Maybe you've heard that a woman needs to be loved by her husband and a man needs to be respected by his wife. However, if you're like the average man or woman, you're thinking, "Sure, that all sounds great, but what does it mean?"
Men often define love differently than their wives, while women often don't know how to define respect. If both you and your spouse have these needs, but don't know what they are, how can you satisfy each other? Without a definition, it's like trying to throw a dart at a board but you don't know where to aim.
That's why we're here to help. Once you and your spouse understand what it means to love and respect, relational landmines can be avoided. The result can be greater love, deeper intimacy and movement toward the kind of marriage that God desires for you.
Kelly wondered if her husband, Steve, would remember their 10th anniversary. Some years he had forgotten. But, this year, he remembered. He had found just the right card, and he was sure it would be a great anniversary. When he handed her the card, she beamed from ear to ear. But when she read it, her countenance turned sour and dark.
"It's not bad . . . for a birthday card," she scowled.
Steve stiffened at her anger. He meant well. What was written on the outside was great, but he had failed to read the inside. "Hey, an honest mistake. Give me a break."
"An honest mistake? You just don't care. You are so unloving!"
Now he was miffed. "Hey, give me a break."
"You buy me a birthday card on our 10th anniversary, and you expect me not to be upset? I'd rather you hadn't bought me any card at all!"
Feeling disrespected, he coldly said, "Fine. I'm going to the office."
This conflict isn't unique. Kelly felt unloved, and Steve felt disrespected, even contemptible in his wife's eyes. When Decision Analysts, Inc., did a national survey on male-female relationships, one question for men read:
"Even the best relationships sometimes have conflicts on day-to-day issues. In the middle of a conflict with my wife, I am more likely to be feeling:
A. That my wife doesn't respect me right now.B. That my wife doesn't love me right now.
Not surprisingly, 81.5 percent of men chose "A."
The survey only substantiated what I had already discovered in my years of working with married couples: Women need to feel loved, and men need to feel respected. This may explain why Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:33 that a husband must love his wife and a wife must respect her husband. Both commands are unconditional. The hard part is that respect comes more easily to men, and love comes easier to women.
Colossians 3:19 commands a husband to agape-love his wife (love unconditionally). Obviously, she needs to feel loved.
Imagine that the wife has an air hose that goes to a love tank. She needs love like she needs air to breathe. When her husband stands on her air hose — buying a birthday card for their anniversary — she'll react negatively!
When the husband sees the spirit of his wife deflate, he should realize he's stepping on her air hose and get off it. Though she may react in a disrespectful way, she is crying out, "I feel unloved by you right now. I can't believe you're doing this to me." If, in response, the husband heads to the "office," she'll feel even more unloved.
Likewise, the husband needs respect, just as he needs air to breathe (1 Peter 3: 1-2). He, too, has an air hose to a tank labeled "respect," and as long as the air (respect) is coming through, he is just fine. But he deflates when his wife steps on his air hose by saying things like, "You don't care! You are so unloving!" If she shows disrespect in an attempt to motivate him to be more loving, it hinders the relationship. A destructive cycle of feeling unloved and disrespected easily starts.
Husbands and wives must learn how to recognize when they are stepping on each other's hoses and respond appropriately. (See Love and Respect for practical tips.) When a wife is careful to show respect — in obedience to God — her husband will stay connected and teachable. When a husband shows his wife love, her spirit will be reaffirmed. Then both will have the air they need to breathe.
Craziness is when we keep doing the same thing — again and again — with the same ill effect. Marital craziness is when we do the same thing — over and over — with the same negative results. I call it the Crazy Cycle. When hurt and frustrated, we continue reacting in negative ways to motivate our spouse to be positive. Can you believe it? That's like flipping broken light switches for 30 minutes.
All who are married go through this cycle. The topics change, and the intensity varies, but the crazy cycle continues. One day the argument may be about a diet book, the next day the argument may be about child-rearing methods. Next month, it's about a marriage book and then about the lack of money.
This happens among good willed people. Sadly, some think they have a horrible marriage because of this craziness. Truth is, they are inches away from making an adjustment that can set them in a whole new and positive course.
The key is to see underneath this "craziness," to the heart of a spouse.
Based on Ephesians 5:33, I discovered why a husband and wife react the way they do. We read, "each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (NIV).
Because a wife needs love, a husband would be wise to assume his wife's negative reaction is rooted in her feeling unloved. On the other hand, because a husband needs respect, a wife would be prudent to assume her husband's negative reaction is rooted in his feeling disrespected.
Is it time for you to apply God’s truth? It takes work, but it works. It may not be fair, but God’s truth is revealed to people in unfair situations. A respectful or loving demeanor prevents a wife or husband from repeatedly flipping broken light switches.
There is something intriguing about royalty – and a royal marriage. It's as if something within all of us longs to be royal. Did you know that God says we are royalty? "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).
God has put in the heart of every little girl to be a princess. She dresses up, talks about it, even dreams about it. As a woman, she wants to be first in the heart of her prince. She wants to be loved and treasured like a princess.
A little boy wants to be the hero, defending the fort and saving others from danger. As a man, he wants to be the prince, the hero that his princess admires and respects. He is designed by God to be a man of honor, one who is responsible to provide and care for his princess.
The wedding ceremony is a great picture of the prince and the princess dynamic – the love and respect is evident, and it is beautiful. But what often happens in that first year is that he isn't as loving as she expected or needed him to be. And she often stops treating her prince with the respect that he needs. She needs to be loved, to be his princess; he needs to be respected, to be her prince. When this dynamic breaks down, the relationship gets crazy.
In my book, The Language of Love and Respect, I talk about the concept of wanting to be treated as a prince and a princess. "The man with basic goodwill wants to serve his wife, and he would even die for her. When his wife shows him unconditional respect, in most cases he will feel like a prince and be motivated to show her the kind of unconditional love she desires. She is a princess who is loved." (p. 18)
In a safe and secure kingdom (even when that kingdom is a home), its people thrive. Effective kingdom leaders demonstrate benevolent goodwill to the people. In marriage, the importance of goodwill is just as important.
One key to making your relationship safe and secure is to demonstrate benevolent goodwill toward your mate – to believe he or she has good intentions, to expect the best of the other person. Even when your mate messes up, you can choose to believe in the goodwill of your spouse.
Unfortunately, what often happens when you feel unloved or disrespected is that you start predicting and judging the other person's motives. Research shows that successful couples don't make condemning judgments about the other; they choose to trust their mate's intentions.
Once a couple decides to see each other as good-willed people, it changes their perspective and the filter through which they view their relationship. "Good-willed" doesn't mean we'll do good all the time; it just means that the intentions are good.
Matthew 26:41 says it well: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak". Since a man and a woman naturally view conflict differently, they too often judge each other. During those times when your spouse is frustrating you, you can still believe in your mate's goodwill, respond accordingly and treat each other as teammates, partners, even allies.
Though the differences between men and women are part of the relationship challenge, God intended it to be this way. Women and men simply have different filters through which they experience life. She sees through pink sunglasses, hears with pink hearing aids and speaks through a pink megaphone. He sees through blue sunglasses, hears with blue hearing aids and speaks through a blue megaphone.
Yet, when blue blends with pink, it becomes purple, God's color – the color of royalty. He made us male and female to reflect His image, and as we love and respect each other, we create that purple, blending together as one to reflect the very image of God. When we understand this, we can begin to value our prince and our princess as God does, and we can trust that this is a truly magnificent design.
Even as allies you'll have moments of conflict. But whether it's a disagreement over sex or taking out the trash, each of you can rehearse what you know to be true: He's a good-willed man; she's seeing the situation through princess-pink glasses. He's not wrong; she's just different. We are friends; we are allies. Then, by going to God during conflict, we can discern His answer, what His royal purple, is. When we do this, we find the heart of God.
Though the prince and princess of the movies tend to be perfect, you're married to an imperfect person. So how do you show unconditional love and respect when your spouse is so obviously imperfect? Unconditional means there is no condition or circumstance or situation that would cause him to be hostile (the opposite of love) or cause her to show contempt (the opposite of respect). It is choosing to show your princess a loving attitude, or your prince a respectful attitude, regardless of the weaknesses of the flesh.
It's not always easy, but we must avoid passing condemning judgment on our spouse. Judas and Peter both denied Jesus. Jesus saw Peter as having a willing spirit but weak flesh, so He never passed judgment on Peter. If you're married to a man like Peter, don't see him as a Judas. How does the Lord see your husband or wife? He's a prince, a co-heir with Christ. As a child of God, he is royalty. As a child of God, she is royalty.
Seeing each other as God sees us, as His prince and princess, will cause us to treat each other differently. God has an unconditional commitment to loving us, and so should we. That's part of maintaining a peace-filled, good-willed kingdom – and a royal marriage.
As any married couple eventually discovers, romantic feelings don't exist everyday. It takes effort to keep a marriage strong, to keep minor disagreements from becoming major ones, to favor sweet words and tender glances over harsh comments and contemptuous glares.
"In Ephesians 5:33," Eggerichs says "God invites every married couple to make a conscious decision about how they appear to the other. A wife can feel unloved, but appear disrespectful; a husband can feel disrespected but appear unloving. This is why things get crazy! Our negative appearances work against us. God's Word protects us from that mistake."
He continues, "Really, all you have to do is learn this crazy cycle, and when you see the spirit of your spouse deflate, trust . . . that you've said something that appears unloving or disrespectful. Then go back and say, 'Did I come across as unloving/disrespectful? I'm sorry, will you forgive me?' That works almost every time."
Eggerichs has seen firsthand how marriages are transformed when husbands and wives put this fundamental concept into practice. To that end, he and his wife started the Love and Respect Marriage Conference, and the testimonials from those who have attended have been very encouraging.
At the conference, they illustrate in detail how to spell "love" to a wife and "respect" to a husband.
The conferences promote the same message as the Eggerichs' book: When unconditional respect and love are demonstrated through tone, facial expression and word choice, the spirit of our spouse re-opens.
"We're going to have conflicts over bedtime-type issues. We're going to get upset," Eggerichs says. "By dealing with marital conflict God's way, we can stop the crazy cycle before it starts. If things get out of control, we can halt the craziness. God's Word works."