I once received an email about the romantic differences between men and women. It began by asking, “How do you romance a woman?”

Answer: “Wine her, dine her, call her, cuddle with her, surprise her, compliment her hair, shop with her, listen to her talk, buy flowers, hold her hand, write love letters, and be willing to go to the end of the earth and back again for her.” That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want that kind of treatment?

Ahhh … men.

The email continued, “How do you romance a man?”

Answer: “Arrive naked. Bring food.”

A woman’s picture of romance tends to revolve around her emotional needs and her thirst for a relationship with her husband. It’s a package deal, like going on a cruise. Your cruise ticket doesn’t just allow you to enjoy sailing on a ship through beautiful waters to exotic locations; it includes three meals a day plus all-you-can-eat midnight buffets, access to swimming pools, games, exercise facilities, entertainment, excursions to ports of call, and a host of other amenities and experiences.

While a man has emotional needs, too, as Dr. Willard Harley asserts in His Needs, Her Needs, a man’s view of romance is much more focused on a single experience: sexual affirmation. In that regard, God wired men and women very differently. As you probably have experienced, these radical differences in approach to romance set the stage for repeated clashes in marriage—the husband pursues romance based on his sexual passion, and the wife goes after relationship.

To know and be known

In order to understand these differences, we have to be educated and nurture a desire to learn about each other. Colossians tells us to “put on a heart of compassion” (3:12 NASB). If I love my husband, then I’ll want to know him, to understand him, to have empathy for him so I can love him more. It’s what we wanted in marriage: to know and be known by another in the safety of unconditional love.

Genesis chapters one and two teach that man and woman are made in the image of God. As I understand how God made my husband, I can better complete him as a man. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” the Bible declares (Psalms 139:14 NKJV). My husband’s maleness is as essential as my femaleness in the working out of God’s design in our marriage.

When God created woman, He gave her multiple avenues for expressing the essence of her sexuality—her femaleness. Because I am a woman, I can participate in sexual intercourse with my husband. I can conceive a child and experience the miraculous process of creating a life in my body over nine months. My husband can only watch and wonder, but he’ll never know what giving life is like.

After my child is born, I can physically nurse her for months and even years if I so choose. There is no way men can feed a baby with a bottle and begin to experience the same deep fulfillment and satisfaction women feel when they successfully nurse their child.

The experiences of childbearing and nursing are affirmations of female sexuality. Women were made to nurture life. It is an expression of our inherent femaleness, even if we never have a biological child. We are nurturers by God’s design.

Sexual affirmation

By contrast, a man’s sexuality, his manhood, is primarily expressed through sexual intercourse. Of course, this isn’t the only way he demonstrates his sexuality, but his sexual performance with his wife is an inseparable part of who he is. This area of his masculinity is subjected by the design of the Creator to a brief performance with a woman—his wife.

My point is this: when it comes to affirming your sexuality as a woman, you can participate in intercourse with your husband without having to become aroused. Your husband, however, cannot. His sexual affirmation requires him to be able to perform to complete the act of intercourse.

A wife must understand that temptation can get a foothold when her husband’s sexual needs (including the need to feel desired by his wife) remain unmet. There are many voices in a man’s world tempting him to fulfill his needs through illicit and perverted recreational outlets. Counterfeit pleasures beckon from every street corner—and every modem.

Is it any wonder that all of the warnings about sexual temptation in Proverbs are directed at men? While women are not immune from the pressures of sexual temptation, I find it remarkable that there are a host of examples of men falling into this sin throughout the Scriptures (Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law thinking she was a prostitute, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah, or Amnon raping Tamar)—not to mention the examples of women trying to seduce men (such as Potiphar’s wife luring Joseph to her sofa), but there are no examples of women being seduced by men.

How to say “not tonight” without crushing his ego

Oil and vinegar

In a way, the blending of our romantic differences is similar to making a good salad dressing. Oil and vinegar are about as dissimilar as condiments get. The only thing they have in common is that they are liquids. Oil is smooth; vinegar is sharp. Oil is thick; vinegar is thin. Left alone in the same bottle, the two will always migrate to opposite ends and remain there forever—unless shaken.

Interestingly even after the bottle has been shaken, the two retain their unique identities. And yet they complement each other in a perfect unity; together, they serve as a zesty finish to an otherwise bland mix of lettuces. And so it is in marriage. No matter how many times a husband and a wife come together, they always remain unique. He will always think like a man; she, like a woman. While their innate design will not change, they can better understand each other and move to love each other with compassion, knowing that, in so doing, they give each other life.

I’ve had women ask me, “Could God possibly design such a gigantic flaw?” Could He really not know the implications for His children? Hardly. God’s design isn’t a mistake. God is in control. He fashioned us together as husband and wife the way we are wired, with our unique backgrounds, for a specific purpose.

And He has done the same for you.

Grateful for God’s design

I turned a corner in our relationship when I chose to begin thanking God for His design of my husband and me. As a result, I started to see how important it was for my husband to need me, and I began to appreciate his greater sexual drive. Our coming together sexually was a key part of what has kept our relationship a marriage—not merely friendship, a roommate living arrangement. Sexual intimacy with my husband gives both of us the comfort of being known and accepted on a deep level that is unlike other human relationship.

Thanking God is a decision I choose to make. From there, I choose to love my husband even if I don’t have strong feelings. Love, ultimately, is a commitment to seek the best of the one loved. I can choose to exercise my power as a passionate, nurturing, fully alive woman, or I can withhold and withdraw.

You face the same decision to love your man today.

Your husband will never be the man God created him to be if you don’t validate his maleness and understand and satisfy his need for sexual intimacy. You are God’s primary instrument of love and affirmation if he is to become God’s man. You have the power to make him or break him, because men are not born, they are made.

Adapted by permission of Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN, from Rekindling the Romance, copyright 2004 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. All rights reserved.