5 Reasons Christian Men Have Difficulty with Direct Communication in Marriage

by | Aug 11, 2021 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

Why Christian Men Can Have Difficulty with Direct Communication in Marriage
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Our gendered teachings in the church can make it difficult for men to communicate directly with their wives, too.

We’re in the middle of our direct communication series, looking at why it’s hard to communicate directly, what direct communication looks like, and more.

Yesterday we looked at how common teachings in evangelical churches can make women feel like they’re in sin if they try to communicate directly with their husbands and ask for what they want or need. Today I want to turn the tables and look at what men hear that can undermine communication.

1. You must be content in all circumstances.

This first teaching, that I also mentioned yesterday, isn’t gendered, but it permeates all of our Christian culture. While it is true–contentment is something to practice–its application to marriage has been harmful. Yes, we need to be content, but this should not be used to say that we shouldn’t bring something up that is bothering us.

Being content with what we cannot change does not mean that we should fail to address what we can change.

Yet being unhappy or discontent in a relationship is often framed as a spiritual issue where you have a problem with God and a lack of faith. Again, not helpful for direct communication.

2. You’re supposed to die for her, so you can’t be selfish.

Now let’s get into the specifically gendered teaching.

Men are often told to focus on this passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Ephesians 5:25-28

These are beautiful verses expressing how a husband is to care for his wife–but taken to an extreme, it can make it sound like a man is selfish and being unloving if he has any of his own needs. He’s supposed to sacrifice for her; to die for her; to give himself up for her. So what right does he have to show any discontent?

I have known very, very goodhearted men who took loving their wives to such an extreme that they didn’t confront their wives, even when their wives were in very destructive patterns with mental health, physical health, or even with relationships with the kids. The husband stood by her and loved her anyway, even as he was growing sadder and sadder, and she was hurting herself.

Loving her doesn’t mean you let her get everything she wants; loving her means you want God’s best for her. And that means that you step in when she’s heading in a bad direction!

And you can’t have an intimate marriage if you don’t share your own wants and needs, too. A marriage is about two people being vulnerable; it is not about one person disappearing so the other can get whatever they want. Often this dynamic grows out of men feeling truly selfless and wanting to follow Jesus, but it does, in the end, just make intimacy less and less attainable.

3. You’re supposed to lead her, so you need to figure things out on your own.

Okay, now let’s turn to the opposite problem: some men veer towards the “I have to give everything up for her” side of gendered teaching. Others veer towards “she has to give everything up for me because I’m in charge.” This is what is taught, for instance, in Love & Respect–that he has a need for “insight”, that his insight needs to be respected, that he is in hierarchy and authority over his wife, and so what he says goes.

Some men feel the great responsibility of this, and it weighs on their shoulders. Some men use this as an excuse to avoid doing things they don’t want to do (for instance, in Love & Respect, Emerson Eggerichs said his wife was being “disrespectful” when she asked him to stop leaving wet towels on the bed and candy wrappers on the floor, and the solution to this dilemma was that she stopped asking because he was the man.)

Whether a man is doing it out of good motives or selfish ones, the net result of feeling that he is in charge and he must lead means that he may make decisions without properly communicating with her. It means that when she tries to bring up something that is bothering her, he can choose to disregard it, because she isn’t being “respectful” or honoring his “insight”.


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He may feel that Johnny should not take soccer this semester, for instance, because the family schedule is too full. But instead of explaining his reasoning or asking for her input, he may simply announce it and leave it at that.

Feeling that he has to figure things out on his own, too, means that he may not share his feelings with his wife, and get her to help him work through them, because as a man he’s supposed to be able to handle all of this. To express any wants and needs to his wife means that he is not actually in charge. If he needs something from her (other than sex–the books all say he’s allowed to need sex!), especially her counsel, then he isn’t really being a man and he isn’t leading.

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4. Women aren’t capable of telling you what they want.

Guys also start out with a deficit when it comes to direct communication, because they’ve been told their whole lives that women won’t tell men what they want; men are supposed to guess. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn even writes about 3 reasons why women won’t tell you what they need–mainly, that they’re testing his love and seeing if he thinks she’s worth the effort to figure it out. (What Shaunti doesn’t mention is that in all of her advice to women she’s told women NOT to communicate directly).

If guys assume that women don’t communicate directly, then they’re more likely to discount what a woman is saying and assume that he actually knows what she’s thinking, even if she’s not saying it (or even if she’s actually saying the opposite). He’s also less likely to communicate with her, because he’s been taught that’s not how she works.

5. Real men are stoic. They don’t have feelings or needs.

Finally, I’ll leave the most important one to the end again: being masculine means that you don’t have needs or feelings. Being strong means you can’t be vulnerable.

Actually, being strong means that you’re able to be vulnerable. When a man has confidence and is strong, then he’s truly able to open up and share himself. But that’s not the image of manhood that we’ve been given.

And so men are often left either not even able to name what they’re feeling, because they’ve been taught their whole life to suppress their feelings, or feel unable to communicate their feelings, because to do so feels like weakness.

Intimacy can’t grow when men can’t express what they think or feel.

The idea that women are emotional and men are not is simply untrue. We all have emotions. That’s how God wired us! And throughout Scripture men demonstrate a wide variety of emotions. Our modern church, I think, is more interested in presenting a cultural version of manhood and womanhood than it is really looking at what the Bible says about it!


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So there you go–5 reasons why men can have trouble with direct communication because of how the church has primed him, to go along with our post on women and direct communication. 

I hope that we can get beyond all this and learn to honor emotions and truth, which are both central in Scripture. I hope that we will remember that Jesus is Truth, and that a truly intimate relationship means that we have to value each other enough to let each other in. And I hope we will stop covering up our own emotions with shame.

Why Christian Men Have Difficulty with Direct Communication in Marriage

What do you think? Have you seen these elements at play in your marriage, or in the marriages around you? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Direct Communication Series

And please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, with lots on having difficult conversations and resolving conflict!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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17 Comments

  1. Jo

    When I read this, I immediately thought of the Cinema Therapy video titled “Aragorn vs. Toxic Masculinity,” which seems to do a pretty good summing up of what men can and should be (caution: mild swearing):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv_KAnY5XNQ

    Their take is that current definitions of “masculinity” are too limiting, and in fact they call it “limiting masculinity.” They show clips from the Lord of the Rings movies, where Aragorn shows a full range of emotions, and they argue that the “softer, feminine” emotions do not make him any less a “manly man.” They even touch on the whole hierarchical, men-must-be-in-charge take that has dominated Christian and church teachings, though they don’t call it “Christian,” just cultural.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I LOVED that video! Even shared it in a post. So good! Thanks for reminding me of that. I’ll share it again on FB this afternoon.

      Reply
  2. A2bbethany

    This right here was why I realized pretty quick into marriage that we weren’t like the people in the marital books. We had a direct communication with each other and. Not much natural romantic need either, we just really meant it when we said I love you.
    At the time I just assumed that we were a rare and unicorn couple.
    After reading you a long time, I know now that marital book couples are the rarities.

    Reply
  3. Anon

    Previous comments mentioned Aragorn.

    Beowulf. Kenshiro. Spiderman. Drizzt Do Urden. Arséne Lupin. I can name plenty of male characters that are all rather different that in some way have a rather distinct masculinity to them.

    Yet they are all distinct and while some are more stoic than others certainly they are not all stoic.

    Why then is stoic seen as so common when it is not and why is stoic admirable sometimes but othertimes not?

    Reply
  4. Anon

    I think stoic is a weird word to use. I think the idea is supposed to be that people react appropiately to the situation. That is not to say that the issues mentioned in the post are not true problems but it just seems odd.

    Characters and people that are stoic are not always so. Kenshiro cries for Raoh. Beowulf tells Wiglaf to take care of the Danes. Etc.

    Reply
  5. Laura

    4. Women aren’t capable of telling you what they want.

    This reason here is because church teachings and authors like Shaunti tell women not to communicate directly because that’s not “biblical.” The idea is to”win him over without words” (1 Peter 3) has become so cliche in Christian books for women that I’m so tired of hearing it. Like in yesterday’s post, all it takes is a look and the man somehow knows what that’s supposed to mean. If there was such as class as Manipulation 101, this teaching would be right. So basically, Christian women are brainwashed to believe we cannot say what we want.

    5. Real men are stoic. They don’t have feelings or needs.

    I think this reason also fits into mainstream culture. I’m sure many of us have heard this saying, “Men are emotionally constipated.” Well, again, more brainwashing to tell men they cannot feel or have needs unless that need is sex.

    It’s so ironic how Christians often quote Romans 12:1-2 about not conforming to the standards of this world, yet we are without even realizing it.

    Reply
  6. Anon

    #4 – When I was in my 20s, I joined a Christian group that had two ‘sections’ – you could either join the ‘just friends’ one, which was aimed at linking up Christians for social outings & events or the ‘looking for love’ one, which was aimed at those wanting to find a marriage partner. I joined the ‘just friends’ one because at the time, I was going to a church where there were no people my age and I wanted to make some new Christian friends who weren’t 40 years older than I.

    I left the group VERY quickly. I was constantly having guys ask me out – or in some case, not even ask me, but TELL me that we were going to start dating. And in every case, they got really nasty and accused me of ‘leading them on’ when I said I wasn’t interested. I’d point out that we were in the ‘just friends’ group and they should join some of the dating events if they wanted a girlfriend, and each time I got the same response. “Oh, but you women never say what you mean – we know you’re all in this group because you want a man” At the time, I just couldn’t understand these guys’ attitude, but if they’ve been taught from the beginning that ‘women never say what they mean’, it makes it a lot more understandable. (I also think it’s incredibly dangerous to teach single guys that women never mean what they say – I wonder if that is why so many of them push boundaries with single women they meet – because they assume the girls don’t really mean ‘no’ when they say it.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So: interesting story about Shaunti Feldhahn’s curriculum being used by the Singapore government to teach teens around 2013-2014. Some girls got enraged because she was teaching boys that girls didn’t mean what they said. (Again, legitimizes date rape). The government stopped using the curriculum. This didn’t get a lot of press in North America, but it is concerning. A girl named Agatha Tam, only 17 at the time, wrote an amazing open letter on Facebook about all the problems with it and changed the course of the conversation.

      Reply
      • Anon

        It’s the logical conclusion – if women NEVER mean what they say or say what they mean, then ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and ‘stop’ means ‘keep going’.

        One of the things I found hardest as a young woman was that I knew I should only be dating a Christian and yet none of the Christian guys I knew were safe to be around! Non Christians respected my boundaries 100% but I knew I shouldn’t be dating them because we didn’t share the same faith. It really messed with my head that the behaviour I should have been able to expect from Christian men was only found among non Christian ones. I’ve never made the connection until now that the Christian guys’ behaviour was the natural outcome of what they had been taught from childhood upwards.

        Reply
  7. Jane Eyre

    #5. A lot of people are wired or trained to pack their feelings down, and traditional gender roles can really exacerbate this tendency. The women talk about their feelings over tea; men don’t. So… yeah, hard to open up, especially if he isn’t “unhappy enough” to fix it.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I find this weird. I think it is less refuse to feel that people are trying to teach as it is proper emotional response. If you cry at everything it isnt appropiate is the idea.

      Reply
      • Anon

        I have to admit though telling folks what is going on tends to go way smoother.

        Reply
      • Maria Bernadette

        Men are taught that anger is the only emotional response they are allowed. Anything else is considered “unmasculine.”

        Reply
  8. Exwifeofasexaddict

    Just make the decision and announce it was my father’s approach. Didn’t talk to anyone or explain himself. Not to mom, not to the person directly affected. Not even when we were teens and should have been transitioning to making our own decisions.

    The result: I left home not knowing how to make a decision. First decision I made for myself was to go to college and take out loans for it. Within the semester, I was deciding about marriage. That didn’t end well. Quite honestly, I got married so I would have a man to make decisions for me.

    Men: don’t be authoritarian. It isn’t good. It isn’t healthy.

    Reply

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