Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Differences in Men & Women

Below is Part 10 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-9:  Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2)Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), Part 8 (Christian), and Part 9 (Anger).man and woman head

Men are from Mars.  Women are from Venus.  Men are like Waffles.  Women are like Spaghetti.  There is no doubt that men and women are different, yet both men and women can be Black & White Thinkers.  And even though there are some similarities in the sexes with Black & White thinking, there are some differences as well.

SIMILARITIES

To review, Black & White Thinking involves processing events and situations as “all or nothing,” “either – or,” or “right or wrong.”   This type of thinking over-simplifies all the ins and outs of situations and reduces them to basically two choices.  Since there are only two choices (good or bad, right or wrong, etc.), it is important to meet the standard (successful/good), or else you fail (failure/bad).  While standards can be good, setting standards without a measure of grace is unwise.  Black & White Thinking may lead to setting high standards for others and criticizing them when they fail to meet them.  Such interactions will cause others you are close to to feel insecure, lonely, and resentful.  In situations of abuse, Black & White Thinking combined with pride is always present.

DIFFERENCES

Generally, men and women who think or process things in Black & White do so differently because they are created male or female.  Hormones, societal norms, and past events and relationships will certainly influence how one perceives, processes, and performs (acts).  These influences will also impact the amount of Black & White Thinking that is present in the individual.  Typically, the greater the hurt, broken relationships, or trauma of the past, the greater the Black & White Thinking may be in every area of life.  In all cases, when Black & White Thinking is combined with pride, it is about my way, or my will be done in the relationship.  It is important to be mindful of these laws (expectations / standards) as they can harm the relationship and cause hurt feelings, fears, and resentments.

Ladies First

In general, women seem to be more relational (and probably less Black & White as a whole) than men. I believe this is because women were created by God to be Relational. This conclusion is based on the ability and plumbing to give birth and bond with their children through breastfeeding.  In addition, the Creation order and reasons for Woman to be created seems to suggest that woman was created FOR relationship (Gen 3) with man. Therefore, I would conclude that women seem to be created to be more Relational, in general.  So it would make sense that either women are more Relational and less Black & White in their thinking, or, at least, the content of their Black & White Thinking may be more relationship oriented.   For example, in many Black & White Thinkers with whom I have spoken, the Black & White Thinking in women often occurs as “relational laws.”  In other words, your husband MUST love you (love is desired by women, whereas respect is more desired by men) by spending time, serving, etc. That becomes the right way and only way to love, and your husband must do this or a punishment (criticism, withholding sex, etc.) will be given.  Either you love me this way (which is rightor you don’t love me (which is wrong).  Demanding love (instead of desiring it) thus becomes an idol of the heart.  This idol is held on to because she knows she is right, but in holding onto it, she becomes wrong.  This can turn into being controlling and will cause damage in the relationship.

Some questions for female Black & White thinkers: What if your husband was loving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want? 

Men, Your Turn

Although the same Genesis account shows us that Adam desired companionship and, I believe, wanted to be IN relationship (It was not good that man was alone – Gen 2:18), man was not created FOR relationship like woman (unless it is a relationship with God), but instead was created FOR work (there was no one to tend the Garden -Gen 2:5, 15).  But to be clear, relationship is important and necessary for men to learn, grow, love, and become like Christ.  In addition, although women were created FOR relationship, they were created to be equal with man, and not FOR man to do as he wishes. If the Black & White Thinker believes that his spouse is created FOR him, to please him and make him happy, he is outside of God’s plan for marriage.  Like women, male Black & White Thinkers also have “relationship laws,” but these laws are not about being loved, but about being respected. When these desires become demands (from desiring respect to demanding obedience), however, the laws will become overbearing to spouses.

Some Questions for male Black & White thinkers: What if your wife is honoring or serving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want?

Final Thoughts

The differences above are not meant to be comprehensive, by any means, but outline areas where God has created men and women differently (men desiring respect and women desiring love – see Eph 5 and the book, Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs).  “Relationship Laws” are essentially expectations and standards set for the other person (or maybe for oneself), that when unmet, result in criticisms or “advice” for the other person.  The goal is to make the other person into your image of a perfect spouse (as if they are created to make you happy or fulfilled).  However, our goal is not to get others to meet our standards, but for us to seek after Christ and be changed so that we become like Him (the full image of God).  Future blogs will continue to address other relationship issues that occur in relationships with someone who is a Black & White Thinker.  What would you like to know more about?  Write any questions of comments below…

Praying With Your Spouse

Image

I had the pleasure of speaking at a Couple’s Seminar this past week and spoke on a topic I had previously not spoken about: Praying together as a couple.  Not a week later, I was approached about this topic on two other occasions.  Taking the hint, I figured it would be best to write about it.

Many Christian couples have a difficult time praying together.  It is especially difficult for some who have never grown up in the church or prayed out loud.  It’s just…awkward.  “What do I pray about?” “What if I don’t do it right?” “Will my spouse be better than I am?” “How do I do it?” “What if my spouse laughs at me?” “What do we do if it’s awkward?”

Let me give you a few points to consider when you desire to pray together.  These aren’t original, but ideas I have gleaned in research.

1.  Praying together can bring a couple closer together through physical touch and uniting hearts in humility seeking the Lord.

2.  Praying together often involves both partners feeling “safe” to pray.  If your relationship is characterized by criticisms, judgments, arguments, etc., now might not be the right time.  But you can pray by yourself that the Lord will change you to         become a safe person and that the Lord will change them as well.

3.  Praying together will seem awkward at first.  Keep going.  It will become more natural.

4.  Before praying together, have a list of things to pray for so you know what to pray for together.

5.  You can start by silently praying together, holding hands and squeezing the other’s hands when you are finished.

6.  Take only a few minutes to pray (5 minutes max) at first, this will limit the “awkward time” and help people not fall asleep.

7.  Dedicate a certain time of the day that best fits your schedules together and be committed to that time.

8.  The Bible does not command that you do this together as a couple, yet it is encouraged that people pray together.  Do not treat this as a “law” you must do nor demand that your spouse pray with you.  This does not bring about the best prayerful attitude.

9.  Do not pray AT your spouse.  In other words, don’t do this: “Dear Lord, please change my self-centered spouse and help him to love me as he ought.” or “Dear God, please help this woman I married to give herself to me and submit to my leadership.”  Just not a good idea.  Prayer is about seeking His will as a couple and not about asking God to do what you want Him to do.  It’s not to be used as a manipulative tactic to change your spouse.  Pray WITH your spouse, not AT them.

10.  Feel free to pre-write your prayers if you feel nervous.

11.  Talk about the obstacles to praying together and work together to overcome them.

12.  Hold hands.

13.  Seek prayer requests from your spouse and pray specifically for your spouse.

This is not an unusual problem for Christians.  It is a good desire to have to pray together, yet it is a horrible demand.  Praying together is not the temperature gauge for a Christian marriage, yet it certainly can be beneficial for the couple and can be very meaningful as well.  Some will refuse to pray together.  This does not mean that they are not Christian or that they don’t pray, simply that they choose to be personal in their faith “me and God”.  Though Scripture does not encourage such an approach (it encourages community), you may continue to pray for them and occasionally ask that they pray for you (even if he or she won’t pray with you).  And please, don’t take it personally.  It’s just where they are in their walk with God and it is up to God to move them if they are willing.

No Thought, After Thought & Fore Thought: The Process of Loving Well

“Wow, that didn’t even occur to me.”

lovewell

This is the thought that occurs when a person asks a question about something that doesn’t even cross their mind.  It doesn’t have to be something important, just a topic that you haven’t really thought about or thought through.  In marriage, it is the thought that  comes when one realizes that he or she is living in their own little world and not thinking about anything outside of it.   The busyness of life often gets in the way…as does the sinful and selfish nature.  When we live in our own little worlds too long, we look to others as being a part of our worlds…but their existence is to make our worlds better…easier.  We forget (or pay little attention) that others are important.  We forget that their needs and desires are important.  We forget or have not even realized yet that they do not exist to serve us, but in Christ, we exist to serve them.  This is our sinful, self-centered nature.  Thoughts of others’ desires and needs do not occur to us because we live in our own worlds.  How do we change this?  Well, admitting it is the first step.  Confess this to God, and by His Spirit, begin to apply the love God gave you to your spouse (or others).

“Aw man…I should have thought about that before!”

This is the second step of process.  It is the beginning of awareness of the sinful state of the selfish mind and awareness of the desire and need to love others.  Demonstrating love may not be easy at first, but as one becomes more aware of God’s call to serve others, the afterthoughts occur more regularly.  These afterthoughts are not intended to bring guilt, but are a sign of greater things to come…if you remain aware of self-centeredness and begin to place priority in loving others.  Chances are, as you continue to be aware, you will at other times begin to plan out times of serving, date nights, giving praise, making love, etc (for your spouse) or serving other people in other ways.

“Let me think about this first.”

This is third step in the process of loving well.  This is the intentional practice of Christ-likeness, where thought, effort, and humility merge into an action of love for another person (or people).  It is the full awareness of others’ needs and in love, placing those above your own.  I remember several getaways with my wife and I.  Our trip to Niagara Falls on our 15th Anniversary was thought out, planned, and, I must say, well executed.  At this time, I loved well (though sadly other times I fail).  Another time my wife had planned a secret getaway for my birthday where she kidnapped me and we went to a Bed-and-Breakfast.  The thought and planning behind the action meant she loved well.  Both trips are etched in our memories.  Fore thought (or before-thought) is essential when we are not in the regular practice of loving well.  Jesus had thought of us when he went to the cross.  So, too, we must think of others before ourselves.

Loving well can be difficult, especially since we often go against the grain of our sinful natures where our desires are for others to love us well.  However, when we recognize our self-centered natures, confess and repent, begin to be aware of others needs and desires, and then intentionally commit to loving well, we will move forward by God’s grace to love others well.  So, how are you doing in this area?

I’m Just Not Motivated!

motivationI know I should get off my rear end and get some work done…but I’m just not motivated.  I often find myself in this position.  That is, sitting on a lazy boy watching TV or being in front of the computer.  Sometimes I just prefer to do nothing than to do something.  Why?  Good question.  Perhaps it is just that I’m exhausted from working and feel the need for a break.  Perhaps it is because I’m feeling a little down or depressed.  Maybe it is that I just don’t want to work or I just don’t feel like it.  Some people would call this laziness.  I call it being “Motivationally Challenged.”

Truth be told, we are motivated by what we want to do…what we feel like doing.  I remember one parent complaining that their child was so lazy that they refused to do chores or their homework.  Instead, they just  played video games, texted, or spoke on the phone to friends.  Is this child unmotivated and lazy?  Absolutely not.  Irresponsible perhaps, but not unmotivated.  They are motivated to do the things that he or she wanted to do…yet unmotivated to do the things that might take them away from doing what was wanted.  What motivates (most) children to do what they do not want to do?  Mostly fear and punishment.  “Do your homework or else…(no TV, phone, video games, etc.)” or “If you don’t do your chores, then…(you will not get dinner until it is done, you won’t go out to the movies with us, etc.).”

Rewards are used similarly with adults.  One wife told her husband, “Unless you finish your projects, you cannot buy that TV you want.”  So, of course, he finished the projects to receive his wife’s blessing.  And the TV looks great in the basement.   OK – I confess.  I am that husband.

What if we can be motivated by something other than rewards and punishment?  What if, instead, we were motivated by love?  Now I don’t pretend to have this perfected as I give this challenge.  This is a reminder for me, too.  The two most powerful motivators in life are fear and love.  Fear (for the most part) is more self-focused, yet love (as mentioned in Scripture) is to be directed towards others and God.  If a child obeys a parent out of fear, they are obeying so it will go better for themselves and their reward is here.  If someone chooses to do something because they “feel like it,” it is out of love for oneself.  But if someone does an act out of love for their parent, for God, or for another, their hearts are right before God and their reward will also be in heaven.

My challenge to you (and myself, of course) is when you (we) need to do something and are just not motivated, choose to do these actions out of love for God, for spouse, or for others.  In doing so we will be victorious over our motivationally challenged and self-centered selves and bring honor to God.  This is what Christ did for us.  This is what we are to do for God & others.

For Part 2 on removing obstacles for the Motivationally Challenged, Click Here!

Kid’s Day?

Yesterday was Father’s Day.  In May there was Mother’s Day.  On both of these holidays, my kids asked me, “How come there isn’t a Kid’s Day?” I laughed inside knowing I asked my parents this same question when I was a kid. And so I answered, “Well, you get a birthday and Christmas and you get way more gifts than mom and dad…so those are your days.” I think my parents answered me the same way, but I have since repressed such disappointing answers.  (Interestingly, there is a Children’s Day in Bulgaria…but don’t tell my kids that.  They’ll want to move there.)  In truth, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day isn’t about the gifts, per se, it’s about expressing appreciation to a mom or dad who sacrificed through the many years of service for you. It’s the expression of appreciation for their hard work, their love, and their commitment in your life so that you will be successful. One probably could not count the number of ways love has been expressed or shown from loving parents.  Though we know not all parents have been as sacrificial in love.  Many have experienced just the opposite from a mother or father who caused harm physically or emotionally.

And for those out there whose mothers or fathers left them, abused them, or treated them poorly, I want to remind you of one verse:  Psalm 27:10 – Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.”  You, oh blog reader, are cherished, loved, and received by God.  “Received“…now there’s an interesting word.  To be “received” by God is to be accepted by Him.  Can God truly accept me after all I have done wrong?  Can God really receive me even though I turn from Him and do my own thing?  When I did wrong at home, my parents turned from me, ignored me, and treated me harshly…Wouldn’t God do the same?  Isn’t that what I deserve?

The love of the Father is so great that His love pierced the depths of our sin.  Our punishment, that is, what we deserved, was taken by Jesus Christ.  He accepted our burden by being treated harshly for our sake so that we would not be treated harshly.  Now, because of Christ’s death on the cross (and resurrection), we can be “received” by God.  Our sins have fallen upon Christ and Christ’s righteousness rests on us.  Now, through faith in Christ, we are acceptable.  We are righteous.  We are His.

As a parent, there are times when it is so easy to look only at our children’s behaviors, stating disappointments or corrections while forgetting to emphasize that our children are acceptable to us as they are.  Christ’s death was for them, too.  We must not neglect to share with our children their need for a savior.  We must not neglect to share that they are acceptable to God through Christ and that they are acceptable to us as they are because our love is greater than their sins (as God’s love is greater than ours).

Well, there won’t be any National Kid’s Day soon.  They’ll keep asking, and we’ll keep telling them the same thing.  But truth be told, kids don’t need a Kid’s Day.  What they do need is your love and God’s love for them through the cross.  They are loved and accepted by God (just like you)…and this is something to celebrate!

SUCCESS!

When I was in Jr. High School, one of the cheerleaders accustomed to the cheer “S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that’s the way we spell SUCCESS!” spelled the word “success” wrong on her spelling test.  She was not successful, at least not in spelling that word.  Many years have passed and I’m sure she ismore successful now.  What about you?  Are you successful?  Are you successful in life? In marriage?  In parenting?  In your job?  What are the standards in which you measure success?  Here are a few standards that were sent to me by my spamfather (aka father-in-law) Bob:

At age 4 success is not peeing in your pants.

At age 12 success is having friends.

At age 16 success is having a drivers license.

At age 35 success is having money.

At age 50 success is having money.

At age 70 success is having a drivers license.

At age 75 success is having friends.

At age 80 success is not peeing in your pants.

We all have different standards of success in life.  Success may mean different things to different people.  But what does success mean to God?  Does God define success by our standards of having 2.5 kids, a white pickett fence, spouse, dog, cat, and a job that pays well?  No.  I believe He might define our success as being

S-inners

U-nder

C-hrist’s

C-ross

E-very

S-ingle

S-econd.

Success in His eyes is to believe in Christ’s death on the cross and have our lives demonstrate this belief through our actions.  We will not be perfect in this.  Being perfect is what Christ had done.  That is His success.  Not ours.  Ours is to believe and live out our beliefs through obedience.  And when we fail, we return to the cross and believe.  His success in living, dying, and raising from the dead will always trump our failings.  It is all that matters.  Did your marriage fall apart?  Did you lose your job? Did you only have 1.5 kids?  Don’t let these things bring you down.  Only the Accuser wants to point out your failings.  Only the Accuser calls you a failure.  The present and future chapters have yet to be lived.  So partner with Christ to live your life successfully!

Believe!

This morning, I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of being called a liar by one of my children. Well, he actually said, “you lied,” but that is essentially saying the same thing.  The thing is, we remembered things differently, but instead of saying that he does not remember that or saying how he remembered the event, accusations were made as to my intent or motive.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak to about a dozen women from Truth For Women about mentoring women in the Lehigh Valley. One of the topics that we are going to touch on is leading people to Christ in the mentoring relationship. One key term continues to be raised in my preparation: the term “believe.” As I searched the Scriptures for the term “believe” on http://www.biblegateway.com (I recommend doing that, by the way), I was pulled towards the importance of belief in the eyes of God.  What is it about belief that is so important?  Well, that we believe he exists, that we believe He sent His son to die for our sins, that we believe Christ was raised from the dead, that we believe His Word, that we believe without doubt, etc.  One verse that hit me was this:

1 John 5:10
… Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

If we choose not to believe Him – that He is telling the truth, that He stands for truth, that He is the truth – we instead believe that He is lying…that He is a liar.  If another person tells you something that you do not believe, you are saying that they are either lying, they are wrong, or they mis-remembered (that’s my new favorite term – sure beats saying that I forgot!), all the while believing that you are right and they are wrong.  When we choose to dis-believe God, or believe He does not exist or that what He revealed about Himself in His word is fictitious, we are accusing Him of lying.  God does not mis-remember (He remembers all – though “forgets” our sins or chooses not to hold our sins against us).  God is never wrong (He is always right). So therefore the logical conclusion must be that He is lying.

When we accuse others of lying, we make two assumptions:  #1) We are right; and #2) Their intent was to purposely deceive.  When we “know” that we are right, we take a position of holding the truth…the truth is within us.  If the truth is within us, and our truth is right, then the other person is wrong.  Their truth simply cannot be.  They are a liar.

God has been moving me more and more towards understanding his grace, that my actions will never win his favor or cause him to keep his love for me.  His number one concern is whether we believe in His Truth.  Belief in Him, in His ability and in His love will bring forth the necessary changes and fruit in our lives, but apart from this belief (or faith) in him, we cannot please Him (it is sin) because it comes from disbelief (or is not done in faith – see Rom 14:23).

For there to be change in our lives…to forgive, to fall back in love, to restore a broken marriage, to refrain from addictions, to become a godly wife or husband…all of this must be done with belief.  We must first believe that God can and will change our hearts.  Belief in Him is a submission of our lives, putting aside what we once believed would bring us what we wanted.  It is saying #1) God, you are right (and true) and #2) Your intent is to love me and set me free…therefore, I believe.

If you’re looking for change in your life, believe in Him and the one He sent.  Anything less is disbelief & sin. It is calling God a liar. Believe, my friends. Believe.