The answer is clear. And unpopular.
I know. “Easy for you to say.” Ladies, I’ve BEEN there. I’ve sat, cringing, angry and confused, in church when a brave pastor or two have told us wives to respect because, “God says so.” I’ve seethed with anger and hurt at the thought. I’ve not spoken to my husband for a full week because I literally couldn’t say anything nice. Respect was to be earned, right? Why should I respect a man who doesn’t “deserve it?” I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I do ministry now because God has called me to share what I’ve learned (painfully, I might add) so perhaps you won’t make the same mistakes I have made.
Most women who ask questions about why they should respect their husbands are feeling unloved and want to know, “Why should I take the relational risk of respecting this man who doesn’t treat me with love like he’s supposed to?” or, “HE’S not following the Biblical commands, so why should I?” We want him to be worthy of respect. We feel that way because God actually wired us to desperately want the guy we married to be a man we can admire and respect. But because we listen to the culture, we believe the lie that respect should be earned, instead of listening to God’s Truth:
32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Imagine for a moment that it’s the other way around, and our husbands are waiting to feel respected before they will demonstrate love for us. Would you be okay with that?
Of course not.
First of all, please know that we fully understand the depth of the pain you might be in within the context of your marriage. Nothing wounds a woman like marriage difficulties. We’ve seen wives who are abused, demeaned, degraded, married to husbands who turn away from God, never knew Him, or just aren’t very far in their walk. Men who abuse their children, men who won’t get a job. Men who make bad decisions that steal security or embarrass the whole family. Men who pursue other women or are addicted to pornography. Men who leave for days and no one knows where they are. Men who ask their wives to do the wrong things, men who are absent emotionally. Men who want nothing to do with their wives relationally. Please know our Lord holds your tears in His hands and understands fully the depth of your pain.
You should also know that men generally don’t think, “I’ll treat my wife lovingly when she treats me with respect,” but women will think, “I’ll show him respect when he shows me some love,” because we are (generally speaking) more relational than men. Our brains physically have more connections between the “feeling” side and the “thinking” side, than men do. So, while men might sense something “not quite right” in their marriage, it generally doesn’t naturally occur to them that they should be more loving. And because women are more relational than men and because God actually created us this way physically, I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility as mature, God-honoring women to take action in this area.
We assume here that you’ve worked out a few of the “basics of being a Christ-follower” and know that the goal is to be more Christ-like with your life. This then assumes the simple Truth that if you have chosen to follow God, you would naturally also choose to obey God’s command in Ephesians 5:33b, “and the wife shall respect her husband.” Doesn’t mean it is easy, but you would work hard to figure this out because God commands it. You will experience a number of things in seeking to live out Ephesians 5:33b, all of which will bring you closer to God and your husband. Here are a few things we know to be true, based on the thousands of women we have dealt with who choose to do The Respect Dare® book or E-Course, take Daughters of Sarah, attend one of our retreats, or workshops:
- You might “get results” from your husband in 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades. Maybe longer.
- 1 Peter 3:1-6 tells us that men who don’t even know God at all can be saved by their wife’s treatment of them, so in the long run, your “respect efforts” are completely worth it. If God can literally save these men, what else will He do for those wives who already love Him? Remember, He’s a Father who wants good things for His children. He wants your husband to be in heaven. He wants him to turn from his ways and accept the gift of His son and all that entails. You might be “the only Jesus your husband ever sees.” Salvation and the daily playing out of what Christ looks like are the opportunities you are presented with.
- If you measure your “respect efforts” by your husband’s “responses,” you will FREQUENTLY be disappointed. The culture influences our thinking and we’ll not see all the neat things he did, but rather focus on the thing he didn’t do, or vice versa, whatever’s most negative and hurtful to us.
- If you measure your “respect efforts” by whether or not you are pleasing to God, you will have a strength and dignity within ALL your relationships that other people won’t even be able to understand. Living life for The Audience of One, fully knowing that you are doing the right thing builds confidence like nothing else does.
- Wives who frequently lose their tempers and yell, frequently nag and complain, criticize their husbands in front of others or to them, or withhold sex, undo what progress they could be making with communicating respect. These behaviors are not “winsome” and destroy trust. God wants us to be winsome, for His sake and ours.
- If the husband doesn’t trust his wife, this process takes much longer. Meaning, if you’ve spent ten years (or two or thirty) treating him disrespectfully, you can’t expect him to completely trust this “new respectful you” in 40 days.
- Husbands who have been deeply wounded by their wives will sometimes “test” their wife’s “new respect efforts” by acting crummy to her. On purpose, even. They want to know if your new behavior is “legit” or if it’s going to wear off. This isn’t a nice thing to say, but it happens. Some of this is due to the fact (again, based on research) that men have fragile egos. They want to be able to “be real” and crave intimacy with us, but are literally afraid to be hurt. So they will keep their guard up if we are not a “safe place to fall,” meaning, “I feel accepted, encouraged, and respected by my wife, no matter what I have done. I can come to her when I am happy, or when I am disappointed. Her respect for me is unconditional. I don’t have to perform and be perfect to meet her approval – it’s always there.”
- Wives who go through these “tests” well greatly impact their husbands. When are we more like Christ than when we are loving those who don’t deserve it? Remember, husbands experience our love through our respect.
- Wives typically don’t know enough about men to easily get respect correct in their relationships with the men in their lives. Husbands, sons, coworkers, etc. For example, most women don’t know that men find our asking them, “Why?” is disrespectful to them. We think, “I don’t mean it that way, why would he take it like that?” “Why?” is a challenge word to men. It means we don’t trust them or the decision or course of action they’ve taken. They take it personally. Who would have thought that? Yet research supports this. We teach women (through The Respect Dare book, our retreats, courses, and the E-Course) to “speak the language of respect” to be more effective in these relationships.
- There are little things we do every day that communicate, “I don’t respect you,” to our husbands. MOST of these things are completely unintentional on our part, but intent is irrelevant if we’re trying to be effective. Because we are more relational than they are, with more connections in all areas of our brains, it’s up to us to learn to speak their language, not the other way around.
- The culture teaches us that marriage is supposed to make us happy. The Bible teaches us that marriage is supposed to make us holy – if we choose to follow God’s advice. Marriage is the first organization designed by God, other than His own Trinity. It’s really important to God. Very specifically, marriage is designed to give the world a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. We wander around calling ourselves, “Christians.” His reputation is on the line. He’s going to grow us to help us get this right for His glory. See Ephesians 5:32-33 above.
- After we have fully learned to die to our own selfish desires, after we have learned to treat our husbands the way God wants us to, we can continue our development as relationship architects and move our marriage toward “mutual respect.” Look at this as a new phase, as though you have now passed “basic training” and have thus earned the right to teach your husband the way you want to be treated. He needs your help in communicating relationally with you. Because at this point our husband trusts us, because we have actually become good at speaking his language of respect, we are then (and only then) effective in our communication to him of how we experience love from him. He will want to hear this. Then they, because they feel safe and respected by us, typically eagerly pursue our happiness. They want to delight us at this point.
- When you get to the place where “mutual respect” exists in your marriage, and you are wise in how you communicate with your husband, you can tell him difficult things about your relationship and he will appreciate hearing them. He’ll then work harder to change because he is motivated by your unconditional respect of him.
- Most women have the process reversed and try to teach their husband how to treat them first. This never works. Most men typically don’t pursue delighting wives who don’t respect them. They figure, “What’s the point?”
- We have seen women who are physically, verbally, or emotionally, abused by their spouse separate from their husbands. They felt led by God to do so. We support them. We have seen other women who are physically, verbally, or emotionally, abused by their husband choose to stay with him and endure it because they felt led by God. We support them, too.
- Wives who really want to change their marriages CAN and DO learn to speak the language of respect to their husbands. They see their new communication skills impact their relationships with ALL the men in their lives. For example, if you are having trouble with your 6th grade boy, recognize he is looking for a little respect from mom! Men (and boys becoming men) don’t appreciate “mothering.”
- Wives who say their husbands don’t do anything worthy of respect aren’t looking closely enough. No one is a complete disaster in every single area of his or her life. For us to say there’s nothing our husband does that we can respect is more a reflection of our poor attitude than of him.
- What looks like respect to one man, can look like disrespect to another, in the small nuances of communication in a relationship. There are many “big” ways to communicate respect that will apply, generally speaking, to all men; but each man, and therefore each marriage, is going to be a little different in the small things. What that means is if I say, “Never ever let your husband know he’s going to miss the exit,” that might work in one marriage, but it might feel like, “You aren’t my friend,” in another.
- “Help” looks different to each man, too. For some, packing his suitcase for him before he travels might be a wonderful thing. For another, it might make him frustrated. That’s why we recommend each woman gets to know GOD better. He will help you understand the men in your lives because He already knows them intimately!
- Wives who grow their relationship with God see Him working things out with their husbands in His time. These women are discerning enough to actively choose to become more patient and are able to give their husbands the time they need to grow the way God wants to grow them. They don’t try to change the man they married. And these ladies recognize the difference between trying to change someone, and influencing those around them for the cause of Christ.
Understand that God created marriage to glorify Him. When we get married, we choose to participate in this context. It was never about making us happy. Remember, He’s going to grow us. He wants us to accurately reflect His glory. If we choose to follow His advice in the Bible, we will have peace and joy during the journey and less pain. The journey is hard, but we are not alone and we have strength if we follow God. If marriage was easy, people wouldn’t get divorced. Whether you choose God’s path, to follow Christ, or not, your marriage will be difficult. But with Christ, you won’t walk alone, and you will have joy, comfort, and peace that surpasses all understanding. And you’ll make an impact in your family and in the world that wouldn’t otherwise occur.
So should you choose to communicate respect to a man that doesn’t treat you right?
Because God says so.
It never was and should not ever be about how deserving of respect your husband is or whether he is living his life the way he should be. It IS now and always has been about whether or not you are going to trust God knows what He’s doing and obey what He’s telling YOU to do.
Take the Biblical journey of marriage as He intended. It’s hard, bumpy, long and tiring. It’s worth it. Do it God’s way and you’ll experience joy, peace, comfort, and deep connection with the Father, and your husband. And remember, it’s not about your husband’s response (although you’ll probably eventually get one if you can hang in there enough for him to truly trust you).
The bottom line about what respecting your husband is all about is pretty simple (not easy, but simple): It’s about your relationship with God.
So two recommendations, in order:
1) Get The Respect Dare book and do it. Here’s the link. You will grow your relationship with God and learn to speak your husband’s language of respect.
2) When you finish the dares AND (this is key) your husband answers the question, “Do you feel respected by me most of the time?” with a resounding, “Yes!” THEN get Dr. Kevin Leman’s book, Have a New Husband by Friday to learn how to develop “mutual respect” in your marriage. It’s available at Amazon.com, too.
Glad to be on this journey with you!