FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Men and Women’s Unique Design

with Larry Crabb | February 18, 2014
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What has God built into the heart of a man and woman? Dr. Larry Crabb explains that the greatest fear of a woman is to be invisible and overlooked. A man's core fear, on the other hand, is weightlessness or feeling like he's not making any difference. Battling different fears, Crabb explains how men and women manifest selfishness differently.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What has God built into the heart of a man and woman? Dr. Larry Crabb explains that the greatest fear of a woman is to be invisible and overlooked. A man's core fear, on the other hand, is weightlessness or feeling like he's not making any difference. Battling different fears, Crabb explains how men and women manifest selfishness differently.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dr. Larry Crabb explains that the greatest fear of a woman is to be invisible.

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Men and Women’s Unique Design

With Larry Crabb
February 18, 2014
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Bob: You have read in the Bible that husbands are supposed to be leaders and wives are supposed to respond to their husband’s leadership. Well, what do you do in a marriage if a wife is a more naturally-gifted leader and a husband is, by temperament, a little more quiet and laid-back? Author Larry Crabb says if that’s the case, dig deep.

Larry: I would say look beneath the surface into your motivations. Look to see whether or not there is a form of masculinity that you can take as a quiet, laid-back sort of guy? Is there a form of femininity that you’re denying by your giftedness, and talents, and aggressive spirit? Is your real mood toward your husband one of saying: “I want to nourish what is godly within you. I want to see the strength that God has put within you. Any evidence I see of that, I want to encourage—I want to support—I want to have a vision for you”? Is that your attitude in the middle of all your confidence?



Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So, what do we do when our personality seems to be in conflict with what God has called us to in marriage? We’ll discuss that today with Dr. Larry Crabb. Stay tuned.   

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking, this week, with Dr. Larry Crabb—and a book that he wrote in 1991 that has just been re-released, called Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference.


Dennis: For those listeners, who aren’t aware of Dr. Crabb—he is a psychologist, a conference speaker, Bible teacher, author of almost two dozen books. Larry, we’ve been talking, earlier, about how public enemy number one of marriage is selfishness; namely, our selfishness—my selfishness.



One of the things we didn’t talk about, as we discussed that topic, is what a woman or a man can do if they’re married to a spouse who is really selfish and doesn’t know it, or knows it and doesn’t want to do anything about it.

Bob: In fact, I got a note from a listener—this was not long ago. She wrote; and she said, “My husband has been diagnosed with narcissistic disorder.” My first thought was, “Well, I have that, too.” [Laughter]

Dennis: That’s what my thought was! [Laughter]

Bob: Don’t we all have narcissistic disorder? But there is an extreme form of selfishness that emerges, sometimes, in relationships. When you’re talking with somebody who is married to a classic narcissist—somebody who is fully given over to their selfishness—what kind of counsel do you give them?



Larry: The counsel, that I think comes from God, cannot be heard, immediately, as attractive because what the person, who is struggling in dealing with a narcissist—somebody who is so incredibly self-centered that you’re not being taken into account at all by your spouse—and you feel completely unnoticed. If we’re talking about a wife here, I believe the core terror of a woman is invisibility—that “Nobody sees me.”

God identified Himself with Hagar as “The God who sees you,” and to take seriously the gospel—so say that: “God sees you where you are. God knows what you’re going through. God feels, with you, the difficulty that you have;” but He’s called you to do something that, immediately, is not going to sound terribly attractive. He’s called you to put God on display by the way you relate to your narcissistic husband.

Now, what that includes, it seems to me, is for the woman, who is married to that particular man, to not pretend that things are good. There’s nothing wrong, in my judgment, at all with writing him a letter and saying:

I’d like you to be aware of what’s happening in the woman you’re married to.



I’m really struggling. I’m feeling desperately alone. I’m hurting really, really badly. I’m not going to pretend things are wonderful. They’re not because I’m appealing to the fact that the kind of impact you’re making on me is not the kind of impact that, in the core of your soul, you want to make on me. I have a vision for you, husband, and I’m going to live for the purposes of God in encouraging the vision of you becoming the man I think you would long to be.

And then, to put on display the character of a redeeming, forgiving God is what her call really is in that particular relationship. It’s not going to be a lot of fun for some time.

But I think this is a hard message because that woman is hurting. If she is married to a narcissist, that is tough!

I don’t think Rachel is married to a diagnosable narcissist, but she is married to a guy that struggles with self-centeredness. There are times she’s hurt very, very deeply. She said to me—when we were meeting with our spiritual formation group—she said to me, just a couple of weeks ago, “Honey, you made a comment that made me feel so dismissed.”



When we talked about it, just a few weeks ago, my first response was to get defensive and say, “Well, I don’t know why you’re so sensitive.” But then, I didn’t say that because I do love my wife. I said, “Tell me more what that’s like for you.” I didn’t understand that. When we talked about it, I had some tears in my eyes. I said: “I’ve made an impact on you that I don’t want to make. I’m wrong.”

Because of me, my wife suffered. And yet, I think she handled it wonderfully. She didn’t have what Proverbs 21:9 and 19 talks about—the man, who’s married to a quarrelsome, vexing wife—who would like to live in an attic as opposed to a nice living room with a woman like that. Well, my wife is not like that. She made known how I’d hurt her, but not with a “WELL, LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING.” That wasn’t her mood at all. It was, “Honey, let me let you know what impact you’re making on me.” That reaches the deepest part of my regenerate soul. I don’t want to do that to her! I repented in my brokenness, and we’ve moved in good directions.



Dennis: Larry, in both the illustrations you just used, it was the wife who was dealing with a husband who made a selfish mistake or, perhaps, a long-term pattern of selfishness. What does the man, who is married to a selfish wife, feel?—because I know, from reading your book, that he absorbs that differently than a woman does.

Larry: Yes. If a woman’s core terror is invisibility: “Nobody sees me. Nobody is taking me into account,” a man’s core terror is different. Our genders are different. Men and women are different in our terrors as well as in our opportunities.

I believe the core terror of a man—and I could defend this—take a couple hours and make it clearer—but I can say it simply. A man’s core terror—I like the word “weightlessness.” “Do I have any weight to make a difference? The fact that I’m moving toward you, as my wife—are you responding with, ‘Oh, Honey, I’m so glad I’m married to you’?”

It was about 20 years ago—I’m married, now, 47 years—when Rachel said to me, “I’m not looking forward to growing old with you.” That was a show-stopper. We’ve spent some long time discussing that.



I could tear up now telling you the story; but I felt: “My goodness! Do I have the weight—do I have the adequacy— and do I have what it takes to touch this woman’s soul?” I didn’t think I was being a bad husband. “What’s going on here?” I felt so threatened, and I felt so inadequate. I felt like I wanted to run into a corner and just quit and hide; and then, I wanted to lash out at her. I had to deal with all of that stuff.

I think that the man who is married to a woman who is not responsive to him—way down deep he feels like: “There’s nothing to me;” and therefore, he goes out to find wherever he can to feel adequate. If that’s his business, he’ll become a workaholic. If he’s prone to alcohol, he’ll become an alcoholic. If he’s into pornography, he’ll double his viewing. Any way to feel like he has some adequacy—whether it’s superficial or whether it’s a little more reasonable like making a lot of money or something—but that’s a terrible thing for a guy to do.



Dennis: And your advice to him is the same as you would say to a woman: “You need to embrace the suffering of the situation you’re in, and press into Jesus Christ, and trust Him with the circumstances you’re in”?

Larry: As weird as it sounds—all that—amen, amen, amen. In the middle of all that to say, “This is an opportunity to do what I was put on earth to do.” Think about John 17, where Jesus said, “The glory, Father, You gave Me, I gave to them so they could be one the way You and I, Father, are one.” [Emphasis added] What’s He talking about there?

What I understand is that the Father said to Jesus, “I’m giving You the opportunity to put deity on display in humanity,”—something you didn’t have until the incarnation. Jesus said: “Thank You for the chance to reveal Your heart by suffering on the cross. I’ve given My people that same glory—the opportunity to put the character of God on display in the middle of tough situations,” like a bad marriage, like a kid that’s breaking your heart.

Dennis: And that’s what marriage is all about—it’s to display who God is to a planet that is desperate to know who He is.



Larry: Exactly. And then, people are going to be drawn. Why is it—in the book of Exodus—that God said: “That when you do the Passover—when your kids ask you questions because you’ve puzzled them by how you’re living—then, you tell them what this Passover is all about.”

I think that our job—with our spouses, with our kids, with our friends—is to puzzle them by responding, not with self-centered energy, which is what comes naturally, but to respond with the energy of Jesus Himself. People are going to look and say: “Well, I don’t get that. What’s going on? There’s something attractive about that.” Now, we’re putting God on display in the way we relate.

Bob: So, if our core terrors are different, as men and women, do we manifest selfishness differently, as men and women? Are men selfish in one way and women selfish in another?

Larry: Oh, I think so. I think that the way women are selfish—because their fear is invisibility—and they’re called, by God, to open themselves up. The word for “female” in Genesis 1:27 is the word, neqebah, which literally means “opened up.”



That’s what the word literally means. Femininity is being open. So, when you’re terrified that you’re going to be open and not seen, then, what do you do? You close up. You get hard. You get tough. You get efficient. All your tenderness, as a woman, is gone. That’s how a woman responds poorly to the selfishness of another and expresses her own selfishness.

The word for “male” in Genesis 1 is ichar. It literally means “one who remembers and moves.” So, when a wife threatens a husband and he feels inadequate, he no longer moves into relationship. He doesn’t have the courage to enter into chaos. He backs away into something where he feels competent.

Bob: Well, maybe we ought to back up here for just a second and talk about just the fundamental differences because, today, that’s not a universally-accepted idea. We recognize male and female are different biologically. Some people will say that’s where the line is divided. Yes, there are biological differences; there is nothing in the soul of a man that’s different than in the soul of a woman. What do you see the Bible saying about gender differences?



Larry: That is such an important topic because if we just assume that our differences are limited to biology, and sexual anatomy, and that sort of thing, then gender becomes a toss-up. And now, we have situations in different school systems—I’m told this recently—where if a boy wants to be a girl that day, he’s allowed to do so. If a girl wants to be a boy that day, she’s allowed to do so. You can make a choice. You don’t need surgery to change a gender—just change your clothing and be the boy or girl that you want to be.

What I’m suggesting is: “No, no; no. That isn’t what the Bible teaches at all—that genderedness”—is that the word?—genderedness is imbedded in the very core of our being.” It’s wrong to say, “I’m a person who, by the way, is a male.” No! “I’m a male person, who is designed to relate in a way that reveals something about God that a woman cannot reveal as clearly.” A woman is gendered, in the core of her soul, as a female being whose femininity consists in relating in a way that reveals God in a way a man is not as able to reveal as clearly.



I think that’s crucial. So, the question is relational genderedness—we demonstrate our gender by the way we relate. Well, what does that mean? I want to get away from any stereotypes that a woman is—just, you know, sweet, and kind, and loving, and fluffy—and guys are tough, and talk about football, and…. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.

I’m talking about a man can reveal something about the nature of God by the way he relates. What is it? I suggest that it’s the fact that the Trinity moves into the mess of our lives, wanting to take on all of our difficulties and to step into it with adequacy—when a man relates with adequacy—relational adequacy—moving into somebody else’s life to make an impact—that man is masculine. Whether he plays a piano or plays football, he’s masculine if he relates that way. Whether he’s six feet ten and has a basketball career or whatever, he’s masculine, depending on how he relates.

And a woman is feminine to the degree that she’s open.



We talked about the fact that the word means open. If she’s open to be invitational—if she’s inviting, like Jesus, who revealed the character of God by saying, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor,”—He’s inviting Jerusalem—“I invited you to come. You wouldn’t come.” When a woman says: “I invite you to come. I invite you to be nourished by who I am,”—the word for “female” in Mark 10:9, when the Pharisees took on Jesus—kind of a dumb thing to do, but they did—and He quoted Genesis 1. He talks about male and female. The word for “female” there literally is the word that means “breast.” The idea is that a woman is one who is open to receive and supply to nourish.

Nobody nourishes me like my wife. As a woman, she can nourish me in a way that no man can nourish me. No other woman is called to nourish me in the same way. So, when I hear a woman that just invites me to enjoy something about her soul, as I move into her, that’s when you have a good marriage.

Bob: I read a blog post—you probably did, too—where somebody said, “I wish Larry Crabb would leave the Trinity out of this and not try to tie gender and the Trinity together.” Did you see that?



Larry: I did not; but I’m not surprised, at all.

Bob: And there are some who will hear you talk about a wife nourishing her husband—and she’ll say, “But Ephesians 5 says a husband is supposed to nourish his wife. So, aren’t we just supposed to do the same thing to one another?”

Larry: Are there not relational differences, based on the words that are given, inspired by God, in Genesis 1:26 and 27? And is not the fact that God began that verse by saying, “Let us,” which, I think, is the first hint of the Trinity in the Bible: “Let us,”—the social God—“make people who can reveal Us.” “Let us,”—the relational God—“make people who can uniquely reveal our relationality.”

His whole point of existence is putting Himself on glory, not because He’s a narcissist; but because He knows that, when He puts Himself on display, everybody else is in for a really good time because He’s a lover. So, God says, “I’m going to make male and female so that the two of them, together, can reveal something about My character that gives an even more complete picture of who I am.”



The Trinity is essential to the whole thing. The corner doctrine of the entire Christian religion is the Trinity. That’s the ultimate.

Bob: That’s right.

Dennis: So to that husband / that wife, who wants to better understand what true masculinity is / true femininity—what it is—how would you draw the distinctions between those two? You’ve just done it in a way; but within the relational context of marriage, what does that look like? What does the dance look like?

Larry: That’s the right word. It’s the dance. It’s the dance of the Trinity put on display in a human marriage for the sake of the kids. For the kids—it’s to get a picture of God by the way they see the Trinity revealed in the dance of the marriage. I believe the dance looks something like this—that the wife is going to open herself, saying: “I’m not here to control you. I’m here to invite you.”

When Eve was judged by God and said, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” the word “desire” literally means “control.” It’s the same word in Genesis 4: “Sin is crouching at the door, desires to have mastery over you,”—talking to Cain.



Well, it’s the same word in Genesis 3. The woman, who is dancing poorly, is trying to control her husband: “I have to find some way to change him. I have to find some way to make him different”—as opposed to submitting to him.

Hupotasso is the word in First Peter. It simply means to arrange yourself according to a larger design. It doesn’t mean, precisely, to do what you’re told. It means to arrange yourself according to the design of how God relates. When the woman is willing to do that—that woman is feminine.


When the man is submitting to his wife, by putting God on display by the way he relates—does he move? Does he have the strength to make some decision? Does he back away from difficult things or does he step into it and deal with certain things? When he’s dancing like that, then, that’s going to make a difference.

Dennis: But you do believe that God does call the man to lead out in the dance; do you not?



Larry: He calls the man to lead by being a man. He calls the man to say: “You have been designed to reveal My movement / My leadership. I’m going to move into this relationship. I’m going to provide spiritual leadership. I’m going to provide movement in this family. You’re going to have an advocate, woman—not a man who’s here to control you—but a man who’s willing to lead you in the directions of God. The more I take your reality into account, the more you’re going to enjoy cooperating with my leadership.”

Dennis: There are two extremes in the whole masculine debate—a man being passive and, therefore, lazy. The other extreme is the dictatorial—I want to say mean-spirited—it really is true.

Bob: Domineering.

Dennis: Yes, it’s an authoritarian husband who doesn’t really care for the needs of his wife—not in the sense that Christ calls us to in Ephesians, Chapter 5.

Larry: Everything that God has given us by way of instruction can be perverted terribly. We talk about leadership—it doesn’t mean being a bully. It doesn’t mean that “I want it my way,” because that’s just selfishness. We’re back to that again. But the man who is saying, “I’m going to lead with your wellbeing in mind,” that’s the man that the wife is going to respond to.



Bob: Okay, so you’re sitting down, across from a young couple. They’ve been married for three years. She is a Type A—she is smart, she’s a leader, she is an assertive person. That’s just her personality and her temperament; and she’s gifted. People respond to her. Her husband?—[He’s] kind of laid-back, quiet, gentle, good guy. He’s not as smart as she is. They would say to you: “We’ve just worked this out where it’s better for her to kind of take charge of things. I’m there to support her.” What’s wrong with that?

Larry: I think we need to acknowledge a couple of things before I respond to the question. The first thing is that we do have different temperaments, and we do have different abilities. Rachel is better than me at a lot of things. I think what she’s good at, she should be doing. I have no problem with that, at all.

But here’s what I would say to that couple. I would say: “Look beneath the surface into your motivations.



“Look to see whether or not there is a form of masculinity that you can take, as a quiet, laid-back sort of guy.” “Is there a form of femininity that you’re denying by your giftedness, and talents, and aggressive spirit? Is your real mood toward your husband one of saying, ‘I want to nourish what is godly within you. I want to see the strength that God has put within you. Any evidence I see of that, I want to encourage. I want to support, and I want to have a vision for you.”

Dennis: Right.

Larry: Is that your attitude in the middle of all your competence?

Dennis: Yes, not competing with him, in other words.

Larry: Not competing in the slightest. And the guy who’s laid-back, does that mean that he’s really backing away from any difficulties in the marriage? Is he not seeing that his wife has an incredible desire to feel his movement toward her?

Dennis: What I’m hearing you say here—you’re challenging men to step up to their responsibility, as men, to lead—

Bob: I knew he’d get a plug in for his book; didn’t you? I saw this coming. [Laughter]



Dennis: I—I—I only used that metaphor, Bob; but it would be a good book for men who need to learn how to initiate. [Laughter] What’s the word you keep using? It’s not initiate—it’s move toward.

Larry: It’s courage—to move into chaos.

Dennis: And it is an issue of courage.

Larry: Absolutely.

Dennis: Courage is doing your duty in the face of fear.

Larry: In the face of fear—that’s the key to it. No man is going to feel adequate to do what he’s most-deeply called to do. That’s where faith and dependence on God comes in.

Dennis: You’re called and you’re charged, by God, to nourish, cherish, and love your wife—

Larry: Yes, absolutely.

Dennis: —and move toward her with that kind of initiative.

Bob: If men are going to step up—I don’t mind saying it—if they’re going to step up, it wouldn’t hurt them to spend a little time reviewing what you’ve written about that in your book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. I’d also encourage them: “Get a copy of the book that we’ve been talking about, this week, by Larry Crabb. It’s called Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. It has to do with our differences, as men and women.”



In fact, Larry has written a second book called Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender that frees men and women to live beyond stereotypes. We have both of his books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’m glad, frankly, that you’ve entered into this dialogue because this is an important subject. It’s not something that we should ignore or take lightly.

Again, go to for more information about Larry Crabb’s books, Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference [and] Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender. And then, Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. You can order these books from us, online, at; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.




This issue of men, and women, and gender, and our responsibilities in the marriage relationship—this is one of the core messages that we have, here at FamilyLife Today. We really have boiled down what God has called us to, as a ministry, to four core messages.

The first one is calling people to personal repentance and purity—living holy lives / godly lives. The second core message is living out our marriage covenant—doing what we promised to do—“ love, honor, cherish…for better, for worse…till death do us part.” The third core message is all about our roles and responsibilities, as men and women, in the marriage relationship. Then, the fourth core message is the importance of passing on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the generation that comes behind us.

I know many of you, who listen to FamilyLife Today—yourecognize the importance of those topics being addressed from a biblical perspective. We appreciate your support.



It’s what helps make that happen. In fact, if you can help support us this month with a donation, we’d like to send you a thank-you gift. It’s a couple of CDs that feature a conversation we had, a while back, with Pastor Mark and Grace Driscoll, talking about their own marriage journey—about how God has been at work in their marriage and some of the things He’s taught them along the way.

We’d love to send you the two-CD set as our way of saying, “Thank you for your support of this ministry.” Go to and click on the link that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation. When you do, we’ll send the CDs out to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone. Just ask for the CDs with Mark and Grace Driscoll when you do that. Or you can send a check to us at FamilyLife Today. Our mailing address is P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. Again, just include a note that says you’d like the CDs called Real Marriage. We’re happy to get those out to you, and we appreciate your support of this ministry.



And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk with Larry Crabb about what we can do, as moms and dads, to raise our sons to embrace a biblical picture of masculinity and “What exactly is that?” We’ll talk about that. And then, “What can we do to raise daughters to be feminine young women?” We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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