Vive la différence – Discovering, Accepting and Appreciating that Men and Women are Different

Early in the pages of Scripture God decreed that It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helpmate for him (Gen 2:18). And God made woman. Now the fact is that a woman is VERY different from a man. The physical differences are obvious but these physical differences arise from important differences in the soul. It is the soul that is the form of the body and the qualities of the male and female soul give rise to physical differences. I know that this is politically incorrect today, but it is true. It is a common modern error to be dismissive of the profound differences between the sexes. No one can deny the physical differences but they are dismissed as surface only, of no real significance. But the truth is that our bodies are expressions of the faculties of our soul and male and female differences are far more than skin deep.

It remains true that these differences often give rise to tensions in the marriage and the overall relationships between men and women. That men and women perceive differently, think differently, and have different emotional experiences is just a fact and it is always healthy to recognize and  accept reality. Too often in the modern age there has been a tendency to dismiss these deep differences as just archetypes of bygone “sexist” era. But what ends up happening is that an expectation is created that these differences will just go away when we decide to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. But guess what , they don’t. And thus resentments and anger follow. Too many marriages end in power struggles because neither spouse can accept that it was not good for them to be alone and that God gave them a spouse who, by design, is very different so that they could be challenged and completed.

It is true, Original sin has intensified our pain at the experience of these given differences. The Catechism links the tension surrounding these difference to the Fall of Adam and Eve:

[The] union [of husband and wife] has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character. According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations;their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work. Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them “in the beginning.”  (CCC #s 1606-1608)

In the end, it seems clear that we need to return to an appreciation of the necessity of our differences. Though our differences can be be intensified by sin, it is a fact that God made us different for a reason. These differences help spouses to complete each other. A husband should say, “My wife has some things important to teach me. I am incomplete without her.”  Likewise the wife should be able  to say that her husband has important things to teach her and that he somehow completes her. In this way we move beyond power struggles and what is right and wrong in every case and learn to experience that some tension is good. No tension, no change. God intends many of these differences to change and complete spouses. God calls the very difference humans he has made “suitable” partners.

And humor never hurts. Here is a wonderful and funny comedy routine about the differences between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain. Humor is often the best of medicines to defuse some of the tensions that arise from our differences.  Vive la difference!

(By the way, as with any humor,  stereotypes are used a bit here. But things are usually funny because they ring true. It is also a fact that not every individual man or woman has every trait described here (for example, I don’t have a very big “nothing box”) but enjoy this video for the humorous descriptions of the general situation).

30 Replies to “Vive la différence – Discovering, Accepting and Appreciating that Men and Women are Different”

  1. I love the video! I had a great laugh. I think that there are so many ways to go more in depth on this topic. We could talk about differences between males and females socially, psychologically, etc. Personally, relationship wise, I believe that relationships should be 2 individuals coming together and complementing each other, not so much “you complete me.” In my personal life and in that I have seen of others, relationships where one person was looking to the other to complete them did not work out. Relationships where we can grow and learn from each other, but still maintain a sense of individuality tend to work out more, in my experience.

    Because of having had some really nasty relationships, I have chosen celibacy for the time being. I have also re-thought some of my standards when it comes to dating. The man I am with must accept me, all of me, rocky past and everything in between, for me to choose to be with him. Being celibate is very freeing – it allows me to focus on my friends, job, school, and faith where I was restricted in relationships.

    Great observations, and I look forward to more posts in the future! I am praying for you, as well.

    1. Katherine, I agree with your assessment that the spousal union is a complementing thing, but I also agree that in a good match, the spouses complete each other. This isn’t to say that alone we are deficient; it is to say that if we are to join with someone, a successful union will naturally compensate for the deficiencies in each other, and together, the couple, having become ‘one,’ have a strong, synergistic relationship. I know for a fact that I am a much better human being because of my husband; I believe he feels the same way about me. Does that make sense?

      1. It does make sense to me. I think I will see sense of it more when and if I am married. I have learned to be guarded because of relationships where I have had to defend myself. I learned to be an individual, because to be completed by the other person at the time would have been destructive.

        Basically right now I am focusing healing myself and others – I would love to know what it is like to be in a relationship where one completes the other, but I am not looking for it at the same time. Thank you for your insights – I am learning something new every day from this blog and those who comment!

      2. Only God is complete in and of Himself.

        The rest of us are necessarily incomplete as an inherent part of our nature, unless and until He completes us, either in connection with another human person (marriage – reuniting the rib to that hole in our side) or, if not in marriage, by joining us to Him, either in a formal, consecrated sense (priesthood, religious) or a temporary sense until one or the other (marriage or religious life) is attained.

      3. Having said what I said, which was as a general matter, I understand where Katherine is coming from. The modern world, like most other things, does not properly understand what is meant by “you complete me,” just like it does not understand the idea of “love.” And, of course, it is not the case, at least in the current state of the world, where just any male will complete any female, or vice versa.

        As a theoretical matter, if both are of the same mindset, the marriage of two strangers by an arranged marriage could work very well (although they probably were not strangers, based on the practices of the time and according to tradition, the marriage of Joseph and Mary was an arranged marriage), although as a practical matter, at least in the West, it does not work. Rather, the “right” person is needed. The problem is that we have so narrowed the definition of who is “right” to a single Mr. or Miss Right, such that so many good potential mates are never given a second look.

        But, in any event, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We are not made for solitude, we are made for relationships, most specifically that relationship which is in the image of the Trinity, a loving communion of persons, which is both unitive, two become one (by and with the grace of God), and fruitful, i.e. children (physical or spiritual) or otherwise (inasmuch as love is naturally fruitful, not stagnant).

    2. Well, Bender – I agree with all of that, so why do I feel like I’ve been chastised here?

      My grandparents had an arranged marriage – my grandmother came from Russia to marry my grandfather – sight unseen for both of them. They had 10 kids and were married for a long time – my grandmother died first, and grandpa followed just a year later. They always said he died of a broken heart.

      Me personally? I’d love to see arranged marriages make a come-back.

  2. Very nice piece of writing Monsignor – once one stops laughing at the buttons and knobs representation and gets to reading, that is. What you say is very true; our innate differences define what we are and how we act, and those differences should be celebrated!. I am constantly informing my husband that he really would not want me any other way than the way I am. In fact, I’ll hound him until he admits to the truth in that. Of course, I’d like him to be different, but that’s my problem. 🙂

    Whoever this Gungor guy is, well, he’s brilliant and after watching this, I’d say there is no reason to ever look for another source to explain the differences between men and women. He’s done it all in just under 11 minutes.

    Thanks for a great, great post!

  3. didn’t watch the video, because of low bandwidth here. But the text was interesting, yes, women are different- but we need them to be! I love the differences!

  4. Wonderful post, Monsignor. I am curious, though. How does this position inform the ongoing debate about women’s ordination?

  5. Liked your article, though the terminology of your title might be misleading for some people. The term “différence,” has a very specific meaning for post-modern philosophy, such as that stemming from Jacques Derrida, et al; which is not your meaning, I hope.
    I think it is very important to emphasize the essentiality of sex -male and female. We have to remember that many errors grow out of the thinking that our souls are unsexed; e.g. feminism. The composite nature of soul&body and our identity as persons has so much to do with our being male or female, and it seems strange that secular culture is loosing its grip on this very obvious principle. The other day I heard someone say: “[so and so] is a beautiful being.” What? Not only is John or Jacky a beautiful being, but a beautiful Person! It is unto our human person(soul-body composite) that our sexuality belongs, and it can not be so easily discarded.

    1. I am not sure I understand your first sentence, but I am not much of a philosopher either. At any rate I think the rest of what you have to say is right on target. Sexuality as “incidental” is a huge error of modern times and not very observant either.

  6. I like to think of men and women as two sides of a coin: They are different, yet made for one another.

  7. This is a great post Msgr Pope. I think a lot of times wives want to turn their husbands into their girlfriends. And single mother’s of male children run the danger of turning their sons into their spouses. Woman must learn to have a richer appreciation for what God has given us – Real men, not our idea of what men should be.
    Thanks be to God.

  8. Clearly there is a difference between men and women, and certainly that difference is not merely incidental, but it also seems extremely difficult to characterize precisely what the difference is. I am weary of saying that men and women “think differently.” What precisely does this mean? I think the difference is very closely tied to the body, and the end or fulfillment of the person as male or as female. This fulfillment, the making perfect of an individual, is a mysterious thing, because it occurs in and through God. I really dislike the conventional wisdom that women are less logical and more emotional than men and vice versa. Even when you try to spin that assesment as a compliment, that women are more sensitive and emotionally aware, etc., it still undermines woman’s intelligence, because, after all, the beginning of knowledge is judgement, the peculiar work of reason. I whole heartedly agree that we ought to come to appreciate the differences between the sexes, but I think the first step to doing so is to correctly identitfy what the difference is, a very difficult task. The summary that men and women think differently is too superficial to serve as a basis for appreciating the difference between the sexes.

    1. It is true that the video mentions the woman’s emotional energy but the main diffrence in thinking seems to be that women are more relational in the sense that issues and people are inter-related more in their thinking than men who tend to think in sperate boxes. And the word “tend” is probably an important word. As I pointed out, I don’t have a big nothing box. None of us match the recipe exactly. At any rate my point is that the difference in thinking is the relational vs. boxes. The video does then mention the more emotioanl energy in a woman, but this seems to me to be less realted to the thinking than to the general question of demenor. Also, this video is an excerpt from a longer video. I don’t baptize everything he says but to my mind, there is a value in specifying differences and taking some delight and humor in them.

      1. The video was funny! but my point is just that it’s not really clear what we mean when we say differences-in-thinking vs. differences-in-demeanor vs. relational-and-box approach — I think someone wiser than me should set about making useful distinctions, because otherwise you’re left with the old conventional wisdom that doesn’t do men or women any favors in the eyes of the opposite sex! This is especially important because of the symbolism in the Church, what does it mean that the Church is the bride of Christ? Why do we call God Father? There is a richness in the notion of male vs female that I think is too easily trivialized. . . Still the video was funny!

      2. Well I guess we should emphasize that it is a comedy routine, not a serious academic lecture. It’s funny, it contains elements of truth but like all humor they are exaggerated. So, take what you like and leave the rest. I can really only defend well what I have written and, I did issue a cautionary note as to the “sterotypical” quality of the video. Humor does that though. But like all humor, it has to be taken in the context that it is humor and not meant to be “clear” about everything and make lots of distinctions.

      3. Just for the record – I looked the guy up. It’s more than a comedy routine – the guy is apparently a successful marriage counselor who uses humor to make his points. Like I said, I think he’s brilliant and he really has captured the differences in the way men and women think. So what if it’s stereotypical? Isn’t life a bit stereotypical to begin with? Aren’t people?

      4. ha ha, thanks for proving my point jan! stereotypes usually help us appreciate and cherish our differences right? “men and women think differently” isn’t a good enough answer to the question or a path to appreciating each other

  9. My polish girlfriend (renouned for being a chatterbox) of seven years would tell me everything about the effects & characteristics of a problem which will go on forever before she gets to the point of telling me what the problem is, however I can state the problem in one sentence.

    This thing annoys me so much, I cant understand why she can get to the point in one sentence like me, not only that but when it comes to getting answers for a question she would choose the longest way of delivering an answer.

    I some times wonder if God was trying to be a comedian (at the sight of us men wrecking our brains about it) when he invented women & I was also wondering if God created women first would she tell God how to go about making man?

    Msgr. C Pope PLEASE PRAY FOR ME!!!

  10. My husband watched the video with me, and commented that men need a Nothing Box so that they can be rested in case they have to hunt something. [“Hunt something” most likely involves going to the Giant to select steaks for the grill.]

  11. the sterotypical male might be like that and a sterotypical woman might be like that.
    but I think most people are somewhat in the middle If half of what is said in video were to be acurate to me then I have a brain that is mostly female in this male body of mine

  12. Actually, the general observations mentioned here apply very well across the board. There are “points spreads” because of individual combinations of temperament, social or interactive style and cognitive dynamics. These are the true parallels to what the Bible calls the body, soul and spirit, in their psychological expression with regard to personality type.

    For example, as an ENFP (Myers-Briggs code for one of the 16 personality types as based on the above), my mind is more interconnected and has a smaller “nothing box” than is true for most men – but it’s still true that I think very much in boxes and have a very effective “nothing box”. There is a basic brain construct which depends (so I understand) on our chromosome-based sexuality, but that is overlaid by the influences of four hormones in the womb (the sex hormones plus two others). An ENFP male (with the other three types of what Dr. Linda Berens calls the Catalyst temperament) has a considerable overlay toward the “feminine” way of thinking thanks to the predominant presence of estrogen in the womb.

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