Not Wrong, Just Different and Valuable!
During the two decades I’ve spent teaching the Love and Respect message, based on Ephesians 5:33, the feedback and responses I’ve received from readers, conference attendees, and small group participants has ranged from eye-popping, marriage-saving revelations to “I agree for the most part, but you don’t know my situation” to downright rejection of God’s instructions to the married couple. Though the responses vary, the one constant remains: God’s Word commands the husband to love his wife unconditionally and the wife to respect her husband.
The variables in this instruction are the individual recipients—the thousands upon thousands of husbands and wives who are coming to the Love and Respect message from a multitude of views, backgrounds, and experiences, then interpreting and processing God’s Word based on those unique differences. This is why from time to time I receive emails like this one in which a new kind of problem has arisen since the Love and Respect message was heard.
This material is excellent and much needed. We have read the book and attended a conference and been blessed by the material. We have just completed facilitating our first small group DVD teaching. We are hesitant to do another until we deal with the following issue. There is one area we are having difficulty with and want very much to discuss it with someone. For the most part the men in our small group are not "getting" that their wives have insight also. There being a scriptural command to respect and value men does not give license for them to disregard what their wives think. If there is one weakness in the material, we are finding it is the omission of the value of a woman's insight; not as the leader but as an integral part of information gathered for the decision-making. . . . While this is not a problem in our own marriage, it seems to be a major one for the other couples. Listening to the material seems to have swung the pendulum the other direction so far. How to love your wife is being translated into a condescending attitude. Hope you can help.
“How to love your wife is being translated into a condescending attitude.” That is an interesting statement and one that deserves attention. And while I received only one side of the story here (the women’s side), it is important to address other possibilities and investigate whether or not this could be another pink and blue communication problem.
Obviously, any man who does not esteem his wife while they interact on various issues nor seeks to live with her in an understanding way as an equal, which includes empathizing with her opinions, misses two major letters in C.O.U.P.L.E.: Understanding and Esteem—the acronym I use to illustrate how a husband spells love to his wife.
Additionally, we read in Proverbs 31:11–12, "The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." The Bible challenges a young husband to trust the heart of his wife and to believe that her actions toward him are for good and not for evil. Obviously, a husband should welcome his wife's trustworthy heart and good actions.
We also read in Proverbs 19:14: "House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord." Why would a husband live with a prudent wife—a wife with practical wisdom and godly knowledge—and not want to receive her recommendations and counsel? It makes no sense for him to deprive himself of that treasure. And if he does so, he is straight-up rejecting a gift from the Lord.
However, could there be something else going on here with the couples whose wives are accusing their husbands of having condescending attitudes? Pay close attention to these scriptures:
"And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping." (Proverbs 19:13)
"Better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman." (Proverbs 21:19)
"Better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house with a contentious woman." (Proverbs 25:24)
"A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike." (Proverbs 27:15–16)
God doesn't tell husbands to listen to contentious wives but to listen to respectful wives. Which way should a husband interpret his wife? Is she a prudent wife voicing concerns to which he must listen? Or is she a contentious wife who is expressing her disgruntlement over the fact that periodically her husband puts his foot down and breaks the pattern of her getting what she wants? John Gottman, arguably the most respected marriage researcher around, writes: "In the research literature on marital interaction that has used observational methods, women's marital interaction . . . has been consistently described as more confronting, demanding, coercive, and highly emotional . . . than the interaction of their husbands." (See John M. Gottman, What Predicts Divorce: The Relationship between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes [Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994], iii.)
In addition, Sharon Jayson, in USA Today, writes, “Around the house, women rule. And men aren't putting up a fight about it, according to a study from the Pew Research Center that examines how gender and power play out at home and in the community. Of 1,260 individuals surveyed this summer— either married or living together—women wield more decision-making power at home. In 43% of couples, women made more decisions—almost twice as many as men—in the four areas Pew surveyed: planning weekend activities, household finances, major home purchases and TV watching.”
My question for the women in this small group would be, where do they land? Do their husbands walk on them as doormats in the home, rarely if ever listening to their concerns and making decisions contrary to their wishes? Or do these wives make the majority of the family decisions but are not reporting this because recently their husbands stepped to the plate as an equal due to the Love and Respect equation and these wives don't like this?
I am not suggesting that these women do not feel more vulnerable or victimized. God's Word calls her the weaker vessel, but with that she can overcompensate in confronting and controlling, and not see this but only see her husband pushing back and then interpreting that as dominating.
However, even in the best of situations, inevitably a husband will fail to approach the situation as lovingly as he should. And hopefully, his frame of reference is not to push her way out of the decision-making process but to get a chair for himself at the table. She must be careful to not misinterpret her husband's motives, nor how he is looking at his involvement.
Having said this, a husband can club his wife with the Respect message—I get that, and perhaps that truly is what is going on in this situation. But when I unpack most situations, the men are not trying to dominate to the extent that these wives are interpreting, and when the wives get in tune with the husband's deepest heart, she realizes he is simply taking more initiative to act like a team. The Love and Respect message has challenged him to be more involved as a man of honor, so he positions himself to give voice to his feelings whereas earlier he remained passive. These wives should not confuse initiation with dominance, nor his former passivity as respecting her as a person.
Questions to Consider
1. Emerson wrote, “The Bible challenges a young husband to trust the heart of his wife and to believe that her actions toward him are for good and not for evil.” Why do so many husbands not fully trust the hearts of their wives? Why do they have difficulty believing that their intentions are for good and not for evil?
2. Have you ever experienced or seen a situation in which the husband held a condescending attitude toward his prudent and respectful wife? Based on 1 Peter 3:1–2, how do you believe these wives should respond?
3. Why do you think that studies have shown that in most marriages, women make the majority of the decisions? In these homes, if the husband were to attempt to step up in his role as leader and make more decisions for them, in what ways can this be misinterpreted by his wife?
4. Emerson wrote that a wife should not interpret her husband’s former passivity as him respecting her as a person? What do you think that means?