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Your Marriage Isn’t Complex to Figure Out. Let Me Tell You Why

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Sarah and I have done Love and Respect Marriage Conferences since 1999. At these conferences we teach that love and respect are the two basic ingredients for a successful marriage. I wrote the book Love and Respect to explain the power and simplicity of this truth.

However, we teach that wives lean toward the love side of the equation and husbands lean toward the respect side. This is based on Ephesians 5:33, which says, “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

Though we all need love and respect equally, the felt need during conflict differs. We asked seven thousand people, "During a conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected?"

Of the husbands, 83 percent said they feel disrespected. Most husbands are assured of a wife's love. Whereas 72 percent of the wives said they feel unloved during the same conflict.

Interestingly, the University of Washington studied two thousand couples for twenty years and reported that Love and Respect is the basis for a successful marriage. They, too, provide insight into the differences between men and women. For example, husbands make up about 85 percent of the spouses who stonewall during conflict, which the wives report as feeling unloving, almost like an act of hostility. Roughly the same percentage of the wives during conflict were described as complaining and critical, which felt disrespectful to the husbands.

Bottom line, she needs to feel her husband's love during conflict, while he needs to feel his wife's respect. This is not about deserving love or respect but about needing it like we need air to breathe. This is about a husband lovingly confronting those things that feel disrespectful and about a wife respectfully confronting those things that feel unloving.

Put it this way: When a wife feels unloved, she tends to react in ways that appear disrespectful to her husband. For this reason, she must guard against this negative reaction. For sure, she must not justify her contempt by arguing that he does not deserve respect. He is a human being created in the image of God and needs to be respectfully confronted when he fails to be as loving or respectable as he ought to be. Would Jesus do less?

When a husband feels disrespected, he tends to react in ways that feel unloving. Because of this, he must guard against his negative reaction. For certain, he must not foolishly believe and utter, "No one can love that woman." As she is a woman created in the image of God, God calls the husband to be loving regardless of his wife being lovable and respectful. This is about who he is to be, not about who his wife fails to be. This is about meeting her need, not rationalizing his lack of love.

When women are treated disrespectfully week after week, they begin to doubt the husband's love. She asks, "How can you tell me that you love me and treat me disrespectfully?" She lands on love. On the other hand, when a man is treated disrespectfully, he does not doubt a wife's love. Ask a husband, "During a conflict with your wife, do you doubt that she loves you?" Most guys will say, "No, I do not doubt her love. I know she loves me. But honestly, I feel she does not like or respect me. I feel like I can never be good enough. It shuts me down. I lose motivation to be close to her."

Author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn asked four hundred American males—a near perfect random sample—this question: Would you rather be left alone and unloved in the world or viewed as inadequate and disrespected by everyone? Nearly 75 percent of the men said they'd rather be left alone and unloved in the world. When men hear the message, "I find you inadequate and do not respect who you are as a human being," these men lose motivation to connect heart to heart.

On the other hand, when a husband showed love and a wife put on a respectful demeanor, they energized the marriage. In fact, a husband's love motivated a wife's respect and a wife's respect motivated a husband's love. After all, the key to motivating another person is to meet that person's deepest need, especially during conflict. Good things—no, great things—begin to happen in the relationship. There is a renewed sense of connection.

It is as simple as that. It isn't complex to understand. With this knowledge, a person can reduce the negativity by guarding against appearing unloving and disrespectful when reacting, and one can influence and motivate a spouse by delivering a message of hurt in a way that sounds loving and respectful. This really works.

-Dr. E

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

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you found it to be true when in conflict with your spouse that the husband leans more toward the respect side and the wife leans more toward the love side? How has that dynamic helped steer your argument?
  2. Why do you believe the husband most needs to feel respected when in an argument with his wife? Why do you believe the wife most needs to feel loved?
  3. Why does a husband’s stonewalling during conflict appear unloving to his wife? Why does a wife’s complaining and criticizing appear disrespectful to her husband?
  4. Why is it so important for the husband to be loving regardless of his wife being lovable and respectful and the wife to be respectful regardless of her husband being loving and deserving of respect?
  5. How does a husband’s love motivate his wife’s respect and a wife’s respect motivate her husband’s love? If you are feeling unloved or disrespected in your marriage, would you be willing to begin showing more love and respect and see if this indeed motivates your spouse to respond in kind?