I have talked to many Christian couples who are well aware of Saint Paul’s instruction for wives to respect their husbands and husbands to love their wives. I have also heard many sermons on a man’s primary need to feel respected, rather than shamed, and a woman’s primary need to feel loved, rather than emotionally abandoned. And I agree.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
But I sometimes see a tendency to split those two ideals apart. The thinking goes something like this, I have to love my wife, but I don’t have to respect her thoughts or feelings OR I have to respect my husband, but I don’t have to treat him lovingly.
I think it is helpful to see love and respect as two sides of one coin. How can a man love his wife if he doesn’t treat her with respect? Men who honor their wives by speaking to them with respect and listening to their thoughts and feelings are being loving. How can a woman respect her husband if she doesn’t treat him in a loving manner? Women who respect their husbands will love them by being kind, honorable, faithful, and speaking the truth with grace. The point is you can’t do one without the other.
Courage to Tell the Truth
Many women hesitate to be open and honest with their men because they confuse disagreement with disrespect. Failing to speak up may reduce conflict in the short term, but it will do nothing to develop an authentic, intimate relationship. How our thoughts and concerns are delivered makes a world of difference, however.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Men can easily feel emasculated when women speak sharply and sarcastically to them, like they are children. The Biblical principle is to speak the truth in love. Ask yourself, is this true and important? Am I choosing the right time to share my thoughts? Is my tone and choice of words respectful? If so, his reaction is not your responsibility.
A lot of women I talk to conclude they were wrong to speak up because “he got mad.” His reaction is not how you measure the wisdom of what you did and said.
Strong Enough to Be Humble
Unfortunately, some men DO interpret disagreement as disrespect. Perhaps they are acting out a fallacy that says ’I can’t be wrong or I won’t be worthy of respect’. Actually a person with genuine humility and openness demonstrates a teachable spirit and thus is MORE worthy of respect.
Husbands and wives are supposed to be a team. God gave Eve to Adam because He said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Shutting your wife down when she musters the courage to disagree or give you another perspective is essentially saying you disagree with God’s design and prefer to manage life on your own without her input. This has the effect of leaving a woman feeling belittled and unloved.
Respect is something you earn. Think about it for a minute. Who do you respect and why? Most of you will answer you respect people who work hard, tell the truth, give sacrificially, keep promises, behave honorably and kindly. Those kinds of people are worthy of your respect and, for the most part, you gladly give it to them.
Some suggest the “salute the suit” principle applies here, meaning whether you feel like it or not, you respect those in authority. I absolutely agree that in a given moment, we might not want to show respect, but it may be required nonetheless. But even in a military situation, a commanding officer has earned his stripes; that is why he has authority. Demanding respect when you aren’t behaving in a loving and respectful manner is damaging to the relationship and will ultimately undermine what respect a wife has for her husband.
How should a woman fulfill this Biblical mandate if her husband is behaving in a way that doesn’t seem worthy of respect? I would advise flipping the coin and treating him with love. What would love look like in a situation like this? Try respectfully speaking the truth in love, keeping healthy boundaries, not returning evil for evil.
How should a man fulfill his Biblical mandate to love his wife when she is being difficult to love? Try treating her with respect. Ask yourself, how would I want to be treated if I were in her situation? Try respectfully speaking the truth in love, keeping healthy boundaries, and not returning evil for evil.
See the symmetry?
The mandate for husbands and wives is actually very clever. It isn’t an either/or proposition. It is both/and. Husband are to LOVE and thus respect their wives, wives are to RESPECT and thus love their husbands. When these things are in place, marriages will happier, healthier, and more authentic.
Suzanne Jones, BSN, MA, LPC, NCC You may contact me at: [email protected] (225) 278-3541
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