Because we are made in the image of God, we are creatures of great value: male and female. Something deep within us affirms that we are creatures of respect and dignity, that God’s imprint is upon us. Consequently, demeaning words and behavior make us feel violated. When words and actions affirm our inherent worth, we feel respected.
Respect begins with an attitude: “I acknowledge that you are a creature of extreme worth. God has endowed you with certain abilities, insights and spiritual gifts. Therefore, I respect you as a person. I will not desecrate your worth by making critical remarks about your intellect, your judgment or your logic. I will seek to understand and grant you the freedom to think different from the way I think and to experience emotions that I may not experience.”
An attitude of respect paves the way for you to show respect for your mate. Respect does not indicate that you agree on everything, but it does mean that you give your spouse the freedom to be an individual. No two humans are alike in the way they think and feel. Respect says, “That’s an interesting way to look at it,” not, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Allowing your spouse to be who God created him or her to be is the first step toward communicating respect. Trying to argue your spouse into compliance with your own views shows disrespect. To show respect is to look for your mate’s God-given giftedness and to affirm and encourage his or her uniqueness. A wife does not expect her husband to agree with her all the time, but neither does she expect him to call her ideas stupid. A husband knows he is not always right, but he doesn’t want to be called a liar.
We can express disagreement respectfully. A wife might say to her husband, “Honey, I don’t agree with you, but I know there must be good reasons why you see it that way. When you have time, I would like to hear more of your thoughts on that.” A husband might say to his wife, “I’m sorry you feel hurt. That was certainly not my intention. Can we talk about it?”
Respecting those who do unrespectable things
I met Jonathan in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He came to my seminar alone. At one of the breaks, he said to me, “How can I respect my wife when she doesn’t live a respectable lifestyle?”
Jonathan raises a very significant question. Not everyone lives a life that is worthy of respect, but we can still respect the inherent worth of the person. Though he couldn’t respect Lisa’s ungodly lifestyle, he could still respect Lisa, not for what she did but for who she is. Regardless of her behavior, she was made in the image of God and thus is extremely valuable. We must acknowledge that God has given us freedom of choice. Even when people make poor choices, it does not diminish their value as human beings.
However, if Jonathan puts her down by saying, “I can’t believe you would do this. You’re such a scumbag. I hate you,” he is not pushing her toward success but toward failure. Lisa is not a scumbag. She is a creature of God for whom Jesus died. She has great potential for good and needs God’s redemptive touch.
How might Jonathan express respect for his wife in the midst of her failure? He could say, “I’m sure you know that your behavior is hurting me deeply. But what really concerns me is that I know your behavior ultimately will hurt you — and I care about you. In my mind, you are a wonderful person with great potential, and I want to help you reach that potential. I know you must make your own decisions. I’m not trying to control your life; I’m just telling you how much I value you and how much I love you.”
Jonathan’s respect for Lisa’s inherent worth as a human being may well bring her to value herself and ultimately she may return to God and to Jonathan.
Dr. Gary Chapman is a pastor, speaker and best-selling author of The Five Love Languages.