How Men and Women Differ

[Sue] Counselor John Gray made a ton of money–and found a ton of grateful fans–in writing his best-selling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus{1}. This book explored the intrinsic differences between men and women in a way that has helped millions of people understand why relationships between the two sexes can be so frustrating!

[Ray] In this essay we’ll be examining some of the insights from this book, then looking at what the Bible says about how God wants men and women to relate to each other. It’s no surprise that since God created us to be different, He knew all about those differences thousands of years ago when He gave very specific instructions for each gender!

[Sue] The whimsical premise of Men Are From Mars is that many years ago, all men lived on Mars, and all women lived on Venus. Once they got together, they respected and enjoyed their differences–until one day when everybody woke up completely forgetting that they had once come from different planets. And ever since, men mistakenly expect women to think and communicate and react the way men do, and women expect men to think and communicate and react the way women do. These unrealistic expectations cause frustration. But when we understand the God-given differences between male and female, we have more realistic expectations of the other sex, and our frustration level drops.

[Ray] Speaking of which, we do realize that it can be very frustrating for some people when gender differences are painted in such broad strokes, since there’s such a large spectrum of what women are like and what men are like. Both men and women come in different shapes and sizes but by and large, we feel that most will identify with these characteristics.

[Sue] With that said, let’s look at some of the differences between men and women.

[Ray] Men get our sense of self from achievement. We tend to be task-oriented, and being self-reliant is very important to us. You put those two together, and you get people who hate to ask for directions or for help. I’ll wander in a store for 15 minutes trying to find something on my own because accomplishing the task of getting a certain item isn’t going to be satisfying unless I can do it on my own. For us, asking for help is an admission of failure; we see it as a weakness.

[Sue] Women get our sense of self from relationships. Where men are task-oriented, we are relational-oriented. Our connections to other people are the most important thing to us. Instead of prizing self- reliance, we tend to be inter-dependent, enjoying the connectedness to other people, especially other women. For us, both asking for help and offering it is a compliment; we’re saying, “Let me build a bridge between us. I value you, and it’ll bind us .”

[Ray] Men usually focus on a goal. We want to get to the bottom line, to the end of something.

[Sue] But women tend to enjoy the process. Not that reaching a goal isn’t important, but we like getting there too. That’s why driving vacations are so very different for men and women; the guys want to get to their destinations and beat their best time with the fewest stops, and we sort of treasure the time to talk and look and maybe stop at the outlet malls along the way!

Gender Differences, Continued

[Sue] We believe these admittedly broad-brushed differences are rooted in God-created traits. In fact, some Christian authors like Gary Smalley and Stu Weber have addressed them in their books as well.{2} Ray, why don’t you continue with the next point about men–something that’s bound to be real surprising?

[Ray] Well, yes, men are competitive. Big shock, huh? Whether we’re on the basketball court or on the highway, we just naturally want to win, to be out front. Many of us are driven to prove ourselves, to prove that we’re competent, and it comes out in a competitive spirit.

[Sue] And it’s not that girls aren’t competitive, because of course we are; it’s just that we tend to be more cooperative than competitive. When girls are playing and one gets hurt, the game will often stop and even be forgotten while everyone gathers around and comforts the one who went down. It’s that relational part of us coming out.

[Ray] Men are often more logical and analytical than women.

[Sue] And we tend to be more intuitive than men. This isn’t some sort of mystic claim; there was a study at Stanford University that discovered women catch subliminal messages faster and more accurately than men.{3} Voila–intuition.

[Ray] This difference is evident in brain activity. Men’s brains tend to show activity in one hemisphere at a time . . .

[Sue] . . .Where women’s brains will show the two hemispheres communicating with each other, back and forth, constantly. That means that often, men and women can arrive at the exact same conclusion, using completely different means to get there. Our thinking has been accused of being convoluted, but it works!

[Ray] Men are linear. We can usually focus on just one thing at a time. That’s why you’ve learned not to try to talk to me while I’m reading the paper. I really struggle to read and listen at the same time.

[Sue] Yes, I’ve learned to get your attention and ask if I can talk to you so it’ll be an actual conversation and not a monologue! God made us women to be multi-taskers, able to juggle many things at once. It’s a requirement for mothering, I’ve discovered. Many times I’d be cooking dinner and helping the kids with homework and answering the phone and keeping an ear on the radio, all at the same time.

[Ray] Men tend to be compartmentalized, like a chest of drawers: work in one drawer, relationships in another drawer, sports in a third drawer, and so on. All the various parts of our lives can be split off from each other.

[Sue] Whereas women are more like a ball of yarn where everything’s connected to everything else. That’s why a woman can’t get romantic when there’s some unresolved anger or frustration with her husband, and he doesn’t see what the two things have to do with each other.

[Ray] One more; men are action-oriented. When we feel hostile, our first instinct is to release it physically. And when we’re upset, the way for us to feel better is to actively solve the problem.

[Sue] Women are verbal. (Another big surprise, huh?) Our hostility is released with words rather than fists. And when we’re upset, the way for us to feel better is by talking about our problem with other people.

More Gender Differences

[Ray] When men are under stress, we generally distract ourselves with various activities to relax. That’s why you see so many men head for the nearest basketball hoop or bury themselves in the paper or TV. But there’s another aspect of the way we handle severe stress that can be particularly frustrating to women who don’t understand the way we are: a man withdraws into his “cave.” We need to be apart from everybody else while we figure out our problems alone. Remember, a man is very self-reliant and competitive, and to ask for help is weakness, so he will first want to solve the problem by himself.

[Sue] We women handle stress in the exact opposite way, which of course is going to pose major problems until we understand this difference! When we’re stressed, we get more involved with other people. We want to talk about what’s upsetting us, because we process information and feelings by putting them into words. But merely talking is only half of it; we talk in order to be heard and understood. Having a good listener on the other end is extremely important. No wonder there is such misunderstanding when people are under stress: as a friend of ours put it, “Men head for their cave, and women head for the back door!”

[Ray] John Gray gave some great advice when he said that when a man’s going into his cave, he can give powerful assurance to the woman in his life by telling her, “I’ll be back.”

[Sue] Works for me! What’s next?

[Ray] A man’s primary need is for respect. There are a lot of elements involved in respect, which he needs both from his peers and from the significant women in his life: trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, and encouragement. A man needs to know he’s respected. He also needs to be needed. That’s why it’s so devastating to a man when he loses his job. He gets his sense of self from achievement, and he needs to be needed, so when the means to achieve and provide for his family is taken away, it’s emotionally catastrophic.

[Sue] It’s good for us women to know that, so we can be grace-givers in a time of awful trauma. I think that just as a man is devastated by the loss of his job, a woman is devastated by the loss of a close relationship; both losses reflect the God-given differences between us. Just as a man needs to be respected, we primarily need to be cherished. Cherishing means giving tender care, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance. We need to know others think we’re special. And just as a man needs to be needed, we need to be protected. That’s why security is so important to us. A man needs to be able to provide, and a woman needs to feel provided for.

[Ray] One final difference. For men, words are simply for conveying facts and information.

[Sue] But for women, words mean much more. Not just to convey information, but to explore and discover our thoughts and feelings, to help us feel better when we’re upset, and it’s the only way we have to create intimacy. To a woman, words are like breathing!

Women’s Needs and Issues

[Ray] We have been examining how God created men and women to be different. So it’s not surprising to find how many of our uniquenesses and needs are addressed by God’s commands and precepts in the Bible.

[Sue] In this section we’ll consider women’s needs and issues, and look at how God’s commands fit perfectly with the observations we’ve made. In the next section, we’ll look at men’s needs.

As I said above, our primary need as women is to be cherished–to be shown TLC, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance.

[Ray] And in Ephesians 5:25, we read God’s command that addresses this need: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” When we think about the way Christ loves the church, we see a sacrificial love, a tender love, and a love that is committed to acting in the church’s best interests at our Savior’s own expense. God doesn’t just want men to love their wives like they love sports–He wants us to love our wives in a way that makes them feel cherished and very special. He wants us to love our wives with a sacrificial love that puts her needs and desires above our own.

1 Peter 3:7 gives further instruction along this line: “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way.” The Greek literally reads, “Dwell with them according to knowledge.” The only way to live with your wife in an understanding way is to seek to know her. And when a husband listens and responds to what his wife shares–remembering that women are created to be verbal–she will feel cherished and understood and loved.

The last part of 1 Peter 3:7 continues, “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman.” This isn’t a slam on women. When we read this verse, we ought to think along the lines of a fine china cup. It’s definitely weaker than a tin cup, but that’s because it’s so fragile, delicate, and far more valuable. When we serve dinner on our china, we’re very careful in handling it, and extremely protective of washing and drying it. We treat our china with tenderness and gentleness because of its fragility and value. That’s how we cherish it. And that’s how a man is to treat his wife–not roughly or carelessly, but with tenderness and gentleness, because God made women to be treated with special care.

[Sue] The flip side of needing to be cherished is our need for security. We need to be protected and provided for. Even when a wife works, she wants to know that her husband is the main provider, or at least truly wants to be and is working to that end. The burden of being forced to provide for our families is bigger than we should have to bear.

[Ray] God created that need for security within women. That’s why He puts such a high value on the provisional aspect of a man’s character. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” God wants us men to be diligent workers and providers. He created us to bear the burden of providing; women are to be protected from that burden whenever possible.

Men’s Needs and Issues

[Ray] Men’s primary need is for respect and support–to receive trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval and encouragement.

[Sue] I think God intends for wives to meet that need by submitting to our husbands, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:1. Submission doesn’t mean giving in or being an overworked doormat; it’s a gift of our will. It means submitting to God first, then demonstrating that submission by choosing to serve and respect and be our husband’s Number One supporter. Even when a man is more of a jerk than a Superman, he needs the respect of his wife, even if she has to ask the Lord for His perspective on what areas of his life are worthy of respect!

It’s interesting to me that in Ephesians 5, at the beginning of the passage on marriage, Paul exhorts women to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord, and then closes this section by saying, “And let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”(v. 33) Submission and respect aren’t the same thing, but they’re both necessary to meet a man’s God-given needs. In the middle of this “marriage sandwich,” so to speak, is the awesome command to men to love their wives sacrificially and tenderly, as Christ loves the church. What I see is that submission and respect is a natural response to that kind of love.

[Ray] Another aspect of men’s constitution is that we’re action-oriented, whereas women are verbal.

[Sue] Yes, and that’s why I’m very intrigued by the wisdom of Peter’s admonishment to women, where he says,

You wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. (1 Peter 3:1-2)

To men, words are cheap–and if they’re coming from a woman, all too plentiful! What impresses a man is what a person does, not what they say. So here the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to basically tell us to shut up and live holy lives, which is the only language that’s going to have a true impact on a man.

[Ray] Another characteristic of men is that we tend to be self-oriented, as opposed to women who are more relational.

[Sue] It’s interesting to me that Paul exhorts men to love their wives as they love themselves and their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28,33). And he does this without condemning them for that self- orientation; he just uses it as a point of reference to demonstrate how powerfully men are to love their wives. From what I’ve observed at the health club about the way some men love their bodies, God wants men to indulge their wives with some major pampering!

[Ray] One last comment. While men and women may be constitutionally different by design, we do share one important and serious flaw: our sin nature. Both genders are prideful and selfish. And that is one reason we find commands to both men and women to serve the other sex. But in the midst of our service, we can certainly enjoy the differences God planted!


1. Gray, John. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

2. Smalley, Gary. Hidden Keys to a Loving Lasting Marriage. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1984. Weber, Stu. Tender Warrior. Sisters, Ore.:Multnomah Books, 1993.

3. Smalley, Hidden Keys, p. 17.

©1995 Probe Ministries

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

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