Love and Respect: Keys to a happier marriage

Book review: Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Emerson Eggerichs has given us one of the best books on marriage that I have ever read. His simple diagnosis and practical prescription for building happier marriages should prove extremely helpful to anyone who takes the time to read and apply the principles he presents. In brief: According to Ephesians 5:22-33, what wives want most is love, and what husbands long for is respect. The first part of this message is not new, at least in America, since men have been exhorted to be more loving to their wives for several decades now. What most people, including men, don’t realize is that husbands crave respect as much as their wives cry out for love. When a wife doesn’t feel loved by her husband, she ceases to respect him; when a husband doesn’t think he’s being treated with respect, he withholds love. This sets off what Eggerichs calls “the Crazy cycle,” in which each person does what is most calculated to anger the other, while neither really knows what is going on. Men and women see the world differently. What is worse, we interpret the other sex through our own colored lenses (“pink” or “blue”), and thus misunderstand each other. We need to learn to perceive things the way the other does, in order to understand and then to express genuine love and respect. For example: When a wife feels unloved, she may complain, criticize, or even lash out in anger. The husband takes this as an attack, and either fights back or, more often, withdraws. This drives his wife crazy, because – and this is the part men find almost incomprehensible – her negative words are really an attempt to draw close to him. Remember that women communicate to build relationships, while men communicate to transact business. So, wives hope that their words of dissatisfaction or anger will evoke a response of listening, caring, and comforting. Far from intending to drive her husband away, a wife is really hoping to create a stronger bond between them, by letting him know what is on her heart so that he can come beside her as her companion and encourager. He doesn’t see it that way, of course. In male language, criticism equals attack, and is met with a counter-attack or a strategic withdrawal (retreat), depending on how strong he thinks he is relative to the attacker. But his wife sees withdrawal as abandonment, the very thing she fears the most. When he clams up or walks away, she thinks he has rejected her. The intimacy she had hoped to foster has eluded her and turned into a deeper sense of distance. So what can be done? In short, men need to know how to love their wives, and women need to know how to express respect. Eggerichs uses the acronym COUPLES to explain how women “spell” what love looks like to them. Wives are looking for:

  • Closeness: She wants you to be close
  • Openness: She wants you to open up to her
  • Understanding: Don’t try to “fix” her; just listen
  • Peacemaking: She wants you to say, “I’m sorry”
  • Loyalty: She needs to know you’re committed
  • Esteem: she wants you to honor and cherish her.

What does “respect” mean to a man? The word CHAIRS sums it up:

  • Conquest: Appreciate his desire to work and achieve
  • Hierarchy: Appreciate his desire to protect and provide
  • Authority: Appreciate his desire to serve and to lead
  • Insight: Appreciate his desire to analyze and counsel
  • Relationship: Appreciate his desire for should-to-shoulder friendship
  • Sexuality: Appreciate his desire for sexual intimacy.

Along the way, the author clears up misunderstandings, such as the meaning of “respect.” Wives find it hard to admire a man who doesn’t love them. What they need to remember, however, is that respect includes both inner appreciation and outer expression. Even if she doesn’t fully admire her husband, a wife can, and should, express respect toward him. She can do this in a variety of ways. Negatively, she can avoid constant criticism, correction, and other indications that she seems to consider him basically incompetent. Positively, she can choose to commend him for his abilities and achievements, being specific so that he’ll know she means it. She’ll be surprised by how much just a little affirmation will change his attitude towards her. Especially nowadays, women are hyper-sensitive about any mention of male dominance, so “hierarchy” and “authority” could make them bristle. But, as the author repeatedly emphasizes, the Bible nowhere condones male domination or a dismissive, condescending posture towards women. Created in the image of God, women are equal to men in intrinsic value, even as they possess attributes common to men, such as intelligence, compassion, and the like. On the other hand, starting from Genesis, the Bible does portray the roles of the sexes differently. Men are to lead, women are to follow. Men are to provide for and protect their women. Furthermore, most men thoroughly enjoy this role. They want to be “heroes” and to care for their wives. Eggerichs points out that men are willing to die for the women under their care; they see this as a matter of honor. So, women can choose to fight this God-given order and resist male authority, or they can make friends with it, and allow their men to develop compassion, kindness, and tenderness. What happens, you may ask, when my best efforts don’t bring results? Do I give up and walk out? Here Eggerichs directs us to the Lord. “Don’t give up because it doesn’t seem to be working.” Give God time to change the other person as you do what is right. But what if “it simply doesn’t work”? We must look to God to reward us. “Ultimately, your spouse and your marriage have nothing to do with it. You are simply demonstrating your obedience and trust in the face of an unlovable wife or a disrespecting husband. Unconditional love and unconditional respect will be rewarded.” (Emphasis original) In other words, we are to place our hope in God, not in our spouse. At the right time and in the right way, he will recompense us for faith and obedience. We may have to wait until we die or Jesus returns, but our efforts are never in vain. “Whatever we do as to the Lord we will receive back from the Lord” (referring to Ephesians 6:7-8 and applying it to marriage). “Nothing is wasted…. Jesus is preparing us to hear, ‘Well done.’” “What matters to God, matters!” Of course, we don’t obey in order to earn salvation; we obey to show our gratitude for God’s grace and receive his commendation. He writes, “I have concluded that we don’t have a ‘marriage crisis’ in the Christian community; we have a crisis of faith.” In other words, we need to believe what Jesus has said and do everything as unto him, trusting him to reward us. “A man’s unconditional love for his wife reveals his love for Christ… A wife’s unconditional respect for her husband reveals her reverence for Christ… In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ.” We shall fail, of course. When we do, we can repent, confess, get up, and try again. “Ultimately, you practice love or respect because beyond your spouse you see Jesus Christ and you envision a moment when you will be standing before him at the final judgment, realizing that your marriage was really a tool and a test to deepen and demonstrate your love and your reverence for your Lord.’ Meanwhile, “no matter how depressing or irritating my spouse might be, my response is my responsibility.” Christians have the truth of God and the Spirit of Christ within them, so they are free to respond with love or with hate. “I can experience hurt, but it is my choice to hate.” We can be spiritually and internally free under any circumstances (1 Peter 2:16-17); we are not bound by our spouse’s limitations in love or respect. As we live out our faith, hope, and love towards God, we leave a precious legacy, for our children are watching. They will take note, and imitate either our disobedience or our efforts to follow Christ. Even if they have already grown up, a change in their parents’ marriage will bring new hope to them and perhaps even change them as adults. As we blend our different perspectives, “pink and blue can make God’s purple.” We can enhance our strengths, creating a team that combines all that is good in each of us and shining God’s light to a dark world. The book concludes with several pages of specific suggestions about how to demonstrate love and respect. I commend it highly. G. Wright Doyle