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A Tale of Two Marriages: His and Hers

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Over the years researchers have asked identical questions of a husband and wife about identical issues but received two different replies. Why? Because in essence, there are two different marriages going on in every household: his marriage and her marriage. 

The husband sees an event through his blue lens, and the wife views that same event through her pink lens. Though they are observing the exact same event, their different lenses cause them to process and evaluate it in completely different ways: his blue way and her pink way.

For instance, suppose a couple has sex ten times a month. The man may very well claim they do not have enough sex, while the wife believes they have too much sex. Or, let’s say a couple is intentional about having a weekly appointment every Sunday night to talk heart to heart for about an hour. The wife can remark they do not connect enough, while her husband claims they talk “plenty.”

The exact same situation, but two completely different viewpoints. Who is wrong? Are they having too little sex or too much? Do they talk “plenty” or not enough?

Because there are two marriages within every household—his marriage and her marriage—every couple must recognize their pink and blue perspectives. Instead of saying to each other, “You are wrong,” they need to introduce this language: “Not wrong, just different.” In culinary circles, they say, “There is no disputing taste.” One person will absolutely love a good pickle; the next thinks they’re one of nature’s biggest mistakes. Who is wrong? Neither. Because personal preferences are just that—personal. They are not morally wrong.

Both Believe They Are Relenting, Neither Are Satisfied

But here is a tension that is added to these differences. On the topic of sex, we typically hear the husband saying that he wants more sex but he must give into his wife wanting less sex. As a result, he feels she is in charge of their sex life. But then we hear the woman saying that she wants less sex but she must give into her husband who wants more sex. So she feels that he is in charge of their sex life.

Each feels the other exercises the greater influence! He feels that she exercises more authority in their sex life since, from his perspective, he experiences less sex than he desires. She, conversely, thinks he exercises more authority in their sex life since she engages in sex more often than she wishes.

How easy then for him to harbor resentment toward her for, in his opinion, being undersexed, and for her to resent him for, in her view, being oversexed. If a marriage counselor were to ask them, “How often do you have sex in a month?” both might answer “ten times” but neither would be satisfied . . . and for different reasons. He thinks that’s too few and she thinks that’s too much. This is what makes marriage so much fun!

Similarly, we also typically hear the wife saying that she wishes the two of them spent more time talking face to face but she relents on that because her husband doesn’t have that same desire. This leads her to conclude that her husband holds the chips when it comes to the time they spend focusing on emotional connection. But then we hear the husband saying that he doesn’t have a need to talk and discuss the day like his wife does, but he knows she wants him to spend some time with her in undisrupted sharing. As a result, he believes she calls the shots as it pertains to deciding how much time is spent talking face to face.

Once again, each feels the other exercises the greater influence! She feels that he exercises more authority in their face-to-face connection since, from her perspective, she experiences less emotional connection with him than she desires. He, on the other hand, believes she exercises more authority in their face-to-face time since he engages in more designated “talk time” than he desires.

How easy then for her to harbor resentment toward him for, in her opinion, not caring enough about connecting face to face with her, and for him to resent her for, in his view, needing too much “talk time.” If that same counselor were to ask them, “How much time do you designate each week to simply talk and share your hearts with each other?” both might answer “one hour every Sunday night” but neither would be satisfied. He considers it too much, or at least unnecessary, and she wishes it was so much more. 

We Notice More What Ought Not to Be

A husband and wife’s different opinions on whether ten times a month is too much sex or too little, or if an hour every Sunday night is too much designated talk time or not enough, revolves around what they believe ought to happen versus what they believe ought not to happen. What I mean is, people tend to see and remember more often the negative—what ought not to happen. We see the flaws more often than we see the blessings. The negatives stand out to us more than the positives. In marriage, we notice more when our spouse is being resistant than when they are acquiescing to our preferences. 

For example, a husband will notice far more when his wife deprives him of sex since in his view that ought not to be. He will see less often when his wife responds to his desire for sex since in his opinion that ought to be. Alternatively, a wife will pay attention to those times when she feels pressured to consent to his sexual pushiness, since in her mind his pushiness ought not to be. She will notice less when she says no, and he continues to watch his sporting event without complaint, because from her viewpoint that is the way it ought to be. 

As well, a wife will notice a great deal more when her husband for whatever reason is clearly not in the mood to connect face to face since in her mind that ought not to be. She will see less often when her husband decides to stay longer at the dinner table listening to the ins and outs of her day since in her opinion that ought to be. From the other side, a husband will pay attention to those times when he feels pressured to sit and talk on the couch until she deems herself satisfied, since in his mind that ought not to be. He will notice less when he explains how he needs to return some work emails and she happily opts to read a book instead, because in his mind that is the way it ought to be.

When something happens “against” our desires and beliefs, we see it and remember it. We retain the negative more than we do the positive. We notice what ought not to be (in our opinion) more than we do the things that happen according to our wishes, since we believe those ought to be! That is why the husband still feels they don’t have sex enough, even though it is more often than his wife desires, and why the wife still feels they don’t talk face to face enough, even though they do so more often than her husband wishes. They are both remembering more “what ought not to be.”

The question is not whether or not there are two marriages in your home; because there are—his marriage and her marriage. The question is also not, which one of you is wrong? Personal preferences are not wrong. The wife is not wrong to believe that the mild buffalo wings are way too spicy to enjoy, nor is she wrong to not desire sex five times a week. The husband is not wrong to gag at even the thought of sushi, nor is he wrong to believe that an hour of designated talk time every night is exhausting to him.

The question is, do you genuinely believe in the idea of “not wrong, just different”? Because, indeed, neither marriage is wrong, just different—though under the same roof! 

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What messages does “You are wrong” carry with it that “Not wrong, just different” does not? 
  2. Why are we more understanding toward our spouse’s opinions toward things like food taste or movie preferences than we are with their opinions on frequency of sex, face-to-face time, and similar marital subjects?
  3. Emerson said that oftentimes “each feels the other exercises the greater influence.” Where might this be the case in your marriage? How would it help you to have a discussion about this with your spouse?
  4. Do you believe the statement “we notice more often what ought not to be”? What are some things that you haven’t noticed because “they ought to be” that you can acknowledge to your spouse today that you notice now and you appreciate?