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Is He Lacking Empathy or Displaying His Complete Faith in Christ?

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Eighty-three-old Michelle informed her husband Bill, a man of strong faith in Christ, that she might have ovarian cancer. His immediate response was, “Well, you’ve lived longer than most people have lived.” Stunned, hurt, and angered by his comment, she turned to him and boldly expressed, "Bill, you can do better than that.” He then said, having recognized how that sounded, “I’m so sorry, sweetie, for how that came out. I would be absolutely devastated if you died.”

Many would express disgust with such a man's initial comment, especially women. However, in his defense, Bill would have said the same about himself upon hearing that he might have a deadly cancer. "Well, I have lived longer than most." In fact, I dare even say that few women would be troubled by that statement. Many would see it as a sign of deep humility, acceptance, gratefulness, and faith.

As part of their blue design, some men are more "matter of fact" when it comes to issues such as terminal diseases. In Bill’s case, he clearly would be devastated if his wife died, but he also simultaneously recognizes the unavoidable truth that everyone dies eventually and that he and his wife have both lived a good, long life already. In addition, as he knows that his wife is assured of eternal life in heaven because of her salvation through Jesus Christ, he also balances the sad news with knowing that when his wife dies she will be with Jesus in paradise.

Sarah and I have a friend who was in a car accident. As she wore a halo device while recovering from her neck injury, Sarah asked her, "How did your husband handle your accident?" With her wit yet conveying a measure of hurt, she answered, "He just said, 'God is sovereign.'" Most women would find themselves sucking air if their husbands responded this way. They would find his matter-of-fact response breathtaking. “God is sovereign? That’s all he has to say? His wife is wearing a halo and is lucky to be alive. Where’s the empathy?” many women wonder.

But do these jaw-dropping statements reflect a lack of empathy or the man's total faith in Christ? If this husband was in a halo, almost being paralyzed, would he also say, "God is sovereign" or would he drown in self-pity and seek other’s empathy? I am certain he would remain just as matter-of-fact, if not even more so. And few women would be bothered by this show of faith since it was not in response to a tragedy involving a female. Again, they’d see it as a sign of deep humility, acceptance, gratefulness, and faith.

So what is the solution? How can win-win be found? How can a sensitive, emotional wife experience tragedy with her hard-shelled, matter-of-fact, but faith-filled husband without it resulting in untrue accusations that he doesn’t love her or even care for her?

See Michelle and Bill’s example. When he responded to her with “Well, you’ve lived longer than most people have lived,” she could have erupted in anger, broken down in tears, and labeled him as insensitive, uncaring, and completely self-centered. Instead, she boldly but respectfully said simply, “Bill, you can do better than that.” She recognized that her loving, goodwilled husband was simply acting out of his blue design, which she did not believe he should be faulted for. However, she wanted to still challenge him to see how her pink design was wanting to hear something different from him at that time than a truthful statement of faith.

And did Bill get offended? Did he shut down and withdraw? Did he dig in his heels and say it again: “Well, it’s true! Why aren’t you more grateful for the long life God has given you?” No, he didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he recognized how his pink wife, though she knew his goodwilled intentions, needed him to speak her language in that time. She needed to hear his empathy, not his faith.

Ladies, I would encourage you to be slow in accusing your husband of lacking empathy, simply because he doesn’t respond to bad news the same way that your girlfriends do. Remember his good will and that he would literally give his life for you. Of course he is upset at the tragic news. He’d swap places with you in a heartbeat.

And guys, please keep in mind that your pink wife was designed differently. This does not mean that she has less faith in you, but she is simply a more sensitive and emotional person who needs to feel your empathy. She needs to be reassured that you are hurting alongside her.

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

Questions to Consider

  1. Ladies, how would you have responded had you been Michelle? Guys, how would you have responded if your wife shared with you news like Michelle shared with her husband?
  2. What are some benefits to someone like Bill being more matter-of-fact? How can this help bring balance to a spouse who tends to be more emotional?
  3. What are some negatives to a person in the marriage being more matter-of-fact and less emotional than the other? How might the more emotional spouse misinterpret the other’s good intentions?
  4. When was a time when you learned (too late) that your spouse needed a different response from you than the one your pink or blue design naturally gave? Did you make an adjustment for the next time? If so, how did that go?