Love or Respect?

There are many things about my husband, Bryan, that I respect.

Take, for instance, his astounding dedication to detail that means I don’t have to. When we sign contracts for cell phones or cable service or even random computer programs, he will diligently read the fine print. Mortgage statements or credit card bills get the same scrutiny as do pay stubs and insurance paperwork. I never have to worry that we uninformed about such matters because little gets past him.

He also is pretty amazing listener, even though he will tell you he isn’t. He knows that unless he asks me, I will mostly not convey too much about my day’s events: how many students failed to show up or how little I wrote on a writing day. So, he always asks, giving me a chance to process my work, to think out loud about how I might improve, to share hopes for a better class or at least better teaching.

Bryan also is just about the nicest person I know. I, for one, am eager to compete with others for a place in line (especially the grocery store) while Bryan will nonchalantly allow two or three others to cut in front of him and it will not even frustrate him. If someone cuts him off in traffic, he’ll go even slower making more room for them to leave us in the dust. And, he doesn’t even yell at them as they speed off, not even under his breath.

Well, I could go on, but you get the point. He’s genuinely a very good guy. And so it is no surprise to you to learn I respect him.

That being said, I cannot imagine respecting him solely because God apparently created him to desire respect while I desire—I’ve learned—love.

Yep, this is the claim made by Emerson Eggerichs, an author and marriage specialist who holds marriage conferences around the U.S. According to Eggerichs, Ephesians 5 holds a very important key, one that is often overlooked: husbands are called to love wives unconditionally, the kind of love God demonstrates, while wives are called to respect their husbands.

The argument, one that Eggerichs says in based upon his years of marriage counseling, research, and biblical evidence, is that men are hard-wired to offer respect because they live in a world of honor codes. They naturally seek to offer respect because that is how one gets on in the world of honor. On the other hand, women (who live in some other world?) are designed to love, easily seen in the ease with which women nurture children (no stereotypes or assumptions, here).

While offering marriage advice, Eggerichs says there is a secret and once it is unlocked, marital problems become more easily solved. This is what he claims: “I discovered a secret – a secret hidden in plain sight! A husband does not lack the knowledge that he is to love his wife. She tells him that she needs to feel his love. What he lacks is motivation.”

Eggerichs continues his eminently helpful insight. “The secret is this: A husband is motivated to love in response to a wife showing him unconditional respect. That’s a big truth hidden in plain sight. After hearing it, it still seems foreign to many!”

Now that the big secret has been revealed, you, too, will reap numerous benefits from offering unconditional respect on your man because that seems like a pretty good idea. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know that no matter how terribly they may have acted and continue to act, his wife will shower him with God-sponsored respect because that is her duty?

To be fair, Eggerichs says there is a difference between giving your husband unconditional respect and being a door mat or endorsing some sinful attitude or act. Thank goodness he sees some of the potential problem he has underscored with his teaching. But, I’m still not clear about his need to parse Ephesians and the Bible the way he does.

Unconditional love is a decision. It means I choose to love no matter what the circumstances or the costs. But respect in my mind is something different. It is not based upon a decision per se but upon what a person does. Someone generates respect based upon how she or he acts. Respect naturally follows those who engender it in some way.

But even further, I am baffled by the biblical blinders enabling Eggerichs to build an entire ministry around the idea that men want and deserve respect because they are men while women need love and men should give them unconditional love because men are like God. When I read the gospels, I see Jesus treating women with respect. He talked with them; he healed them; he worked with them. In short, Jesus saw women as humans.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people like Emerson Eggerichs would do likewise and embrace the big secret Jesus revealed a couple of thousand years ago: women are people, capable of love and often deserving of respect?