Does Unconditional Respect Equal Becoming a Doormat?
One of the questions I hear the most is some variation of, “Are you telling me I have to unconditionally respect my husband’s bad behavior and become a door mat? Everyone knows respect must be earned!”
Interestingly, in our culture we don’t have a problem understanding unconditional love… in fact, we see unconditional love as the right of every human being. Imagine expecting our children to “earn” our love! We would disapprove of such parenting. Most of us have no problem separating the person from their behavior when it comes to love. Love the person, hate the sin. Right?
But mention unconditional respect and some women go through the roof! Immediately, visions of weak, dependent women flood their minds – along with the inevitable label – DOOR MAT. Or, they must enter the room with a cheerleading outfit on, waving their pompoms in worshipful adoration of their husbands who are watching Sports Center.
So is this what Christ had in mind for married women? Not at all! Let’s take a look at what the Word of God has to say about unconditional respect.
When the Bible reveals that a wife is to respect her husband, it is shown in the same way a husband is to show love to his wife (Eph. 5:33). Both are unconditional. However, unconditional does not mean you remove all the healthy conditions that make a marriage succeed. Unconditional does not mean you go along with bad behavior, giving another person license to do whatever he or she feels. Unconditional does not mean superficial praise. Unconditional means that you give the person the gift of love and respect as you confront the issues.
In other words, you recognize that a hostile and contemptuous attitude is ineffective in helping resolve the issues.
We expect a husband to unconditionally love his wife not by endorsing sin but by lovingly confronting those things he believes are wrong. The gift he gives her is the gift of a loving tone, facial expression, words and actions while confronting unacceptable behavior. When God instructed Hosea as a husband, "Go again, love a woman... an adulteress” (Hosea 3:1), God did not expect Hosea to show love to Gomer his wife, by going along with her adultery.
Similarly, when Peter instructs a wife to win her disobedient husband with her respectful behavior (1 Peter 3:1,2), God did not expect the wife to show respect by going along with her husband's disobedience. Unconditional love and respect does not sanction bad behavior. If your spouse lies, steals, cheats or abuses, you must take a stand and lovingly and respectfully confront this. In the book of Acts, chapter 5, Peter did not affirm Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, for going along with her husband's lie. She lost her life because she did not respectfully take a stand against her husband's evil.
A husband may not deserve respect because he has not earned respect, but a wife’s disrespect for him is ineffective long-term—and not biblical. No husband responds to disrespectful attitudes any more than a wife responds to unloving and disrespectful attitudes. Yes, if a wife is lovable, it makes it easy for her husband to love her, but the command of God to love one’s wife has nothing to do with her being lovable. And if a husband is respectable it makes it easy for a wife to respect him, but the command of God to respect one’s husband has nothing to do with him being respectable. Put it this way, this is about how we come across when addressing issues. This is not about our spouse's worthiness.
Unconditional means NO CONDITION can arise that stops you from dealing with the situation in a loving or respectful manner. We might say your love or respect is UN-situational or UN-circumstantial. No situation, circumstance or condition in your marriage can CAUSE you to react in hostility or contempt. No matter the conditions, God calls you to show love and respect to your spouse. No matter the conditions, you have the freedom to choose a loving and respectful demeanor. No matter the conditions, your spouse cannot stop you from loving and respecting.
This post was originally posted in August, 2012 on our old blog. You can view it here.