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Husband says: “I Finally Get It!” - Conflict In Marriage

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My parents divorced when I was one. They later remarried each other, but then separated again when I was five. A few years later they reunited for good, but even then it was far from a fairy-tale marriage. My childhood years were filled with memories of yelling and unsettling tension. I saw and heard things that are permanently etched in my soul, and I would cry myself to sleep at times.

Unfortunately, far too many can relate to my parents’ marriage, filled with arguing, fighting, bickering, and all kinds of conflict. Even the family sitcoms that one would think should give us a break from all the real-life marital tension in the world are replete with husbands and wives nagging, lying, and arguing with each other—and all for laughs too!

So is this just what marriage is like? My parents, the sitcom families, the couples who seem to always be complaining about their spouses whenever they are around their best friends . . . do they represent well what marriage is like, and we just need to learn to live with it?

That’s Not the Status Quo—They’re on the Crazy Cycle!

A husband wrote me recently to tell me he finally understood!

My wife and I were college sweethearts and have been together for sixteen years and married for twelve. Most of our marriage has been great with many more ups than downs. . . . Then about a year and a half ago, we began arguing much, much more than we ever had before. I became more withdrawn and angry, and she became completely uninterested in me sexually and affectionately. . . . One day it was like someone just flipped a switch in her, and she completely withdrew from me. After a few weeks of feeling neglected, I blew up and started a two-week silent treatment. 

Three weeks ago, I finally got tired of being immature, and I wanted to talk it out. I tried to push her to talk and she was not responding to my barrage of questions and complaints about her. I finally said, "Don't you want to work this out?" I was absolutely floored when she replied, "I don't know." I could never imagine not knowing if I wanted to work it out or not, there was never any question to me! In my mind this was just another stupid argument about the same old thing. Of course we would work it out, we always did before! She just said that all she knew is she wasn't happy, and hadn't been for a while. It was as if a truck hit me and was parked on my chest! . . .

After a few tense days, I got up the nerve to ask her point blank "Are you going to leave me?" to which she replied again, "I don't know.” Another, even larger truck hit me and parked right on top of the first one! I said we can work it out, she said I'd said that before and we keep going back to the same thing (valid points, unfortunately). Much crying and many sleepless nights ensued. 

I set an appointment for us with a family therapist, which she balked at but did come to the appointment. The best thing to come out of the session was as “homework” we received a copy of your book. I was desperate to find a way to reconnect with my wife and keep my family together, so I started reading as soon as I got home. I commented out loud to my wife that it was like the first few chapters had been written about us! I now realize that we have been on the Crazy Cycle to some degree for probably five years now! It was so simple once I saw my actions through the eyes of Love and Respect! She didn't feel loved! I have always said it frequently, but my actions told her another story! I FINALLY GET IT!!! Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to make me a better person and husband.

All that bickering, arguing, fighting, going back and forth and never finding a solution . . . that’s not “just how marriage is”; that’s the Crazy Cycle! You see, when a husband feels disrespected, he has a natural tendency to react in ways that feel unloving to his wife. And when a wife feels unloved, she has a natural tendency to react in ways that feel disrespectful to her husband. Said more simply: Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love. The Crazy Cycle!

Why Are Love and Respect the Key to Stopping the Crazy Cycle?

But what’s so special about love and respect? Why are they the solution to getting off the Crazy Cycle of endless bickering and fighting? After twenty years of studying the Bible every day during my time as a pastor, one day a verse I had read countless times exploded off the page. In Ephesians 5:33, the apostle Paul wrote, “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Though I had preached on that verse many times when conducting marriage ceremonies, somehow I had never seen the connection between love and respect. But as I pondered more deeply the truths in Ephesians 5:33, the connection began to surface. I began to realize, a husband is to obey the command to love even if his wife does not obey the command to respect, and a wife is to obey the command to respect even if the husband does not obey the command to love.

My parents had argued endlessly for literally decades before they gave their lives over to Christ and began learning the truths in Scripture, such as Ephesians 5:33. The husband who wrote me above admitted to arguing with his wife, complaining to her, and even giving her the silent treatment. All this was depriving her of what she needed most from him, especially in their times of conflict—to be assured of his love for her! His “barrage of questions and complaints about her” did not make her feel loved in the least. Her withdrawal from him and neglecting of his sexual needs did not leave him feeling respected. But neither one was choosing to be the mature one and obey Ephesians 5:33 regardless of their spouse’s response. And the Crazy Cycle continued to spin faster.

However, when a wife sees just how unconditionally her husband loves her . . . when a husband is certain of his wife’s respect for him . . . guess what slowly stops spinning? The Crazy Cycle! Because when she is confident of his love for her, and when he feels her unconditional respect for him, suddenly whatever conflict they’re having in that moment doesn’t feel so insurmountable. In their time of conflict, their deepest felt needs are still being met—love and respect!

To show unconditional love and respect may not make for the most popular sitcom today, but it absolutely is the makeup of a successful marriage. Don’t fall for the lie that says the status quo of marriage today is constant conflict. As the husband who wrote me finally did, recognize the Crazy Cycle in your marriage and begin implementing unconditional love and respect today!

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

Questions to Consider

  1. What examples of marriage did you grow up viewing (parents, neighbors, television)? In what ways did those examples end up influencing your own marriage?
  2. Have you ever felt that you and your spouse were in a constant state of conflict with each other? Why do many couples succumb to the idea that such constant conflict is just the way marriage is, or at least it’s the best their marriage can be?
  3. While both husband and wife need unconditional love and respect, Paul specifically commanded husbands to love and wives to show respect. Why do you think that is?
  4. When in times of conflict with your spouse, if your deepest felt need of love or respect is still being met, how does that help the specific conflict not seem so insurmountable?