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Unconditional Love vs. Unconditional Respect

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FAQ: 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!

Dr. E says: When I talk about unconditional respect being equal to unconditional love in Ephesians 5:33, that’s one of the first things people say. Although the Bible treats respect the same as love – both are unconditional – most people have a hard time seeing it that way. So let’s look at what unconditional really means.

Unconditional Love

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.

And imagine if I were to say that a wife must earn her husband’s love. I’m quite sure I would be tarred and feathered by every woman around!

Well, I’m NOT saying that…and I think you get my point. Most of us have no problem separating the person from their behavior when it comes to love.

Love the person, hate the sin. Right?

Unconditional Respect

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.

So is this what Christ had in mind for married women?

Not at all!

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.

Furthermore, in 1 Peter 3:1,2, Peter is clearly talking about unconditional respect towards a disobedient husband. He does not deserve respect. He has not earned respect. This isn't about a wife feeling respect but showing respect. This isn't about a wife being a doormat but being magnificently empowered to win a rebellious man. This disobedient husband was either a carnal Christian or an unbeliever.

Unconditional respect means we respectfully confront bad behavior.

When we choose to be disrespectful towards a disobedient person, we are choosing to go to their level. But disrespect never motivates anyone long term. That is as ineffective as a husband yelling, “No way am I going to love that woman until she starts respecting me!”

This is basically what we mean when we say “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” According to the Bible, it’s also “Respect the sinner. Hate the sin.”

What unconditional does not mean.

In a marriage, this is what unconditional does not mean:

  • 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 like doing.
  • Unconditional does not mean superficial praise.

Unconditional does mean 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.

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.

A wife may not deserve love because she hasn’t earned love, but a husband’s harshness towards her is ineffective long-term – and not biblical.

Neither husband nor wife responds to a disrespectful and unloving attitude!

This is not about our worthiness.

Put it this way: this is about how we come across when addressing issues. This is not about our spouse's worthiness.

Let me repeat that! 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.

In a strange way, this becomes incredibly freeing! My response is my responsibility…and not dependent on my spouse’s behavior.

Are you showing unconditional love and respect towards your spouse? This isn’t easy, but God never gives us a command He doesn’t equip us to obey! Humbly ask Him to help…and He will.


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

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