Not the Marriage Conference I Was Expecting

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Thank you Connie Cavanaugh for sharing your experience at a Love and Respect conference.

In the weeks leading up to the Love and Respect marriage conference at church last week, the women were excited, but the men were tentative. Women buzzed around the registration table, eager to sign up, hoping we’d get our money’s worth once our husbands heard all the things they were doing wrong, smartened up, and became more like us. We had been to marriage conferences before and, typically, it was the men who needed to do most of the changing. I was smugly convinced this was going to be more of the same.

Boy was I in for a big surprise.

The conference facilitators were Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. I had seen their video clips and had already picked up on Emerson’s humor as a speaker. I was pretty sure Emerson would disarm us with laughter, and then he’d swoop in for the kill—arrows straight to the heart. Oh I wasn’t worried about my heart. I was woman. Hear me roar.

I was relieved when I learned beforehand that there would be no nose-to-nose, knee-to-knee encounter times for spouses. Somehow, I wasn’t in the mood for that much intensity. Chances are, I thought, my husband will be the one who will have to make all the adjustments anyway.I was simply going along for the ride, expecting to be validated by an expert.

Erelong I would discover that: “Pride goeth before a marriage conference!”

We gathered on Friday night with hundreds of other couples and took our seats amid the noisy throng. As expected, Emerson broke the ice with funny stories and had us hooting with laughter with his dramatic skill at playing both roles in a marital spat.

But before long I was riveted to my seat as he talked about the way our culture had unashamedly vilified men over the past thirty years. In an attempt to raise awareness and create gender equality, popular culture had normalized male bashing and tried to feminize men, Emerson said.

He went on to explain that God had created men and women equal but different and it was that “different-ness” that provided the romantic spark as well as fostered the misunderstandings. He simplified it by saying that while women look through rose-colored lenses, men see things through blue-colored glasses. That’s why we see exactly the same things “in a different light.”

The more Emerson talked, the lower I sank in my seat and the taller my husband sat. But it wasn’t just shame or guilt that was hitting me; I was amazed at my naivety. I was having a spiritual encounter with Truth; you know the feeling—heart surgery without anesthetic.

I watched my husband and dozens of other men fight back tears when Emerson talked about a man’s primal need for respect in a culture that is saturated with romantic notions of love and sadly lacking in respect. I learned that a man gladly serves and dies for country and family from a sense of honor. That is his way of showing love. Too often, he isn’t thanked or even recognized.

I learned things my parents and grandparents grew up knowing, that when a man works hard and provides for his family, he is serving them in love and this service is worthy of respect. Because my husband has always been quick to say, “I love you” and is very affectionate, I didn’t realize that while my need for love was constantly being met, his need for verbal respect was seriously underfed.

The one who needed to change was me, not my spouse. I had to start saying the things I was thinking and stop taking his contribution for granted.

There was a decidedly different feeling in the air when the crowd was dismissed that night. Gone was the she-dragged-me-here look some of the men had arrived with three hours earlier. They could hardly wait to come back the next morning and hear more.

My husband was pumped! He yakked my ear off all the way home in the car. Whereas I was so raw with emotion I barely had the stamina to whisper, “Can you ever forgive me for not voicing my respect and appreciation more often for who you are and all you do?”

The sight that awoke me next morning was my husband standing by the bed with breakfast on a tray. Boy did I respect that!

Discussion Questions

  1. The writer half-jokingly but half-seriously wrote that the women at the conference were excited for their husbands to learn “all the things they were doing wrong, smartened up, and became more like us.” Have you found this mindset to oftentimes be the case when it comes to a wife’s approach to marriage conferences, marriage books, or even marital counseling? Why is this so?

  2. In quoting Emerson, the writer wrote that “popular culture had normalized male bashing and tried to feminize men.” Do you agree or disagree? Why has this been pop culture’s approach?

  3. How does your husband’s verbal affirmations of his love for you compare to your verbal affirmations of respect for him? Why is expressing your respect for your husband more difficult than expressing your love?

  4. Why do you think the men at this conference were standing much taller when they left than they were when they first came in?