What Makes Marriage So Challenging?



Last summer I wrote a short three part series on marriage. Without apology, as I look at the ongoing erosion of marriages (both Christian and non Christian) I feel led to revisit what I shared. I pray you find it encouraging and helpful.


I have often said in my counseling office that the Lord has unique ways to help us grow up and set aside our selfishness and self-focus that linger well into adulthood. What are they? The first is marriage and the second is parenting.


In the close confines of a home where two people are seeking to build a life together, the possibility of chuckholes, breakdowns, side trips, detours, and more seem endless.


Of course we fell in love and we seemed to get along well, had so much in common after what seemed like endless hours of talking. How hard could it be?


Clearly, we all had so much to learn!


If we are serious about making our union solid and sound, we can attend workshops and retreats or read any number of GREAT Christian books on marriage where we learn so many skills we will need. We learn about the differences in love languages and how we each view love and respect. We can put almost any topic or issue we face in a search engine and find resources a plenty. I know. I have some of the very best on my bookshelves from my 51 years of marriage and nearly 30 years as a Marriage and Family Therapist.


It seems many of them have some particular nugget I add to my toolbox as a wife (and formerly a counselor and mentor). Of course, the idea is to use them, right?


More than twenty years ago I came across one of those gems in a book written by H. Norman Wright and Gary J. Oliver. They have been around a bit and those who are not under a certain age have likely heard of them. I have been blessed to see and hear them in person on multiple occasions at conferences and workshops. They are real Christian men who have not only written great resources, but also needed to walk out what they knew as each have experienced great challenges and losses including death of a spouse, death of a child, and cancer as only a few.


In their book (How to Change Your Spouse Without Ruining Your Marriage) two chapters were unlike anything I had seen elsewhere. As I read them I could not help but think the Lord surely has a sense of humor because of how different He made us as men and women.



There is NO WAY this can work without His help!    


I want to share some of these differences with you in case you have not come across them. Even if you have not yet married, tune in because you will be way ahead of the game if you understand them. They will actually be helpful in any relationship with the opposite sex!


For a marriage to survive and thrive, the differences need to be understood, accepted, honored, and respected.


What we might miss is how many differences there are beyond anatomy and personality! Much of that starts with the differences in the brain!


We have all likely heard about left brain/right brain things, but I wonder if you are aware of some nuances of that that have an affect on our marriage.


As a review Wright and Oliver remind us:


“The thinking pattern of the left side of your brain is positive, analytic, linear, explicit, sequential, verbal, concrete, rational, and goal-oriented. The right side is intuitive, spontaneous, emotional, nonverbal, visual, artistic, playful, holistic, and physical.”


Before you start determining who is who in the relationship, keep reading…


We ALL shift back and forth between the two sides of our brain as we carry on our daily activities. BUT there are some genetic differences between men and women.


Curious? Here are some of the ways Wright and Oliver give us a glimpse of.


The brain of a man is organized and has a high level of lateralization and as a result they tend to shift farther left or right than we do as women. The brain of a woman is not as specialized and operates more holistically than a man. Even though our sweet man is able to give more focused attention to what he is doing, we as women use both sides of our brain simultaneously to work on a problem.


That always makes me wonder how much that affects our “discussions” when we try to do problem-solving together.


Surprisingly to some, women are genetically left-brain oriented and not so surprisingly tend to be more verbally skilled. A woman’s left-brain develops earlier and this appears to give her more of an edge in writing and reading.


For that man of ours, the right brain develops faster than ours as women and through his lifetime he will use that side of his brain to be more skillful in spatial areas. The downside for him is that a lack of socialization will many times result in the emotional intuitive side of him being more limited. (Remember this…. he is hardwired this way from the very beginning. It is his genetic makeup.)


The way the female brain has been designed by the Lord and how He has designed it to work (not as specialized) can give her an advantage and result in her being more perceptive about people than men do many times. Her brain works a lot like a computer that integrates a number of things at one time including reason and intuition.


Her other asset because of the design of the female brain is that how it works causes her to pick up more information through their sensitivities such as hearing, seeing, sense of taste and smell. (I sometimes wonder about that, as my husband’s sense of fragrances seems better than my own.)


How does all this get in the mix of problem solving? I am sure you are getting a sense it probably does. You might even be thinking of examples!


Over the next few posts, I want to share a little more about the differences in our brain and energy levels as part of our original design. It can take some of the tendency to personalize or blame our spouse.


That also causes me to wonder at the Lord’s potential sense of humor since these differences can certainly impact us!











6 thoughts on “What Makes Marriage So Challenging?

  1. So much truth here. I’m also going to take a look at that book. I work with a lot of women who are facing issues in their marriage & are trusting in God to redeem their marriages, so I’m always on the lookout for info like this – how the brain is wired – to help them understand and process some of the differences we face in perceiving issues in our marriages.

    Stopping by from Fresh Market Friday. 🙂

    1. Hi Rebekah! I think you would find it an excellent tool. The book is not at all new so you may need to hunt for a copy on Amazon or Alibris or even the library (although I think you will want your own copy once you get into it). So often we get stuck in considering issues and conflicts in our marriages are personal and the conflict gets to spinning around. Certainly some conflict can be personal, but knowing how God designed each of us so differently (NOT just sexually) can help us to understand and be more effective in communicating and understanding each other. Hope you are blessed. Check out the follow-up posts I will put up on Monday and Wednesday this coming week as well! Blessings on your weekend!!

  2. What an interesting read. I never thought about the way our brains work and how it can affect our marriage. I’m going to have to have a talk with the hubby about this. Thank you for the insight.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I plan on “checking out” the book by Wright and Oliver. I loved your words, “I have often said in my counseling office that the Lord has unique ways to help us grow up and set aside our selfishness and self-focus that linger well into adulthood. What are they? The first is marriage and the second is parenting.” So true! I will definitely share your words via social media!

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