After being married for about 30 years, I asked my husband, Jim, what might seem to be a simple question: “What would you want more—love or respect?”
While both are important, his answer surprised me: “Respect.”
I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose respect over love.
My question to Jim was prompted by a FamilyLife Today® broadcast with Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of the book Love and Respect. Eggerichs bases the book on Ephesians 5:33, which says, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Eggerichs’ premise is that, though every person needs both love and respect, God gave men a special, deep need for respect, and He gave women this same deep need for love. That’s why I didn’t understand Jim’s need for respect.
In the radio interview, Eggerichs said that among church members, there’s a consensus that husbands should love their wives. “But the idea of respecting a man, some women gag … because they don’t feel that.”
He said when a wife feels unloved she usually reacts in ways that are disrespectful to her husband. And that when he feels disrespected, he tends to react in ways that don’t express love to her. As Jim and I talked, and after I read Eggerichs’ book Love and Respect, I understood that the respect my husband longs for should not be based on his performance. Instead, I should honor him because it pleases God and because I know that Jim’s actions are motivated by his love for Jesus Christ and me.
My husband wants me to respect him for who he is, not for what he does.
Why your respect is important to your husband
I asked some men to help me understand why respect is so important to a husband. Here are some of their responses:
- Respect expresses a wife’s trust. One friend wrote, “Respect won’t exist unless trust exists first.”
- Respect gives a husband the belief that he can do hard things. One husband said that receiving respect from his most intimate friend, his wife, reduces his fear of failure and of being inadequate. Another explained respect this way: “It is like wind in my sails. No one knows me like my wife does. Her level of respect for me is a very accurate barometer on how I am doing, and my confidence to do hard things is very much connected to that.”
- Respect acknowledges his leadership and discourages passivity. Giving respect shows the husband that he can be a leader in the relationship (Ephesians 5:25-30). One husband said if wives would express love to their husbands through respect, “I am convinced that men would be better leaders and passivity would be less commonplace.”
- Respect provides encouragement and makes him want to love her even more. One man said that when a wife does not respect her husband enough to listen to him, he feels defeated. Another said that when his wife respects him, it makes him want to love her even more.
Chad said that his wife expressed her respect for him the most when he was at perhaps his lowest point in life. He had lost his job, and felt demoralized and discouraged. Yet even after many disappointing interviews, his wife remained supportive. He says, “She spoke words reflecting confidence to me and hope of what will come.”
When Chad took odd jobs just to make ends meet, his wife told him how proud she was of him. “I did not mow lawns because it was my life’s calling,” he said. “I did it because I needed to help pay my bills and feed my family. She allowed me to do it without shame or guilt.”
Practical ideas for giving respect
How does a wife show her husband unconditional respect? I asked Chad’s wife and some other women that very question. Based on their responses, here are 11 ways a woman can give her spouse the esteem he longs for:
1. Look for opportunities to show your husband honor and build him up. Kris began her marriage thinking that respect for her husband needed to be earned, and she often had a critical attitude toward him. She says that changed because “God’s Word taught me that respect is an unearned gift.”
2. Accept that you married an imperfect man. If your husband makes a bad decision, avoid saying “I told you so.” Trust that God will somehow make even his bad decision work out in the long run (Romans 8:28).
3. Focus on what your husband does well. Ask God to give you an attitude that looks for the best in your husband and responds in ways that build him up. Tell him what you appreciate about him. As you begin each day, ask yourself: Is my heart in the right place? Am I following the humble example of Jesus Christ, counting my husband’s needs more significant than myself (Philippians 2:1-4)?
4. Speak well of your husband. Don’t belittle him to your girlfriends or make him feel unnecessary or incapable.
5. If you have a blended family, support your husband’s discipline of your biological children. Sabrina says there are times when she doesn’t agree with the way her husband is disciplining her biological children. But instead of correcting him in front of the kids, she waits and talks with him later. “As a result,” she says, “I’ve seen him become more and more sensitive to my children’s needs, and the kids have learned to see his word as authority in our home.”
6. Encourage your husband when he gives spiritual direction to your family. Affirm him for his efforts, no matter how small. (If your husband is struggling in his spiritual leadership of your family, read Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s article “How can I motivate my husband to get right with God and become the spiritual leader of our family?“)
One wife told me about a time when she took over the biblical training in her home because she didn’t think her husband was doing it right. She had hoped her actions would encourage him to step up his spiritual leadership. However, her strategy backfired. She says, “Doing this left him discouraged and feeling, ‘Why should I bother if she wants to do it?'”
7. Think before you speak. Sometimes life’s decisions are really hard, especially when men and women think and reason so differently. One woman suggested that a wife should strive to understand her husband’s thinking as he considers different options. Another said, “Often, if I make snap judgments or comments, that’s when I disrespect my husband.” Proverbs 21:23 (The Message) offers some good advice on this topic: “Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.”
8. Consider the three T’s: Text (what you will say), Time (when you will say it) and Tone (how you will express your words). Before discussing something difficult with your husband, Shannon suggests asking yourself three questions: “Is it true? Is it right? Does it build up?” She says to consider the best time to talk with your husband, and to ask God to give you the right tone when communicating.
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9. Tell your children the positive aspects of their dad’s character, both as a husband and a father. Regularly doing this in front of your spouse not only shows him respect, but also helps the kids develop a loving, respectful attitude toward Dad and marriage.
10. Remember that your touch tells your husband that he is worthy of your time and concern for his well-being. “When I know my man is tense or stressed,” Joanie says, “all it takes is a massaging touch to his neck, shoulders, and back along with a fully engaged, listening ear. We give glory to God as we care for one another.”
11. If your husband travels regularly, give him tangible reminders of your love for him. When Ashley’s husband was discouraged about leaving home because of a job-related trip, she surprised him by tucking a special note into his suitcase. She expressed how much she appreciated his work ethic and commitment to providing for the family. The result? “When he came home we … felt connected at a deeper level. It was definitely an example of my respect for him.”
Respect is what men yearn for
There are many times when it’s not easy for a wife to give her husband respect. As one friend said, “It takes lots of prayers for me to let God take control of me and make me able to make wise choices when it comes to respecting my husband.”
This friend says her unconditional respect for her husband has paid great dividends. Why? Because, respect is what men yearn for. As Ron Deal, director of FamilyLife Blended™, explains, “Respect is like chocolate to a man’s soul.”
Editor’s note: If you are married and are suffering from abuse, showing respect for your husband becomes much more complicated. You need help. We suggest reading Dennis Rainey’s article, “Responding to Physical Abuse,” which lists several practical steps to take.
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