidden sexual addiction became quite clear. If I could go back I would say if you hear “no” then don’t do it. The Lord doesn’t owe me a reason, I owe Him my obedience! It pays to listen to the Lord!

  2. Hello, and good day Gary. Thank you for this insightful content.

    I’d like to chime in as well. I know that our God is a brilliant Architect with an ongoing plan for me beyond the life that I will experience here on Planet Earth. I do believe the opportunity to create, and maintain loving relationships will be an ongoing experience that will never, ever end. God is the creator of “Time” and it does not have to box me in when it comes to my goals and the desire of my heart. I don’t rely on a stop watch; it’s powerless.

    I’m also interacting with Jesus in a more loving, enthusiastic, playful, and adventuresome manner. I love my life and everything in it.

  3. I read this whole article like this 😱. Not to long ago I officially ended a relationship that was draining me emotionally and spiritually. There were so many red flags that I kept pushing back but I can definitely say my mindset was “Make this relationship work or you will be single forever.” I felt relief when the relationship was over but also a little hopeless if I’m being honest.
    The crazy thing is though as soon as that relationship ended I met this amazing guy who has so many other qualities that I was compromising on before. We have only been dating for 4 months and taking it slow but it has all the signs of being something really great 🙂

    Thanks Gary for this great read and I think I”ll be doing another read through Sacred Search!

  4. I appreciate you asking for input. Paul says, “If you cannot contain yourself, then marry.” I think the pursuit of a spouse robs the Christian’s joy, as he also said, “Are you loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.” He’s saying that marriage is good, but it’s not the meaning of life. He adds, “If you can keep your virgin, then you do better”, meaning, if there is no constraint and you don’t have to do it, then don’t! Be brother and sister. Rejoice in Christ together, but when sexual lust enters in and you cannot contain yourself, then marry, because it is better to marry than to burn.

    It took me years to learn these things – to be content in Christ. I’m all for marriage, but I ENJOY being single, as I’ve learned to live for the glory of God. When the time comes, I think I’ll know it, but I don’t want to do it out of convenience or because, “She’d make a great wife.”

  5. Yes! This is absolutely something I’m observing — both as an early-30s single and as a psychologist working with couples. The one gets many into trouble even years into their relationships and the other stalls many from ever seizing the opportunity to create, build, and maintain something, not perfect…but beautiful.

    Definitely sharing this — thank you for writing it, Gary. 🙂

  6. Wow…..where were you nearly 24 years ago?
    I am in the “how can I make this better” marriage right now. I had so many red flags in the very VERY beginning. But after my first husband unexpectedly walked out on our marriage a couple years prior, I decided that if I ever fell in love again & got married, I would do better than I apparently was the first time, that I would be more the woman he (new man) wanted. And I did. I ignored the red flags. The first 2 were BAD anger & Jealousy/control. Our first real date ended in us arguing for 3 solid miles while making a “circle” around my house. Then he turned back into prince charming & made excuses for that outburst. It took a bit to convince myself that if I could be a better girlfriend then what he had in the past, this wouldn’t happen again.
    HA! We had our first kid 3 years after we got together (I figured that since I got married to the first 1 only 2 yrs of dating…maybe an extra year would help…..it didn’t) It has been consistently years (up until 2016) of him lying, cheating, accusations, manipulation, blame, suicidal threats (from the beginning).
    And all through this it was “If only I could be a better wife, lover, friend, better at keeping house, better at…….” After each time I caught him in a new round of affairs (usually 3-4 at a time, mostly text/emails), he’d claim to love me, want me, didn’t want our family to be split up, but turn around & blame me.
    the 2nd or 3rd to last time (about 8 yrs ago) I had had enough & asked him for a divorce. That started a new round of suicidal comments, blaming me, doing the pity poor me, I couldn’t even get a separation out of him (I refused to leave since we had kids & livestock & pets, he could have went back to live with his mom at the very least), the closest I got was him sleeping on the couch. I told him if he wanted to kill himself “accidently” that he best make sure his life insurance policy was up to date & that it appeared to be an accident, because if he screwed his kids out of the insurance benefits he’d be fish food (& yes I was serious).
    But stupid me, I kept trying to make things work, I kept trying to get him to realize that I loved him, wanted him, needed him, that he was my heart. Oh did I mention that up about 7 years ago he was accusing me of cheating on him (despite the fact that I never went any where without our kids, without telling him where I was or with who, or my kids would say who), that I shut myself off almost completely from my family.
    His last 4 affairs ended in the fall of 2016, a week after he told me that he wanted me & wanted our marriage to work that is.
    But I was actually done with our marriage, I didn’t realize it at first. But when it sunk in & I realized he was choosing us…..I didn’t (& don’t) want to be married. All I could do was cry at the death of our marriage, because I realized that its dead, been dead for years. We’re working on 2 yrs of him supposedly being “faithful”.
    But if I could go back in time & talk to myself……I would tell myself & anyone else facing a similar relationship to what I have…….RUN!!!!!! Don’t walk, but RUN away.
    If there’s ANY red flags or any questions…..DON’T get married. 22 1/2 years of misery & a year & a 1/2 of “well……what now?”
    We bought a house earlier this year, I wanted my kids to have a home of their own before they all moved away, but from the beginning of getting this house, it was “why?” “Part of me wants this house, part of me doesn’t”. When our youngest is old enough to move out (in 6 yrs)….what do I do? Up until we bought this house, he’s slept on the couch (& belly-ached about it). Now, I sleep on the floor (its actually for my back) but in my daughter’s room (I can’t sleep with a fan on & he insists one always runs & I can’t sleep with him snoring all the time).
    If I could go back, even though it’d mean I wouldn’t have my precious baby’s, I would smack myself upside the head & help me to realize that there IS better out there. That I don’t have to make concessions, that I do have the right to be happy & its not up to a man.
    If it wasn’t for God wrapping His arms around me again (I left his side for many years), I would never have gotten the strength that I needed to get through this & draw a line in the sand & said enough is enough.
    I do, however, have to confess that over the last several years, I have become the “is there better out there” person too. At least, to an extent. I say to an extent, because the truth is….if/when we get divorced…..I’m not going to look for anyone. I’m too old (in my opinion), to try to meld 2 different personalities into 1 home. Or to train them to keep the toilet seat down or to see if I can find a partner, because at this point in my life……I’ll go back to have dogs & livestock to keep me company. They are generally quieter…..sort of :o)

    Don’t ever settle, don’t ever excuse their actions away, don’t ever take blame that’s not actually yours to take, don’t justify their moods swings, attitude or anything.