"Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." (New Testament, 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7:3-4)
The impetus for this post comes from a thread on another forum asking for relationship advice. I don't respond to these threads but the thread got me thinking on this subject.
In this post I talk about relationship needs. However, on the continuum of wants to needs, the human need for intimacy and companionship are not absolute like nourishment or shelter. I also recognize the wonderful human capacity for self-restraint, self-mastery, and self-control.
I'm not sure where this first came from, but it seems to me that there is a very prevalent but likely harmful misunderstanding when it comes to relationships. I am not talking about "men are from mars". The book by Dr John Gray is useful in talking about the genders keeping different scores and having differing communication styles, etc.
What I am talking about is the almost unspoken misbelief in marriage that men may put more importance in the physical relationship and women in the emotional relationship. Subconsciously, it seems many couples are believing that "all men think about is the physical and all women think about is the emotional."
The result of this kind of thinking is that it leads to certain expectations in the relationship. Those relationship expectations, soon turn into patterns of behavior where the wife may expect emotional expectations be satisfied before any physical expectations can be addressed.
I am NOT saying a husband can treat his wife poorly and still "get what he wants". I am NOT saying all "women should submit to their husbands". What I am saying is that this "all men want is physical and women emotional" is not correct and believing can have and has had damaging effects on marriage relationships.
The truth is that both men and women have both physical and emotional needs. These needs can be different at different times. But women clearly have physical needs that shouldn't be ignored and men definitely have important emotional needs that shouldn't be neglected.
Both men and women have egos. We both have the need to feel valued and important to the other person. Our expectations and ways we satisfy this may be different but both genders have them. Women need to feel important, and appreciated by their spouse. When men satisfy their wife's needs to feel important and appreciated, it is called "romance". But men also need to feel important and appreciated in the relationship. We could probably use a word for this as well.
The consequence of neglecting either spouses emotional needs for appreciation is that they will likely emotionally withdrawal in the relationship. It is probably true that when strained, women will most likely withdraw physically and men emotionally. This tends to reinforce the myth that all men want is physical and women emotional.
The harm in the myth comes when couples take this myth to its logical conclusion and begin expecting and exchanging emotional needs for physical. Exchanging emotional for physical is likely a no-win situation.
Why is the expectation of emotional for physical a no-win. First, the problem is that no one is always happy all the time. If a women expects to always feel happy before she considers her husbands or her own physical needs, then there is likely to be a lot of unhappiness on both sides.
Second, both men and women's physical needs are biological. When your dealing with biology, you have to appreciate it as biological. Before marriage the secret for success it to keep the biological turned off completely. With no way to efficiently or safely satisfy these needs if turned on, the best policy is to keep things in hibernation. Waking up physical needs and seeking to satisfy them before marriage just leads to frustration and misery.
Accordingly, spouses must never go outside the marriage relationship for physical purposes. If a spouse is to "have power" over the physical nature of their companion, than artificially increasing or satisfying the physical outside of the relationship immediately becomes an out-of-control situation.
When I say physical needs are biological, I mean physiological. When a person looks at food, their mouth may water and stomach may churn. The key before marriage is to never "watch people eat". If there is a physiological comparison to the male experience in the female, I would have to say it can be somewhat like when a nursing mother's milk lets down. Except in the case of the female she can't just take a cold shower or go for a run.
On the other hand, while spouses have a sacred duty to exclusively care for their partners physical needs, a spouse can never be expected to meet all of their spouses emotional needs. Men and women need male and female companionship, friends and family. Many husbands say the best way to keep their wife happy is to make sure she lives buy her family and has a social network through your church. "Happy wife, happy life."
I'm not trying to make conclusions in how to apply this to anyone's relationship. I am not making excuses for bad, selfish, insensitive behavior. But generally speaking, I am saying, both men and women have both physical and emotional needs that both need attention and need to be a priority. Physical needs are biological and need to be understood and appreciated as biological (e.g. yes, unfortunately sometimes biology isn't affected by how the other person is feeling). The other thing is that kinda like what "Men are from Mars" is saying, it doesn't help to keep score. Keeping score in a contract marriage makes some sense, but in Covenant Marriage, God is repaying.
Finally, the most important point is that both partners are devoted to fulfilling each others needs. And if one side feels they are not being treated the way they need and deserve, the key is to teach by example. Christ taught to treat others the way we want others to treat us (golden rule).