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Can We Manipulate Each Other with the Love and Respect Teaching?

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Though God commands the husband to love and a wife to respect, a strange twist might take place.  A wife puts on respect for one reason: to get her husband to be loving.

A husband puts on love solely to get his wife to respect him.

One pastor who wrote me shared his concerns fearing this very thing: that husbands and wives will manipulate each other when applying love and respect based on Ephesians 5:33:

I understand that this message will be appealing to non-followers of Christ, but it concerns me when believers are motivated in the flesh to manipulate their spouse to get what they want. I recognize this tendency in my own life and need to keep coming back to the cross to receive His forgiveness.

I recognize that I can't unconditionally love my wife apart from Christ, and I must choose to be obedient regardless of my spouse's response.

As awesome as this message is, it needs to more clearly lead me back to Jesus.

The testimonials that you quote often point to the positive response of the spouse, which is great; however, I would love to hear if and how couples may become closer to God as a result of their obedience. . . .

The beauty of your message is that Christ is glorified more through His church when couples are loving and respecting one another. We are excited to continue reading and learning! Thank you again for answering His call to get this word out there!

Was this pastor critical of the Love and Respect message? Not at all. Only of those who misused it, including himself. I was happy to respond to him:

My Response:

Profound! You nailed it! . . .

As to your concern, keep watching and keep reading! The Rewarded Cycle is the reason we are doing the conferences and wrote the book. Look at chapters 23 and 24, and watch session 5 of the video conference. There we go in depth on God’s call to a husband and wife to put on love and respect every day no matter the response.

But to your question, yes, this message can be self-serving if one stays on the horizontal. If one only shows love to be respected or only shows respect to be loved, one misses the deepest truth.

His Good or Bad Goal

The husband is to be loving toward his wife as a sign of his love for Christ, who stands beyond his wife’s shoulder. He does this regardless of his wife being lovable. His deepest desire is to hear Christ's “well done!”

Yes, if she is disrespectful, he lovingly points that out but only because he cares for her.

On the other hand, the manipulating husband isn’t really interested in obeying God’s command to love, in meeting his wife’s need for love, or receiving Christ's reward. Instead, he has a hidden agenda: to get her to show him more respect and to honor his wishes. Given things are not going his way, he will club her with the statement, "You're being disrespectful!"

Her Good or Bad Goal

For the wife, she is to be respectful toward her husband as a sign of her reverence for Christ, who stands beyond the shoulder of her husband. She does this regardless of her husband’s respectability. Her deepest yearning is to hear Christ's "well done!"

Yes, if he is unloving, she respectfully points this out. But she does this to serve not shame him.

On the other hand, the manipulating wife isn’t thinking about following God’s revelation. She suppresses the idea of meeting the need of her husband to be respected for who he is in the image of God apart from his inadequacies. And she ignored the vertical: being rewarded by Christ for reverencing Him. Instead, she has a secret goal: to get her husband to be loving and to prove his love by going along with what she deems best.

The Takeaway

What’s the warning here?

Each person must exercise discernment, especially at first, when applying the message of Love and Respect. This can work so quickly and powerfully that one takes his eye off the ball.

A wife respects her husband who in turn responds lovingly. She keeps doing this until one day, to her shock and chagrin, she puts on respect but her husband reacts to her respect in a very unloving and harsh way. She respectfully says, “I’d like for us to go to my mother’s home this weekend.” He reacts, “No, that’s my first golf tournament. You knew that!” Hurt and then infuriated, she yells, “I forgot, okay? But I can’t believe how you lopped off my head. I have been respectful for weeks and what do I end up getting? Your anger and harshness. When I am respectful you are supposed to be loving.” He retorts, “Well, I shouldn’t have reacted that way. But what you’re saying to me is that you only show me respect to get me to make you feel loved. This is all about me jumping through your hoops to make you feel loved, when I thought you were respecting me just because you respected me. This isn’t about me; this is about you."

Or, a husband loves his wife who in turn responds respectfully. He keeps doing this until one day, to his dismay, he puts on love but his wife reacts to his love in a very disrespectful and rude way. He lovingly says, “I think I will plant shrubs and flowers along the side of the house this Saturday. I will use our house fund money. I think you will really like the look.” She comes uncorked. “No! You and I agreed that those funds would be applied to new appliances for the kitchen. This is what you do. On a whim, you get a hair-brained idea and barge forward. Besides, I don’t want flowers and shrubs there but new grass.” Frustrated and offended, he snaps back, “That’s a fine how-do-you-do. Here I am thinking of you, trying to be loving and considerate and you use me for target practice. Though we are reading the Love and Respect book, it doesn’t work with you. You are supposed to respect me when I love you. No matter how hard I try to love you, you end up dissing me for one thing or another.” She counters, “So, the minute I disagree with you, you tell me I am disrespectful. Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do back at you. You only love me so I will drool with respect like Pavlov’s dogs who drooled when he rang a bell."

There is a fine line between motivation and manipulation. It's okay to seek to influence and energize and persuade and sway our spouse to be loving and respectful. We refer to this as the Energizing Cycle: his love motivates her respect and her respect motivates his love.

But that is not where our focus should lie. The focus needs to be on these three motivations:

  1. We intend to obey God's command in Ephesians 5:33 even if our spouse does not obey or respond.
  2. We are loving and reverencing Jesus Christ beyond the shoulder of our spouse.
  3. Our deepest longing is to hear “Well done" and receive Christ's reward.

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Being honest with yourself, do you believe you have ever showed love or respect to your spouse in an effort to manipulate them to return the favor? If so, explain why you were not truly loving or respecting them as God commands?
  2. On the other hand, have you ever felt you were being manipulated by a “loving or respectful” spouse in order to return the favor? How did that make you feel? Did you share that with him or her? Do you need to do so now?
  3. What does the fine line look like to you between motivation and manipulation?
  4. When we think of Christ’s reward, we typically imagine it coming beyond this life, long after your current decision to love or respect your spouse as God commands. But how does envisioning Christ standing just beyond the shoulder of your spouse help to reward you internally now?