April 28, 2009


A woman writes, “Please help. I have a women's study group and we are watching the DVD. I know that Emerson has several times mentioned that the love and respect issues are 'typical' and not all-inclusive to the point of stereotyping. However, I have a friend who can't see past the 'stereotype' issue...all men need respect, not love, and all women need love, not respect, PERIOD.”

When I preach the wife needs love and the husband needs respect, based on Ephesians 5:33, I also preach that the wife needs respect and the husband needs love based on 1 Peter 3:7 and Titus 2:4.

In chapter 14 of my Love and Respect book, I address a wife's longing for honor and esteem (the "E" in the acronym COUPLE). I unfold what the Apostle Peter commands about a husband honoring his wife as an equal (1 Peter 3:7). Peter uses the Greek word “time”, pronounced tee-may, for honor. The wife needs honor. In fact, when the husband loves his wife, he'll show her respect.

Though the husband wants respect, he needs love. I explain the husband's need for love in chapter 20 of Love and Respect (the "R" in CHAIRS). The Apostle Paul commands a wife to love (phileo) her husband and children (Titus 2:4). The husband needs love. In fact, when the wife respects her husband he most often feels loved, and this energizes him like few things.

However, because Ephesians 5:33 reveals that a husband must love (agape) his wife and a wife must respect (phobeo) her husband, we must deal with a distinction the Bible is making (agape differs from phileo and phobeo differs from time). I am fully persuaded that God is highlighting something full of significance which can bring us wonderful insight into husband and wife relationships, eliminating a ton of heartache!

The wife most often wants to hear, “I love you" from her husband. Look at the card industry. Though the wife needs respect from her husband there is not one card in the whole card industry (to this point) from a husband to a wife that says, "Baby, I really respect you!” This moneymaking card industry discovered that almost all wives want to hear, "Baby, I really love you!" and that despite Aretha Franklin's song, R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

No one denies that a wife needs respect. In fact, she needs respect equal to her need of love, just as a husband does. Both need love and respect equally, like we all need water and food equally. But our research shows that the FELT NEED (as opposed to the true need) of the wife is for love and the FELT NEED of the husband is for respect. Many wives experience hunger pains for love and husbands experience a thirst for respect.

We asked 600 married individuals this question: when you are in a conflict do you feel unloved or disrespected? 79% of the males said they feel disrespected and 73% of the females said they feel unloved.

Don't husbands need love and wives need respect? Yes, especially 21% of the men and 27% of the women. Nevertheless during conflict most males have a FELT NEED for respect and most females have a FELT NEED for love, and this felt need must be understood if you or your spouse is in this camp to reduce misunderstanding and conflict.

Every so often I hear about a wife reading the subtitle of my book, “the love she most desires and the respect he desperately needs," and the wife says out loud for all to hear, "This author is pathetic. I need respect!" She puts the book back on the shelf and looks for something else on marriage, probably something about love.

I want to say to this wife that I am not debating a wife needing respect. I'm simply pointing out that we need to understand how most husbands and wives interpret marital conflict. Furthermore, if a husband keeps disrespecting his wife (i.e. verbally abusing her), she eventually exclaims, "How can you treat me disrespectfully and say that you love me?" Disrespectful treatment feels unloving to her. She questions her husband's love on the heels of disrespectful treatment, "Does he love me as much as I love him?" She lands on love as her deepest FELT NEED, and calls into question his love in a way that a husband does not call into question a wife's love when she treats him disrespectfully. Who has heard a husband exclaim, "How can you treat me disrespectfully and say that you love me?" Most husbands feel disrespected as an end in itself, and this feeling of disrespect devastates him. Typically a husband only feels unloved when his wife says, “I no longer love you.”

Besides the research, we find an answer in the Greek language of the Bible. Only the husband is commanded to agape-love his wife. God does not command a wife to agape-love her husband. (Agape-love is the unconditional or godlike love). On the face of it, God designed the nature of the wife to love more naturally at the level of intimacy. Within her nature -- generally speaking -- is a greater desire to nurture. Mothering is a case in point. Watching a mother with her infant reveals something incredibly unique about the nature of a woman. She possesses a nature to nurture. That does not mean all fathers are less nurturing than all mothers but that most fathers are less nurturing than most mothers. God designed the nature of a mother to nurture and that spills over into her role as the wife. God designed her nature to love her husband. This is why God does not command her to agape-love her husband. God won't command her to do what he created her to do.

On the other hand, God commands the husband to love his wife with agape-love. Apparently, a husband does not love as naturally as his wife loves naturally which explains God's command. The husband is under divine imperative. In the command to love his wife, God reveals to a husband that he must work harder at agape-love than his wife must work at agape-love. For example, most husbands over the years of the marriage are less sentimental in their nature. Therefore, most husbands must remind themselves about romantic expressions, to value their wives' sensitive nature, and to talk more openly about feelings of love.

Because of the way God has designed men and women on this point, we observe during marital conflict most husbands feeling assured of their wives' love, whereas most wives feel less assured of their husband's love. That is not always the case because there are men who have chosen to love and wives who have closed off from showing any love to their husbands. However, in most instances when there are habitual "fights" few men doubt the love of their wives while many wives ask, "If you loved me why would you fight with me the way you do?"

Why, if a husband knows that his wife loves him, does he negatively react during marital conflict? He does not think that she likes and respects him. His wife reinforces his thinking when she says, "I love you but don't respect you right now." Many wives have told me that they find it difficult to feel and show respect for their husbands whereas they find it easier to feel and show love. Again, that is not true for all wives since some husbands have wounded their wives and these women no longer want to love their husbands, or are in love with someone else.
One of the reasons the wife feels less respect for her husband is that she feels he is less loving (agape-love) than she is. And she is correct in that assessment since he loves less naturally than she loves and tends to fail her expectations for agape-love in the marriage. When he fails, her respect for him lessens and she feels the liberty to say honestly, "I don't feel respect for you right now." The culture of intimacy, mostly driven by women, justifies her statement about not feeling any respect for him. Of course, he retorts, "I don't deserve this disrespect. Everybody respects me but you." Over time he thirsts for her respect. Seldom during a heated exchange does he say, "You don't love me." He knows she loves him. If he told her that she did not love him this would be an affront to her nature - unless she had stopped loving him.

Let me add that because a husband loves less naturally, a wife recognizes areas that he needs to change. She cares for him and wants to help him. In time, she points out areas that he needs to change. After all, if he changed into a more loving person, the marriage would improve because she would love on him even more. However, as the months and years pass he still seems to love less naturally than she loves naturally. Her critiques turn into criticisms. He does not seem to be responding so she increases the intensity of her complaint. Eventually, her regular criticism and complaints pulsate in his veins as contempt for who he is. He thinks that she does not accept him, approve of him, or respect him as a human being.

This explains why God commands a wife to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33, 1 Peter 3:2). The command protects her from a naive mistake of allowing herself to speak innocently and act disrespectfully. In her attempt to help her husband act more lovingly or stop his unacceptable behaviors, she must guard against appearing disrespectful; otherwise her husband will not hear her deepest heart. He won't hear her message of, "I love you and want you to be more loving so that I can love you even more and the two of us can be happy!" Instead he hears, "I don't respect you because you are less loving than you ought to be. You have issues and are creating issues for us."

Let me insert, when a wife continually treats her husband disrespectfully, a husband can reciprocate with disrespect. He thinks to himself, "I don't deserve this disrespect. I'll show her by treating her disrespectfully to give her a taste of her own medicine." At this point, I can receive an e-mail from this wife telling me that her husband treats her disrespectfully and they have reversed roles from what I teach. Sadly, she sees his disrespect not her own. If she does see her disrespect she justifies it as an expression of her hurt. As for his disrespect, she tells me that he is trying to hurt her, and he is mean. Again, the exception here is that husband who has serious personal issues. For example, my dad attempted to strangle my mother. Dad had a problem with rage. He neither showed love or respect for my mother for many years. Because of this, I do not hold wives like my mom responsible for the threatening problems. My dad mistreated my mom. Mom stepped on dad’s toes but she never endangered dad. What I am objecting to are those wives who label their husbands like my dad when these men are not like my dad. Early in my counseling, when women talked to me about their abusive husbands, I immediately concluded these women suffered like my mom suffered. I soon discovered that these wives were not like my mom and these husbands were not like my dad. These wives overstated the negative about their husbands and understated the negative in themselves.

In Titus 2:4 where the wives and mothers receive the command to love their husbands and children, the Greek word is phileo, stressing to love in the sense of to like, to treat kindly, or to be friendly. For example, no mother ceases to agape-love her children but she does get mad at them. Ask a child, “Does your mother love you?" A child will say, "Yes." Ask a child, "Does your mother like you right now?" A child is apt to say, "No, I've been bad." The same idea holds true for the husband. Husbands know that their wives love them but do not always believe their wives like them.

Here's another point. Why does God command a wife to respect in a way that he does not command a husband to respect? Evidently, she respects less naturally than her husband. In other words, God does not command a husband to respect with the same Greek word (phobeo) because God designed him to live more naturally by an honor code. It is within his nature to conduct himself respectfully -- at least that's true for most men. However for most wives respecting is less than natural toward a husband for the reasons we've stated. Interestingly, whereas she loves naturally, she disrespects naturally! This truth comes home loud and clear when a wife asks me to define the word respect. I reply by asking, "Well, let me answer that by asking you a question. Do you know what disrespect is toward your husband?" Every wife says, "Oh, yeah, I have that down." I then tell her to lessen her disrespect and he'll feel respected by her new efforts!

When we put all that together, Ephesians 5:33 makes a whole lot of sense! At the end of the day, in most marriages, a husband has a felt need for respect. For two reasons: He is assured of her love due to her nature to agape-love in marriage and because she naturally shows disrespect when feeling unloved. On the other hand, she has a felt need for love. For two reasons: she is not as assured of her husband's love since he does not love as naturally as she loves and because he is naturally unloving when feeling disrespected.

No one denies that we need love and respect equally but based on Ephesians 5:33 wives agape-love more easily than they respect and husbands respect more easily than they agape-love. If we reject this idea because it sounds stereotypical more than likely we will fail to understand what is commonly happening in our marriages during most conflicts.

No comments:

Blog Archive