The Love of Respect

Some of you may have heard about or attended a Love and Respect marriage conference at an evangelical church near you. Dr. Susan Biali, MD, blogged on psychologytoday.com about her and her husband’s transformative experience at one of these conferences. She learned that husbands mainly want respect, not love (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201304/relationship-advice-women-need-love-men-need-respect).

This was Biali’s summary of Eggerich’s recommendations to women:

A man feels respected when:

1) You tell him thanks for going to work every day and praise his commitment to providing for you and your family (I know, you very likely go to work, too – as do I – but to men it’s particularly important to have their efforts and dedication acknowledged)

2) You ask him to talk about his dreams.

3) You praise his good decisions (and don’t keep bringing up the bad ones)

4) You honor his authority in front of the children – and others in general – and differ with him in private

5) You thank him for his advice and knowledge (men love to help and advise)

6) You do recreational activities with him, “shoulder to shoulder”, such as watching the football game, going along for a drive, or going camping with him (here’s a kicker, though: apparently it’s a huge gift to men if women keep them company but don’t talk the whole time. I have been working on this one, it is not easy!)

7) You respond more often to him sexually (I think this one needs no explanation)

What do you think about this? I for one really enjoy the feeling of being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his “manliness” and his internal blueprint for leadership. Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.

Eggerichs and Biali are coming from a perspective that uses the Bible to support their position, that men mostly want respect in marriage, and women mainly want love. In light of that, I want to point out  verses that command husbands to respect their wives, and encourage wives to love their husbands.

Check these out:

I Peter 3:7 “Husbands in the same way [as the women] be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” [Note that my commentary says that “weaker” is “not a reference to moral stamina, strength of character or mental capacity, but most likely to sheer physical strength”—TNIV Study Bible.]

Titus 2:4 “Then they [older women] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children…”

Even the Biblical writers were flexible enough in their thinking about gender roles to include commands for women to love their husbands, and husbands to respect their wives. That ought to say something to us in the 21st century when women’s human rights are, in principle, acknowledged.

That said, I think that Biali and Eggerichs are right in one way: many men would love their wives or girlfriends to do all of those things. What neither seem to notice, or give value to, is that most of these suggestions, unless they are reciprocated to the wife, are likely to result in an unequal and unfair dynamic in a relationship. (For example, note the fact that Biali, as an MD, may surpass her husband in salary and skill-set, yet she is the one to express appreciation to him for working so hard for the family). If women follow Biali’s model of “being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his ‘manliness’ and his internal blueprint for leadership,” then what you have is not a partnership but a leader-followership. It is a reinforcement of hierarchy. That’s not what Jesus would do. If you want to see Jesus’ egalitarian approach to women, read the gospels. Or, at least, my book (http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Women-Church-Jesus-Divide/dp/1594980136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367961697&sr=1-1&keywords=saving+women+from+the+church).

And do men, in general, really need more respect? The need for respect can be a bottomless pit when the fear of not meeting the standards of traditional masculinity has forged shame into the soul. But, the actual need for respect may, in fact, be strongest in those who don’t get as much in society: wives and mothers, for example. When I withdrew from a doctoral program to become a Stay-at-Home Mom, I realized with a shock that I dropped to the bottom of the societal value-meter. I had to consciously develop such a strong sense of self-respect that I don’t need any one to praise me for the valuable skills I have honed in my current position.

Many men could not function emotionally at all in a Stay-at-Home Parent role. (Let me emphasize that there are some wonderful exceptions to this statement). They have been raised to expect power, respect, status and praise both in the world and at home, more than women have. That expectation can leave them fragile, when it is not met. Note even the sub-title of Eggerich’s book, “The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs.” Should wives feed into this false sense of desperation, by emphasizing respect?

Biali’s final respect-over-love argument is the Mars/Venus one: “Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.” All our beliefs are obvious before they are tested. Let’s look at a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 gender difference studies (here: http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/02/05/men-and-women-may-not-be-so-different-after-all/51222.html). The review showed “that for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

“Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum—the way they do with, say, height or physical strength—psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders.”

Men and women, because they are both human, more similar in their needs than different, need love and respect in equal measure. Those who say they want respect more than love begin to enter an abuse continuum where the greater power must be maintained in a marriage relationship. Abusive men appear to need no love at all: only respect and power. They are on one extreme end. On the milder end of the spectrum are the men whose self-esteem thrives on subtle and direct communications of wifely deference—the very suggestions Biali has suggested, in fact.

When these men don’t get what they need to feel good about themselves, they often stonewall, says Eggerichs—an adult, quiet version of a tantrum. Stonewalling is one of marriage expert John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” for marriage—a divorce predictor (http://azgrowth.com/4Horsemen.pdf ). Yes, “respect” would end the stonewalling, but not in a healthy way, just as giving a child candy for dinner because he wants it keeps him happy but not well.

As Eggerichs says, respect and love are not the same thing. He notes, “You respect your boss, you don’t love your boss.” Exactly.

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Posted on May 7, 2013, in Christianity, Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think that men and women define “respect” and “love” differently and that’s where the difference between us is. Men feel loved when they are shown respect, women feel respected when they are shown love.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for stopping by & commenting. If we go with a definition of respect (dictionary.com) that is in regard to having esteem or a sense of the worth of someone, it seems to me we all need respect in order to feel loved. When one person in a couple is often fed messages about their worth, but the other is not, that is a recipe for an unhealthy relationship. I know I really do not feel loved when I am not respected. We all need mutual respect and mutual love, for solid, healthy relationships.

      • I agree, each person needs to be both loved and respected. But we also need to acknowledge how the other person FEELS loved and respected, not just treat them how the dictionary defines it. Each person (and maybe gender) is different. A man can feel respected by a woman encouraging him in his career, but if the woman doesn’t acknowledge that that is how he feels respected, her efforts to give advice instead of encouragement for his career to show love, can fall flat. Even though she meant to show him respect by doing that. Being aware of how people respond to different “love languages” is important too.

      • Sure. I think that a man could ask a woman how she feels respected, too. I’m saying mutuality makes a lot of sense. To *only* ask about how a man feels respected, and to assume a woman doesn’t want or need respect, is missing the full humanity of the woman. I am saying this whole approach (men need respect, women need love) is often, unwittingly, about power. Not sure if you’ve read Eggerich’s book, but he very much argues that wives should submit to their husbands to show respect. That can mean just about anything, in a variety of unhealthy situations. (I like to talk about real life examples because I think a lot of the one-sided submission talk breaks down in real life). I am going to be writing a post soon about submission. Thanks for the dialogue. Stay tuned!

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