Filings: With love and respect

My wife and I attended our church’s Sweetheart Weekend this past weekend — in romantic, exotic Shoreview! The location, actually, was fine. Sure, a “warm and sunny” getaway is a plus but the expense and logistics for a group like ours makes “close and convenient” more of a draw. We were only two nights and 12 miles away from home, but the two of us enjoy getting away from the routine and devoting some time to one another beyond the usual daily newsflashes that pass for communication in a typical week.

(Speaking of getting out of the routine, Saturday night’s dinner was a formal affair and my wife wore a lethally stunning, coffee-colored gown confirming that, yes, it is good to be me. The dress and matching shoes were picked out by her personal shopper, the Mall Diva, who found and acquired the garment without her mother being present — and it fit perfectly even though sneezing might have been perilous. The Mall Diva may have been hoping that if I could accept my wife going out in public so attired that my restrictions on her own clothing might soften as well. Dream on, MD, but thanks for the dress.)

We’ve been to several of these couples events over the years and have always enjoyed them and gotten useful things from the teachings we’ve heard. In retrospect, however, from my perspective a lot of the teaching has been about how men can show our wives we love them. The assumption has been that women are naturally wired to be love transmitters and receivers. This presumes that women “know” love and understand how important it is to show love to their husbands, but that guys have to work to get on the right frequency. It also assumes that love is equally important to both husband and wife. It’s not a bad theory and you can do a lot of good in your marriage as a guy just by knowing that and trying to tune in. There is a missing part of the equation, however, and this last weekend our group was able to put a finger on it.

Every couple at the weekend received a copy of the book, Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. My wife and I were one of the couples our pastors asked to review the book in advance and we found it amazing: not necessarily because it’s well written (though it’s not bad), but because the key truth Dr. Eggerichs and his wife had found in scripture has pretty much been hiding in plain sight all along (well, in plain sight if you read your Bible much). Ephesians 5:33 (New Living Translation) says (Paul writing),

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ok, that’s probably a familiar passage to anyone who’s been to a Christian marriage seminar, but again the focus has been on men learning to show unconditional love to their wives, while the women assume they’re doing their part by showing unconditional love to their husbands. That sounds like a good formula for success, but what the scripture says and what Dr. Eggerichs recognized is that wives are to show unconditional respect to their husbands. Now, this isn’t some “Woman, submit” power trip, but a realization that it there’s something different that floats the boat for each sex.

Respect is the currency for men; we grow up with it culturally in sports, in business, in military models. Guys usually are pretty efficient at sorting out which way the respect flows in any situation. True, guys can sound horrific in their good-natured trash talk to each other — in words that would crush a woman’s esteem if they were directed at her — but it typically occurs among guys who have sorted things out and know they’re all at the same level. Trash talk doesn’t go uphill and usually doesn’t flow downhill except to make a point. Respect can almost be ritualized as in the mafia expression and practice of “men of respect”, and it can be seen in extremis in the gangbanger culture of young men who haven’t learned the rules and applications of respect but will kill each other for being “disrespected” (but that’s for another post). If you asked a man, would you rather your wife showed you love or showed you respect (and the guy took a few minutes to think about it) most would say that respect is more important. Men are respect-oriented and its important to them to know that they measure up in the eyes of their wives.

That’s a challenging idea for women, who are love-oriented. Because love is more important to them they think love is what their husbands want (and we do, but it’s #2). A wife can grasp the unconditional love idea and take pride in unconditionally loving her husband, but still not respect him (“Of course I love the big lug, even if he’s an idiot, can’t hold a job, and can’t be trusted to dress himself without my help”). Asking her to unconditionally respect her husband, however, can be a big hurdle, especially if he’s been less than respectable (“I can love and forgive, but I can’t forget”).

Most men, meanwhile, have grown up knowing they’re supposed to respect women, especially their wives, and will confer that respect on them even if they’re not sure if they love them (“She’s great with the kids, I couldn’t function without her, I’d never deliberately hurt her, but I don’t know if I love her”). This can be especially true if she’s been less than loving and respectful in her actions toward him (“I can say ‘forget about it’, but I don’t forgive”).

Again, respecting your husband isn’t about being submissively obedient any more than a man loving his wife is about being mushy all the time. Differences in opinion and approach are fine when they can be discussed in ways that show he loves and cherishes his wife and wants the best for her and she shows she respects his ability and character. That can mean he is willing to give in on something in order to benefit her and that she doesn’t bring past failures or personal critiques into the discussion.

That’s just a sliver of what is in the book, and I encourage men and women to read it and evaluate themselves (not their spouses) according to what’s there. Some of what’s there gets a little too close to psycho-babble to my mind, but I think it’s fundamentally and scripturally sound and revelatory so that you sense the truth of it. A lot of what I’ve written here are things that my wife and I had already discovered in our marriage without realizing it was the love/respect principle in action. That’s probably why we’ve been happy … and another reason I can say, “It’s good to be me.”

6 thoughts on “Filings: With love and respect

  1. So how do you and Dr. Eggerichs come to terms with the much more volatile Ephesians 5:22-23 . . . “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” Any man who’s been married for any length of time knows that the husband is never “the head” or ever “ahead” of the wife, and he’s a fool to think he is.

  2. Whole books can (and have) been written on this, but the short answer begins in verse 21: “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Each is to look upon their spouse as they would God. To illustrate, in the two verses you cited, Paul describes the example of the wife submitting to her husband in all things as she would to Jesus, who is head of the church. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the husband, eh?

    Let’s look at the next seven verses, though, which conclude with the ones Dr. E used. Here the husband’s submitting is detailed much more thoroughly (remember, this is still all in reference to verse 21). He submits himself to his wife as Christ did for the church, giving himself up completely for her. It won’t all fit in this box, but basically, you die. We are also to love her as we love our own flesh; what would this kind of “headship” look like? Probably not what some “Woman, submit” Bubba would like. It’s also interesting to me that the woman gets her orders in two and a half verses, while we get seven.

    Is it easy – either to do or understand? He-double-toothpicks, no. That’s why Paul admits it is a mystery (32). It is easier to understand, however, if you think of it in terms of verses 1, 8 and 9 (or all of Chap. 5).

    Or you could go to the Greek; “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” that is, where it is noted: “The husband is the head, but the wife is the neck, and the neck can turn the head any which way it wants.”

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