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“Help! Forget Respect—What If I Don’t Even Love My Husband?”

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In Ephesians 5:33, husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives are commanded to respect their husbands. One obvious question that I often receive concerning this is, “Why aren’t wives commanded to love their husbands?” 

The answer I always share is that God is not in the business of commanding us to do things that we naturally do on our own. Put simply, women love to love. And in a marriage between a goodwilled wife and a goodwilled husband, she doesn’t need a biblical command to love her husband unconditionally—she does it already!

But every now and then I receive an email like the following two, from women we’ll simply call “Wife 1” and “Wife 2”:

WIFE 1: You speak a lot about how most women love their husband, but don't show respect. What about when a woman cannot honestly say "yes" when asked if she loves her husband? How can a woman fall back in love with her husband when she's not certain that she was ever in love to begin with? This applies to me because I met, dated, and married my husband during a very vulnerable time in my life. I was in a very needy stage—I became dependent on my husband for safety and security. This is the farthest thing from my "true self." As the years passed by, I became much more independent and more of a leader. I tend to be more proactive; my spouse is more reactive. I'm more assertive; he's more passive. With each attempt to get my husband to take action in his life and in our marriage, I've lost a little more respect for him. Right or wrong, it's how I feel. So, not only do I have respect issues, but I also have issue with the question “do I love him?” I care that he is happy and that nothing bad happens to him, but I'm not certain that's enough to make our marriage work. I want a happy, loving, respectful, joyful, dedicated, rewarding, and flourishing marriage; I'm just not sure I see that happening with my husband.

WIFE 2: I just finished your "Love and Respect" book and I feel like it could totally work in a lot of marriages. But I don't know how to apply it to mine. I have been married eight years and have two sons. My husband was my first real boyfriend and I had very limited sexual experience with other men. Now, eight years later, I am unhappy. I have yet to experience an orgasm, and at this point I am bored with sex because it is unsatisfying. I have seen doctors and therapists, and they conclude that maybe I am just not sexually attracted to my spouse. My husband is generally a good guy, but has a high sexual appetite and gets really distant and moody when he goes without. I know he loves me and he does try and do romantic things, but I always feel he's just trying to get sex. And I don't think I am in love with him, which is the real problem. I think I married him because he was my first love but I think had we just dated, we would have eventually broke up. I know I can respect him, but does this love and respect thing work if I don't love him? I know as a Christian that I must make this marriage work, but honestly it feels like a death sentence because I am so sad that I am never going to feel pleasure or the bliss of being in love. Please help!

While these two women may have variant stories in their marriages, the premise is the same, and unfortunately it is one they share with many goodwilled Christian wives across the world: 

Though they are married to goodwilled and loving men, their marriage relationship has fallen short in their own eyes of the picture-perfect, swept-off-your-feet marriage that culture tells them they deserve to have.

And though they claim to want their current marriage to become that kind of relationship, they do not believe it can happen, so they are beginning to fall for the world’s lies that it’s okay to get out now. They are both wrestling with the idea that if a wife is supposed to have it in her nature to agape love her husband, what if she does not love her husband? Should she even be married to him? Unfortunately, many conclude “no.”

How Do We Respond to These Goodwilled Wives Who Are Hurting in This Way?

First, let’s reinforce what Scripture has always said concerning divorce. For the one who loves and reverences Christ, His words determine the answer to these lingering questions some begin to have about divorce that they never once did. Matthew 19:9 says, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

What is Jesus revealing? Marriage is permanent. In the eyes of God, we are bound. Such a declaration freaked out the disciples who quickly reacted by saying, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry" (v. 10). But to this Jesus teaches that God intends for us to marry unless we have the gift of celibacy, or as He says are “eunuchs for the kingdom.”

Paul, too, lands on the words of Jesus with apostolic firmness. Listen to these words based on what Christ taught:

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:10)

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. (Romans 7:2-3)

God’s Word on marriage and divorce found in Scripture has not expired. Husbands and wives no longer “feeling in love” are not given scriptural permission to divorce. God still desires these couples to glorify Him in their commitment to each other. Which brings me to the next point . . .

The Love and Respect principles are not my ideas, but are based on the command in Ephesians 5:33, which says, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” God’s command is for all marriages, even these couples and others like them. This should actually give us all hope, as Christ does not command us to do that which He does not equip us to do! As this scripture commands women to respect their husbands and husbands to love their wives, of course God will equip them to do exactly that. As well, if God has designed a woman already to be able to agape love her husband by nature, He will certainly equip any wife with that ability as well!

Will you look to Hollywood, or to the Holy Word? We must all be careful to guard against the secular world's movie image of romance and sex. Too many are paying attention to other voices in the culture that promise an idealistic relationship full of ongoing passion and sexual fulfillment. Movies, books, and TV are full of false promises of the “perfect sexual relationship.” This can mislead a person and undermine the potential for a satisfying relationship.

We must all give our marriages, and our sexual lives within them, over to the Lord and say, “Your will be done.” Again, God is rooting for your marriage! He brought you together. Maybe like the wives above, you married “young.” But we all make decisions early in life. To conclude one made a mistake can falsely persuade one to go against the vows. Many marriages around the world are still arranged, as many were in the Bible. These marriages often grow and develop into fulfilling and loving relationships. 

God knows you can experience love and respect in your marriage. Ask Him to help you discover what He has for you within your marriage. Don't underestimate the power of God to change your feelings, but you must have an open heart to this change. Focus on the good things about your husband, rather than the things that are lacking for you. 

When I asked “Wife 1” to share ten positive qualities about her husband, she replied that he was: “1) Honest, 2) Devoted, 3) Hard worker, 4) Loyal, 5) Growing Christian, 6) Good father, 7) Kind, 8) Athletic, 9) Supportive, 10) Intelligent.” Perhaps she may not have feelings of love for her husband, but does she have any faith and feelings for Jesus? Will she really ignore all Scripture has to say about marriage and divorce and walk away saying, "Well, I made a mistake in marrying this man who is 1) Honest, 2) Devoted, 3) Hard worker, 4) Loyal, 5) Growing Christian, 6) Good father, 7) Kind, 8) Athletic, 9) Supportive, 10) Intelligent. I am divorcing him and will pursue another man who will sweep me up in his arms and romance me”?

Finally, remember the Rewarded Cycle, which says: His love regardless of her respect. Her respect regardless of his love. And why should we continue in this way, despite our spouse’s response or even despite “our feelings”? Because the real reason that we are to love and respect them is out of our reverence for and obedience to Christ. Just a few verses after Ephesians 5:33, Paul continues by saying, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Ephesians 6:7-8).

In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ. God’s command to love and respect our spouse is really a command to love and respect Jesus, who stands just beyond their shoulder.

So to the Christian wife married to a goodwilled man who is not guilty of adultery or abuse, the question I would ask is not, “Do you love your husband?” but “Do you love Jesus?” And I would challenge all to then say, “Your will be done,” and allow God full access to work in your heart. You will not be disappointed!

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

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you truly believe that Scripture’s words on marriage and divorce still fully apply today? How have you seen Christians still try to justify why their situation is different?
  2. Emerson said, “Christ does not command us to do that which He does not equip us to do!” How does this encourage you in your own marriage? Has anything happened in your relationship where you were tempted, if even for a little while, to believe that you would not be able to make it through that? How did God equip you to persevere through it?
  3. In what ways has culture’s ideas of romance and sex challenged you in your own marriage? Why is Hollywood’s view not the healthy view?
  4. How does the Rewarded Cycle encourage you today? Does anything about it concern you? Why?