Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Will You Change For?

Some time ago, a friend of mine made a comment about the differences between men and women. He said that men find it easier to change. And he meant that men are more likely to repent when they make a big mistake than women are. He gave me a handful of examples and I could see his point. And yet, this claim has bothered me for several years – ever since I learned of it. Even so, I haven’t been able to put my finger on the reason I disagree with it. My friend is not inexperienced in the ways of men and women and I haven’t been willing to dismiss his claim outright. 

Then just recently I gained a bit more insight on the matter. It occurred to me that this very friend had in recent years disagreed with his wife on a handful of issues. Feelings were hurt and unfortunate things were said. After they got through the angst of it all (they are still happily married) it was obvious that it was my friend’s wife who was the most willing to change in order to improve their relationship. This struck me as an important observation because my friend has always been willing to change his life when he makes mistakes.

I have come to believe that men and women are both equally capable and willing (or perhaps unwilling, as the case may be) of making changes in their life. It’s just that the things we are willing to change are often (even inherently) different.

I remember when I was younger overhearing conversations between young married women lamenting the fact that their husbands hadn’t changed as they had hoped. I thought it was quite presumptuous of these women to assume that a man would completely change his life to accommodate his wife’s whims. Why doesn’t she change? I asked myself.

I have learned through the years that women often expect their husbands to change because they themselves are willing to change. Who wouldn’t be willing to change, the feeling seems to be, for the spouse they love more than anything?

The problem with this sort of thinking is that men are more likely to change for other things. Changing for a relationship might make a lot of sense to women (who through the millennia have often had to leave family and move to a husband’s home). But to men, it makes much less sense.

The man, in contrast, is much more philosophically minded. Ideas can motivate his entire life and many of the decisions that he makes. Most men, whether they realize it or not, are philosophers. They may not enroll in philosophy classes. But bringing up a discussion in the abstract is something they normally enjoy. Politics, the weather, even ancient Peruvian mysticism are all valid conversation pieces. There’s an important reason why the discipline of philosophy is almost completely comprised of men. (A professional woman philosopher is a rare bird.) Men are different than women.

With this manly love of philosophy comes an ability to steer one’s life by philosophical principles. If it becomes apparent to a man (whether it’s true or not) that the world’s economy will collapse in coming years, he will likely change his life to prepare for such a catastrophe.  In fact he may go to extremes – extremes that his wife (concerned as she often is with the more immediate challenges) may be concerned about.

A man thus philosophically minded might also be willing to change his life for religious reasons. If he experiences the change of heart that Alma describes so significantly (in the 5th Chapter of the Book of Alma, in the Book of Mormon) he will very likely be motivated to repent. And very often men have sufficient things to repent of.

But women are also willing to change for religious reasons. When we understand the eternal significance of the family unit, it becomes apparent that sacrifices made to promote family unity become very much religious efforts. When a women makes behavioral sacrifices for her family (whether they be for the benefit of her husband, her children, or whomever) she is certainly making a religious sacrifice. Her change is just as significant as the change her husband makes (say in giving up an alcohol addiction) in order to be worthy of an eternal marriage.

Some of these differences can be magnified out of proportion when we fail to accept our God-given sexual differences. A recent study showing that men and women have inherently different abilities relative to fasting is a case in point. We have been aware for a long time that women (having a greater genetic propensity for storing adipose tissue) survive prolonged physical ordeals better than men. But it now becomes apparent that hungry men are better able to focus their minds off of food than hungry women are. Obviously a comparison of will-power is misplaced given this genetic reality.  

We certainly need more understanding about these differences between men and women. It can help us patiently understand each other’s foibles. Why can men be so unchangingly defensive in public over seemingly little issues – as if they didn’t mind being ornery? And why are women so likely to hold grudges (forever it seems) against other women over something as trivial as a wardrobe sleight?

We all have reasons to change – some of us more than others. But we should also be sensitive to the fact that men and women are made to change in some ways better than others. If you are a philosopher and your wife is a social-light, don’t be concerned. Let your differences complement each other. In the meantime, continue with a humble and a repentant attitude. This will lead each of us in different directions. It may even lead two of us struggling with the very same issue in different directions. Fortunately for all of us, the change will be just right, as long as it is right with God.


For the article on dieting differences between men and women, see Jeffrey Kluger’s article Why Men are Better Dieters than Women, in Time Magazine (Monday, Jan. 19, 2009).

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