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.


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.


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…

Respect in A Godly Marriage

In the 1970’s, Aretha Franklin topped the charts with the song RESPECT.  The popular lyrics, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” were popularly sung all throughout the country.  According to Wikipedia, this song was used for the feminist movement demanding respect from men.  The original author of this song, Otis Redding, did not intend this song to be used for the feminist movement, but instead was a plea to a woman (hopefully his wife), to give  him respect.  Check out the original lyrics:

What you want baby I got / What you need you know I got it / All I’m askin’ is for a little respect  /  Then you come home Baby when you come home / Respect
I’m out to give you all my money / But all I’m askin in return honey / Is to give me my proper respect

In a survey done with men, the question was asked:  “Would you rather feel alone and unloved or inadequate and disrespected?”  74% said they would rather feel alone and unloved while 26% said they would rather feel inadequate and disrespected.*  3 out of 4 men desire to be respected by their wives.  This should not astound us as we look at Scripture.  After all, wives are instructed by Paul to respect their husbands Eph 5:22-24, 33.  But in such studies, we begin to understand why such instructions were given; because men strongly desire the respect of their wives (often this is given willingly through submission).

So what does it mean to respect your husbands?  To understand this, we need to again look at the greater marriage between the bride (the church) and bridegroom (Christ).  How does the bride show honor and reverence to Christ?

1) The Bride gives praise to the bridegroom:  Ladies, your husbands desire your praise (for you to lift him up).  So often, words spoken to husbands are words of correction (correcting what he does wrong to how you want it done), criticism, and carelessness, often with the intent on creating him into the image of how you want him to be.  The Bride cannot change the Bridegroom.  You can influence him to act, but you cannot change him. Tell him that you are proud of him and in the man that he has become and is becoming.  You can give praise to him in private and in front of the kids and in public.  Don’t be shy about it.

2)  The Bride believes in the Bridegroom:  Though our belief in Christ is for salvation from our sins, believing in your husbands is having faith in him…faith that he will do the right thing, do a good job, make the right decisions, etc. and then following them (this is the submission part).  Now your husband may make some poor decisions, however, your faith in him shows that you are with him no matter what.  It is demonstrating confidence in him and in being a team and it is this confidence in him that means just as much as his love does to you.  Do not argue with his decisions or question his knowledge.  You may gently influence and bring in a few things worth considering, but arguing and trying to get him to do what you want demonstrates that you do not believe in him….thus, disrespect.

3) The Bride communicates with the Bridegroom in honor:  When we speak to Christ, we generally do so with respect and honor, considering who He is and what he has done for us.  Similarly, as you communicate to your husbands, be mindful of bitterness, tones, words expressed, etc.  Don’t just expect your husbands to know what you want as he is not all-knowing as God.  Even though Christ knows what you need, he still requests us to ask for what you need.  Unlike Christ, however, your husband may not know what you need.  Please ask him anyway.  If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.  One thing that is important to communicate is thanksgiving.  Thanking him for his hard work, for doing what he can to provide for the family, for fixing things, for whatever he does for you and for the family.  Giving thanks is a form of giving honor and respect.

Respect goes a long way in a man.  If you wish to motivate him, to touch his heart, to impact him significantly, it is in the form of respect.  Think about all the ways that you honor Christ and go, honor your husband in similar ways and see what happens.  Paul does not instruct wives to give respect only when they are getting love, he instructs respect to be given. Period.  It is not conditional as to how or if  he loves you (as the husbands command to love is not based on whether respect id given or not).  No matter if your marriage is great or struggling, you won’t regret committing to giving respect your husband.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.

*Survey found in For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn (p. 22-23).  Another helpful resource is Love & Respect by Dr. Eggerichs

Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us together…today…

These past two Sundays I had the pleasure of speaking at Cornerstone Church on marriage.  As I was planning it, I was so tempted to open with “Mawage.  Mawage is what bwings us together today,” the line made famous by the Princess Bride.  Unfortunately, there are some who might not have appreciated my impersonation of the priest in a classic movie.

Among the many issues facing marriage today, there is an issue that is greater than all the other issues combined.  It is the issue that brings all of the other issues to the surface.  Unless it is addressed, marriages will struggle significantly.  No, it is not stinky feet or bad morning breath, it is simply this: the love of self.  I want what I want and you need to give it to me.  If you don’t, I will let you know by complaining, nagging, making side comments, sarcasm, yelling, or various forms of punishment.  Sounds kinda childish, yes, but it is how we are, thanks to our sinful natures.

We would not see it as childish, because our wants are much more….well, adult.  Our wants have now matured to the adult things, like love, acceptance, value/worth, and respect.  So, it’s OK to complain, nag, be sarcastic, yell or punish when we don’t get our way…..because these things really matter whereas childish wants (like toys, gumballs and candy) are insignificant.  Right?

Well, these adult things are important (love, respect, value/worth, etc.), but like in children, they have been moved from the important category to the must have category, or the must have NOW! category and you must give it to me.   Too often we hope to find our worth, security, and value in our spouses and when they do or say something that threatens our expectation of them, then there’s punishment.  We are, like the song says, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”

Well, it’s really not a bad thing to look for love from our spouses, after all, shouldn’t spouses love each other?  The problems come when that love (or respect) defines who I am.  My worth.  My identity.  When it gets to that level, it becomes an idol that addresses our insecurity.  Other people’s emotions or thoughts of us should never give us worth as individuals.  Only God can do that.

Well, instead of love, maybe the demands are for other things…like peace, rest, sex, respect, etc.  None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but when they become idols in our hearts (a desire turns into a demand), then the focus is on me getting what I want, and others needing to give it to us.  Basically, other people become our servants who are supposed to do our bidding.  Not a good idea for marriage.  For husbands being obedient to Scripture, God (through Paul) calls us (Eph 5) to be servants, not to look for servants in our spouses (and children).  For wives being obedient to Scripture, He calls them (also Eph 5) to be respectful in submission as unto the Lord.  Notice that in both of these statements, Paul does not tell the wives to be sure to get your husbands to love you…make sure they do or else you are free to disrespect, complain, nag, criticize, or divorce them.   Notice that Paul does not tell husbands to withhold love from their wives if they are not respecting them or to try to get them to respect you by working more, being the strong silent type or by flexing your vocal cords in unloving ways.

No, Paul is addressing each spouse as to where their focus must be.  Not on the “me” – regarding the things that would make you happy and full, but on the “me” (as to what I must do & not on what I must get) and about the other’s relational needs.  This often leads to the other person responding in excellent ways.

Though mawage is what bwings us together, love of self is what can tear us apart.  So, let us be secure through Christ, so that we may be free to give love and respect without demanding anything in return…Though we must consider our own interest, let us not focus on what we don’t have, but what we are called to do.  Love God.  Love others.