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What Keeps You Motivated When the Love and Respect Are Not Reciprocal?

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This should in no way be surprising to hear, but simply realizing the causes and effects of the Crazy Cycle does not mean you and your spouse will stop taking spins on them. Learning about her pink way of communicating and interpreting the world, as opposed to your blue perspective on life, does not mean you will always like her pink way of going about things or that she will always speak to you in a way that your blue hearing aids correctly interpret as a respectful response. And even if a wife always keeps Ephesians 5:33 at the forefront of her mind and shows unconditional respect, reinforced by the greatest Respect Talk known to man, this does not mean her husband will love her perfectly, all the time, in a way that is music to her pink ears.

So does this mean we stop trying? “I gave it my best shot, Emerson! I really did. He hasn’t changed a bit. I can’t remember the last time he showed me any type of affection that he wasn’t hoping would lead to sex.” Or, “She still badmouths me in front of our kids, showing me no respect whatsoever as the leader of the home.” Is Ephesians 5 wrong? Is unconditional love and respect for one another not the key to a Christ-centered home?

Time after time, I have heard from husbands and wives who have read the book or just been to a conference. Sometimes it is only one of them who read the book or maybe just one of them who really took the message of the conference to heart, and they write to me to share their efforts to become more loving and respectful. Unfortunately, their spouse’s response is not totally reciprocal, and they struggle with keeping forward momentum.

Recently, a wife wrote me to share some of her struggles with not feeling as though her efforts to more intentionally show respect to her husband were making the impact she hoped. But she was hanging in there, knowing it was the right thing to do. So I wrote back as an effort to peek into her mind, to see how her story can help encourage others who are struggling also but wanting to quit:

Tell me. As you practice, practice, practice, I am assuming you are getting insights into your husband. Things like: He is not perfect. He will be unloving and preoccupied at times. He will probably be less engaged and connected than you wish he was. He may not be as romantic. So, what keeps you energized by all of this? What have you learned is going on inside your husband that resonates with your "respectful" approach? You are staying with this. Why?

She responded:

What keeps me going is mainly the absolute conviction and belief that I am being obedient to Jesus. Without the help of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible. If I thought this was just a good idea from Dr. Eggerichs, I would hang in there only if I got the results that I wanted every time.

Of course, I am sometimes disappointed in the reaction or response that I get from my husband, but my audience is Christ and I try to "entrust myself to Him who judges righteously." I also try to take some time to think, pray, and evaluate my own behavior to see if I have shown disrespect in a new creative way. Oh I am sooooo good at disguising it even to myself, but eventually God will point it out to me if I really listen to Him.

I am especially energized when my husband shows me the tenderness, love, and affection that is my mother tongue; however I am trying not to be dependent on that. But what a blessing and motivation for me when he does. What keeps me going is mainly the absolute conviction and belief that I am being obedient to Jesus.

She is describing here what I call the Rewarded Cycle: His love regardless of her respect. Her respect regardless of his love.

In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ. In other words, a husband’s unconditional love for his wife reveals his love for Christ; and a wife’s unconditional respect for her husband reveals her reverence for Christ.

So in the end, what should keep us motivated to better love and respect our spouse? Certainly not their responses. As the wife who wrote me realized, they are not perfect. They will continue to disappoint us at times. But if we are loving our wife while looking at Jesus just past her shoulder, and respecting our husband while keeping our eye on Jesus just behind him, will the King of kings ever let us down? Absolutely not.

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

Questions to Consider

When was a time when you were honestly disappointed in your spouse’s response, or lack thereof, to what you thought was a can’t-miss effort to better show love or respect? How did that make you feel?

Why is our forward momentum typically extremely dependent on others’ responses? What does this say about what our motivations were?

Your love and respect for your spouse may not always result in the perfect response you were looking for, but what have you noticed about how he or she is responding to your efforts? What changes have you seen?

Emerson wrote, “In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ.” What does this mean to you? Do you agree? Why or why not?