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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.

A Wife’s Tale: How I Stopped the Housework Habit and Started Living

I will start this tale with a confession: I have never liked housework. My husband would rather read or write than dust, too, but for some reason that isn’t confession material. I started my marriage with a commitment to fairness. I would do no more housework than he did. We went weeks without cleaning the bathroom, or mopping the kitchen. Yes, I would have liked it cleaner, but my principles drove me. We had a rotating schedule for doing the dishes, which we adhered to, and everything else went to pot.

We began to discuss cleaning after our son was born. We now had a family member around who spent a lot of time close to the floor; our choices affected him, not just us. Exchanges went like this:

“I do too sweep the floor!”/”When was the last time?” or even

“No one cares about a clean floor!”/*silent wrath & ire*

Sometimes we negotiated but it would never really last. I had no idea why.

I think, now, that things got muddled around the term Stay At Home Mom (which I became), because part of my job description is to clean the house. Marion Cunningham said so (a la Happy Days). Well, I sort of bought that for a while (I grew up watching Happy Days, after all), but my job was hard enough as it was, just being responsible for the well-being of a child, and my own well-being. Boring, repetitive tasks that used two brain cells wore on me, and the underlying societal assumption that I was uniquely qualified for such tasks diluted my self-esteem. Finally one day, during one of those discussions, I said, to myself more than any one, “My JOB is taking care of our son!” (my husband had never actually said my job was also to clean). That was when it crystallized for me; I was not unpaid house labor no matter what my title implied.

The author of Lazy Husbands: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework by Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. notes that our confusion on this issue comes from comparing ourselves to other women and men. Women look at other women, including our mothers (think 1950s) and if we are doing less than they are, we figure we should do more. Men compare themselves to other men, like their own fathers, and find themselves looking quite good. And it’s absolutely true of my husband that he shines bright. From day one, he has prioritized our son: diapering, stroller-ing, feeding, reading books, he has done it all. He uses his handyperson skills as needed and teaches them to me as well. He does occasional jobs I don’t like, such as taking the pets to the vet. He grocery-shops regularly and bakes pies. And when he tackles the dishes, he tackles them—not a single pot is left in the sink (whereas I say “let them soak”). And if you compared me to those 1950s women, to the current “Retro Wives” who can tomatoes and sew clothes, and to all the women who work full-time jobs and then put in 20 plus hours of housework a week, you’d have to say I need help with time management. And so, in light of those positives that make him look great compared to our idea of what other men are doing, and my homemaking imperfections that make me look like I am The Anti-Betty Crocker, we can end up with household unfairness.  He looks great, and I am the one not doing enough. It’s easy to buy into those comparisons and not really try for equality.

For me, I finally realized defensive discussions were never going to get anywhere. What I needed was better boundaries. The reason I felt so uncomfortable when people would come to the house and there were dust bunnies running under foot, was that, as Coleman points out, people still look to the Woman as Keeper of the Hearth. If they are going to judge at all, then people judge me for a messy house even though other people live here, too. And if *all* I do is stay at home, why aren’t I cleaning the house? Lazy Wife Syndrome, they must suppose. She watches soap operas (we don’t have cable). She is spending all her time eating Godiva chocolates and reading novels (sounds good, but no). She is depressed (no because I take fish oil and exercise). Coleman is the first person in print I have read to point out the judgment placed on Women-Who-Don’t –Clean-The-House-Well-Enough. And that was so freeing to realize it is REAL. I am not imagining it. My shame is societally induced.

And so, though I can’t completely get rid of that shame, I can see it for what it is. I can choose to live as though it doesn’t exist. I now prioritize my writing over housework. For me, that is “showing up for life,” as author Anne Lamott encouraged in one of her recent Facebook posts. Portland author Ariel Gore (How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead) says she puts in no more than one hour of cleaning a day. So, inspired by them, I have to actively let the house accumulate dirt some days. Other days, I delegate. Other people in the house choose their priorities, too, though. As I write, the kitchen floor needs mopping and there are dishes in the sink. But you know what? This same week, I wrote an essay that was immediately accepted for publication in a magazine I respect. That’s two in one month. So, I can live with our current standards. Just don’t come by the house without calling first.

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