Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a man who phoned a local armory and spoke to a young recruit. “What kind of stock do we have there at the armory, private?” the caller asked authoritatively.

The private replied, “Sir, we have six tanks, six trucks, twelve jeeps, and a whole lot of guns and ammunition. Oh, yeah, we’ve also got two Cadillacs for our big, fat generals.”

The caller paused before barking out, “Private, do you know who this is?”

“No, sir,” the startled private replied.

“This is General Weston!”

Again there was a pause in the conversation, until the private asked, “General Weston, do you know who this is?”

Surprised, the general answered. “No!”

The private chuckled and said, “See ya around, fatty!”

Handle with care

Obviously, it’s important to know who you’re dealing with! That’s especially true when it comes to marriage. Women often baffle us men. So in 1 Peter 3:7, Scripture challenges us with the following exhortation:

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.

Actually, when Peter tells us to live with our wives “in an understanding way,” he literally means, “according to knowledge.” In other words, know your wife! Understand she’s very different from you. Besides the obvious physical differences, there are vast psychological and emotional differences as well. Don’t operate on hearsay, stereotypes, or guesswork. Find out the facts, and treat your wife appropriately.

Notice Peter also tells us how to treat our wives: “as with a weaker vessel.” Typically, men read that as, “I have to go easy with my wife. I have to walk on eggshells around her. She can’t take much. She’s just a fragile little thing.” That, I’m afraid, misses the point that Peter is making.

When Peter describes the woman as a “weaker vessel,” he’s talking about something rare and delicately crafted. A good metaphor is the fine china that your wife keeps hidden away until guests come over. Would you throw your fine china around like paper plates? No! You treat fine china very carefully, not just because it’s delicate, but because it’s valuable! In the same way, you need to treat your wife as the most valuable asset in your home. She’s the fine china that God has placed in your life as a gift.

Understanding a woman

You treat your wife with care, Peter says, because she is a woman. What a simple but profound statement that is: since she is a woman. In other words, she’s not a man!

You are to treat your wife with different, special care because she is a different, special person. This, by the way, is one of the most powerful phrases in the New Testament in recognizing the distinction between men and women. Because she is a woman, your wife is very different from you as a man. She has different needs, a different perspective, a different way of dealing with the world, and different interests.

Take the area of sex, for instance. Years ago I read in a magazine survey that sex was a man’s number-one leisure activity. If you’re a man, that’s no real surprise, is it? However, that same survey revealed that reading was the number-one leisure activity for women. That’s right, reading! Can you believe it, men? We are that different!

It’s for reasons like this you are to live with your wife “in an understanding way.” Do you know any man who claims to “understand” his wife? If so, have him call me! Psychologically, emotionally, and physically, women manage to confound men at times, creating no end of confusion and consternation.

Yet Peter challenges us to overcome that frustration by learning to treat our wives “according to knowledge.” Most men are not necessarily unwilling to meet their wife’s needs; they simply are unaware of what those needs really are. For instance, a lot of us assume that what is important to us as men will be important to our wives as well.

Not long ago I gave my wife a two-year membership to a health club for Christmas. Of course, I assumed (wrongly!) that because I liked to work out at a health club, she would, too. Well, after I made the 24th payment on a completely unused membership, it finally occurred to me that I’d misinterpreted her needs!

Many times, however, it ceases to be funny. As one psychologist explained, “A man can have the best of intentions to meet his wife’s needs, but if he thinks her needs are similar to his own, he will fail miserably.” Some of us men really do fail miserably. We’re shooting in the dark when it comes to understanding our wives. And it hurts. No wonder so many marriages have fallen on hard times.

As a pastor, I often hear men boil over and say something like, “I don’t know what she wants from me! I can’t please her! I knock myself out twelve hours a day to give her everything anyone could ever want, and she still isn’t satisfied! What’s the deal?”

You can meet your wife’s wants yet still miss her needs. That’s what the deal is. Your wife doesn’t need you to work 12 hours a day. More likely, it’s you who “needs” to work that much. You’re out there trying to find your identity and establish your worth and value. You’re out there for you more than for her.

What she needs is for you “to live with her in an understanding way … since she is a woman”! A little feminine understanding can go a long way in meeting your wife’s real needs.

Excerpted from Rocking the Roles by Robert Lewis and William Hendricks, copyright 1991 by Robert Lewis and William Hendricks. Used by permission of NavPress, All rights reserved.