Sexual Difference Matters
Sexual difference is real. Sexual difference matters. Sexual difference is fundamental to the human being and indicates core ontological essences of both the male and female. I recently attended a piano recital where the nine-year-old son of a friend of mine had to play two songs. The first was a sweet, delicate song titled “The Sun Is Rising,” which all the young ladies played with excellence and precision. But not my friend’s son. To watch him attempt to play the piece was simply painful. The long pauses between notes, the utter lack of passion, the hitting of the incorrect keys all indicated that he was not much of a piano player. He then proceeded to play the second song, “Og the Caveman.” Suddenly, he came alive, banging on the keys, not missing a note or a beat—the transformation was startling. His dad leaned over to me and said, “I guess we know what song he likes better.” My wife knows of a five-year-old redheaded boy who is continually doted on by his aunt and grandmother. They take him to daily Mass, and have him sit, perfectly mannered, in the front pew,. He is not allowed to eat fast food or anything with sugar; it could make him too hyper. He is not allowed to play with guns or toy dinosaurs for fear that they could develop within him hostility and rage. My wife recently attended a Mass at which this young lad was once again seated prim and proper in the front pew. However, she noticed that as the people were processing for Communion, the boy turned around toward the line of people, and using the back of the pew as a shield, pointed his finger in the shape of a gun and systematically assassinated each communicant. Boys are innately competitive, while girls are innately communal. Understandably, this is why sexual segregation in education was so effective. When boys and girls are placed in the same classroom, girls who are about harmony and communion want to commune with the boys, and boys who are about competition and challenge want to compete for the girls. Sexual difference is real and has tremendous consequences. God created man and woman to fit together, to complement and complete one another, to depend on one another in their pursuit of joy and truth. As John Paul II said, “Human life is by its nature ‘co-educational’ and its dignity as well as its balance depend at every moment of history and in every place of geographical longitude and latitude on ‘who’ she shall be for him and he for her.” We men by nature are created to be initiators of self-sacrificial love as expressed in and through our bodies. Women are created to be the essential counterpart, the completion of man. By receiving his authentic self-donation, she becomes able to give life in return to the man and to the world. Again, John Paul II says, “The husband is above all the one who loves his wife, who by contrast is the one who is loved” (TOB 92:6). The truth is that men need women, and women need men, but often we don’t understand how to harmonize our sexual difference or how to unite the two so that we truly become one as God is One. As Raymond Hull said, “All marriages are happy. It’s just the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.” What’s the secret behind good marriages?
What do you think is the leading cause of divorce? The studies demonstrate that the root cause of most divorces is lack of communication. It reminds me of the story of an elderly couple, married forty-five years, who went for a car ride. The wife asked her husband to put on his seat belt. He refused. She asked a second time, and a third, but he refused each time. Suddenly, as they were driving, the husband noticed that a police car was on his heels. Considering this, he covertly put on his seat belt. The officer pulled him over and asked him, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” To which the man responded, “No, officer, I have no idea.” “It is because you weren’t wearing your seat belt.” The man responded emphatically that he did have it on. The officer and the man continued to argue over the matter, until finally the officer, in a moment of frustration, turned to the man’s wife and said, “Ma’am, you appear to be quite sensible. Could you please tell your husband that he did not have his seat belt on.” To which she responded, “Officer, after forty-five years of marriage, I’ve learned never to argue with my husband when he’s drunk.” Communicating with our spouses can be extremely challenging, but how we communicate most often determines the trajectory of our marriages. “Lifestyle website YourTango.com polled 100 mental health professionals and found that communication problems was cited as the most common factor that leads to divorce (65 percent), followed by couples’ inability to resolve conflict (43 percent). They survey also found that men and women have different communication complaints. Seventy percent of the experts surveyed said that men cite nagging and complaining as the top communication problem in their marriage. Women’s top complaint was that their spouse doesn’t validate their opinions or feelings enough, according to 83 percent of experts. John Gottman — a professor emeritus from the University of Washington who’s conducted research on couple behavior for 40 years — has suggested that there are four types of communication problems that can lead to divorce: criticism of partners’ personality, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (the refusal to communicate at all).” (http://www.yourtango.com/experts/rochelle-bilow/want-your-marriage-last) Why do couples critique, express contempt, become defensive, and shut each other down? Couples become hurt and resentful because certain needs are not being addressed, and usually these needs are not addressed because couples don’t have the humility, patience, and courage to communicate them properly. They are not simply wants—they are authentic, God-given, real needs that exist at the core of every human being’s soul. When these needs are addressed, a person’s dignity and call to greatness is awakened. It my hope that over the next several sessions, we will by God’s grace be able to unpack both his and her most basic fundamental needs. However, before we proceed with that incredible task, as Professor S. says, “The idea of needs itself needs to be unpacked.”
According to Professor S., “God made man and woman to need one another. This is not a weakness or a character flaw per se. It is part and parcel of the original plan.” As we discussed previously, God’s forming the woman from man’s rib indicates that he will only find the completion of himself by means of her, and she will continually return to him to find her completion. However, the two cannot find complete satisfaction and fulfillment in the other. But rather, by means of completing one another, they begin to image God, and find fulfillment in God through the other. Indeed, “Man can only discover himself by becoming a sincere gift” (see GS 24). We need to give ourselves to another in order to discover ourselves by means of the other. For example, a friend of mine recently recounted that during his first forty years of marriage his wife was always there for him. He would come home after a long day’s work or an extended business trip and she would have his drink and dinner prepared. She would listen to him complain about the difficulties of travel, meetings, and people. But recently she has become ill. She is suffering from Alzheimer’s and can do nothing for herself. Though she cannot remember who he is, he nevertheless visits her daily for hours at a time, feeding her, talking to her, keeping her company. He said, “Before, it was all about me, what she could give to me. Today, it’s about her and what I can give to her. She is purifying me of my pride.” My friend has come to realize that he needs his broken, ill wife in order to be purified. This is the key to marriage: We need our wives because we need to be purified of selfishness and learn to become the men, fathers, and leaders we are destined to be—men of self-sacrificial love. I personally need my wife because I need to learn how to love, how to sacrifice, how to be a man. Her very presence summons me, calls me out, to be a self-giving man. Without her, I’m a self-centered egomaniac with an inferiority complex.
Spousal Core Needs: Her Need
As I discussed this idea of communicating needs with Professor S., she related an insight that, I must admit, initially alarmed me, and caused some internal discomfort and perhaps spiritual resistance. She said, “What is woman’s core need? Woman needs to be needed by him, she needs a man to admit to her his need for her.” Though I resisted the idea at first, I knew she was correct. However, the thought of expressing to my wife that I need her struck a nerve, a sore spot, a deep-seated wound. This truth hit that little place in my heart that is perhaps a little overly sensitive to my own lack of strength, to my own weakness, and to my own dislike of my own littleness. By admitting that I need my wife, to my wife, I would become highly vulnerable and appear to be weak, and potentially risk losing my apparent strength. At least, it appears this way on the surface. However, if we penetrate this tension, we discover that the genius of need is God’s very logic. As Professor S. says, “The point of morality is not morality itself, but the freedom that comes from keeping our attachments ordered. The point is not in keeping the law as an end in itself, the point is in who we become because of keeping it. The same is true in marriage. Meeting needs and having ours met is not the point in itself, rather, what we are building and becoming by it. By trying to meet the legitimate God-given needs of the other day in and day out, we are building a marriage and becoming real lovers. And a marriage is something like a chalice. If there are no holes, the chalice can be filled with wine…a symbol for warmth, joy, communion and delight. But if the chalice is filled with holes, the wine runs out and we are left frustrated and empty. God is constantly pouring out wine into our marriages, but we can only hold as much as the holes in it will allow. It is no coincidence that Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding…and that they ran out of wine!” The Bride, represented by Mary at the wedding of Cana, says to Christ the Bridegroom, “They have no wine.” In other words, “I have a need that only you can fulfill.” Christ, the perfect Bridegroom, while on the cross, in weakness admits His need, “I thirst.” In other words, the Bridegroom says to the Bride, “I need you.” “I thirst for you.” “Quench me with your love.” “I need you.” When God created Adam, he was initially alone, experiencing the weight of his solitude. God attempted to communicate to Adam his massive need for an essential counterpart. Today, God still attempts to communicate to each of us that we have this need. The key to successful, resilient, intimate, enduring marriages that are full of vitality is that the couple has learned how to express, in one way or another, that they need each other. A friend of mine says often, “I would never have had the confidence and courage to do the stupid things I’ve done without my wife telling me, ‘I think you can do this.’” He is one of the most successful men I know. By saying this to her, he is saying, “I need you.” “You are needed.” “You complete me.” After I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, my thyroid was surgically removed and I underwent radiation therapy. I encountered a series of serious health problems, such as severe fatigue, nearly debilitating depression, brain fog—I still have that. My wife worked tirelessly to provide the nutrients, foods, diet, friendship, and support that saved me. I say to her often, “Without you I would be dead.” To which she responds, “Perhaps I should not have helped.” She is my Eve, that is, “life bearer,” “life-giver,” my ezer chenegdo, my essential counterpart. In a certain way, I express to her that she is needed, and that I need her.
Spousal Core Needs: His Need
But what do we men need from our wives? What is our core need in a marital relationship? As Joe Hebert, our FOSJ cofounder says, “Man’s core need is to be needed as a leader, an initiator of self-giving love. Being a leader, the man must express his need for his wife’s partnership, and must communicate to his wife that her help is essential. Her need to be needed presupposes his leadership. In other words, the woman must admit his leadership and he must admit that she is his essential partner.” We men must acknowledge that our core need in the marital relationship is to lead and be respected for our leadership. The man and the woman have core needs: the man’s need is to lead, while the woman’s need is to be an essential counterpart to his leadership. It is imperative that both parties acknowledge the other’s need while expressing their own.
The Evil One’s Tactic
The evil one continually tempts us men to hide the fact that we have this authentic, God-given need. Because if he convinces us to hide this reality, we also help him hide God’s plan as revealed through marriage. Recall that the earthly communion in marriage directs us to the eternal reality of communion with God. The devil hates this. He continually tempts us to believe “I don’t really need her.” “I’m just fine on my own. She actually is the one who needs me.” This belief can lead to the disorder of dominating our wives. On the other hand, if a man places all the pressure on his wife to satisfy him, to fulfill him, he will crush her. She cannot fulfill him. Such a man pusillanimously says, “I need you,” in a way that really means, “You are my God.” In a way, he believes that she is the source of his strength or life, rather than a person who can transmit to him the Life who alone gives strength. In other words, our wives are a way to the Way, a life that leads to the Life, a creature that leads to the Creator. The evil one also convinces women to fulfill their own need. She says, “I don’t need you to fulfill my need. I’ll do it myself.” This is radical feminism, a false independence. On the other hand, when she doesn’t receive authentic self-giving love, she resorts to manipulating the man, tempting him in order to obtain some type of affirmation that makes her “feel” needed, or she looks elsewhere to fulfill that need. As Professor S. says, “If she doesn’t believe that she’s needed, she will be tempted to find someone else who will need her and desire her.” A friend related an account of a good, “nice,” Catholic man whose wife had an affair with another man for a number of years. He was oblivious to the affair because he wasn’t paying attention to her. The woman admitted that the affair was her plea, her cry to her husband, “Fight for me!” But he never did. He never expressed that he needed her, and every woman’s need is to be needed. But her lover did. He actually told her, “I can’t live without you.” So she divorced her husband. Our wives’ core need is to be needed—by us.
Making Marriage Attractive
To not admit weakness is weakness itself. To not admit our need indicates that we are not aware of how needy we really are. Communication of needs is the very heart of communion, but the most important need that needs to be communicated is “I need you.” In early Roman culture, often men had wives for the purpose of bearing their children and maintaining a credible social status, while also having multiple concubines and harlots to fulfill other needs. Marriage in the early Christian Church became a magnetic, shining example of self-giving love that won over many of the Romans. As Professor S. says, “Marriage is not a private project—it’s a project for the world. Today, marriage is not drawing people to God’s fullness of life, because we are not breaking through the satanic strongholds of pride.” Communication is essential to a successful marriage. Even more essential is communicating authentic needs. But even more essential is the communication “I need you.” Or as the perfect Bridegroom says to the Bride, “I thirst.” To admit that we need our wives can be humbling. However, it is the truth and the truth sets us free—free to love like God. We need her, because we need to learn how to become a self-sacrificial gift.