Whether you are engaged or have been married for more than twenty-five years, what we are talking about today matters. We all come into marriage with certain expectations, and we all learn that marriage is hard work. Guess what? Even Christian marriages have issues. But, God in His amazing grace has given us the secret to a great and prosperous marriage and, whether you are a Jesus person or not, if you apply this, your marriage will be better!
Have you ever struggled with communicating with your spouse? Do you and your spouse butt heads or seem to fight more than you’d like? If so, there is a Biblical principle you can apply to your relationship that will drastically improve your marriage.
In Ephesians 5:33, Paul writes …
“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and
the wife must respect her husband.”
If spouses learn that women need unconditional love and men need unconditional respect, as this verse suggests, then marriages will flourish.
The Sacredness of the Marriage Relationship
Throughout the Bible, we are told over and over again to “love others.” For instance, 1 John 4:7-8 declares, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The Bible also tells us to respect everyone (1 Peter 2:17).
When we love and respect others, we are honoring God. However, the Bible places even more emphasis on love within the bounds of a marriage relationship. The marriage relationship is a holy covenant between the husband, the wife, and God.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
– Matthew 19:4-6
A married couple is one flesh, joined together by God. We should strive to honor our spouses with this in mind. Our spouses should feel our love and respect. But, let’s face it. Marriage is not easy. There may be times when you treat your spouse with hostility or contempt – the opposite of love and respect.
I highly recommend the book Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, which completely unpacks this idea. We can learn much from reviewing the major ideas from Dr. Eggerichs, such as how love and respect open the doors to healthy communication and lead to a thriving marriage.
“His love motivates her respect; her respect motivates his love.”
– Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
What Women Need
Unfortunately, the idea of a wife “respecting” her husband has been turned into something negative in some communities. People have argued against the idea of submission or the idea of respect in Ephesians 5:33. But, in the verses leading up to this finale verse are the instructions telling husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Christ died for the church.
The closest way for a husband to imitate Christ in his marriage relationship is to love his spouse unconditionally – to put her needs above his. The verse telling a wife to respect her husband is led by the command for husbands to love their wives. This does not make the wife inferior. Instead, it esteems her and proclaims her worthy of love.
However, as Dr. Eggerichs suggests, women and men are different. We think and react differently based on our gender, and I’m very glad we do. My children are more rounded as a result of this planning in creation. Biblically, in Ephesians 5:33, we are directed to do something that does not come as naturally to us based on gender differences.
Douglas Wilson explains in a Desiring God article, “Women are better at loving than men are. Men do well at respecting. C.S. Lewis once observed that women think of love as taking trouble for others — which is much closer to a scriptural agape love than what men naturally do. Men tend to think of love as not giving trouble to others. So men must be called to sacrifice for their wives, to take trouble for them, as Christ gave himself for the church.”
What Men Need
Whereas unconditional love is powerful for women, unconditional respect is what men desire and need from their wives. For example, Dr. Eggerichs uses an example from a University of Washington study of more than 2,000 couples over 20 years. The study looked at when couples “had disagreements and noticed differences in male and female behaviors such as 85% of those who stonewall and withdraw were the husbands.”
What this showed Dr. Eggerichs is that men respond differently to conflict than women. Traditionally, a conflict ignites a fight response in men. To prevent themselves from entering a battle with their wives (even when she is not picking a fight), they will shut down. Since women communicate differently, they want to talk it out. This becomes it’s own cycle of conflict.
“Your husband needs you to love him, but he also needs you to like him as a friend.”
– Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
Husbands need their wives to respect them. Think about how men treat one another. Now, think about how some wives treat their husbands. Often, a wife will criticize her husband because she feels unloved. Her criticism will feel like disrespect. Do you see the cycle of conflict?
Why This Has the Power to Change Your Marriage for the Better
Our genders make us desire different things. They make us communicate differently. God knew and understood these differences from the time we were created.
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor
is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so
also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”
- 1 Corinthians 11:11-12
If you are caught in a cycle of conflict with your spouse, you must be willing to humble yourself, leave pride behind, and ask yourself whether you are honoring your spouse. Ultimately, like Paul wrote in Ephesians, the University of Washington study also found “the two key ingredients for a successful marriage are love and respect.” Shocking right?
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
- Romans 12:10
If you want to study this subject more and apply this to your marriage, I highly recommend the book Love and Respect by Dr. Eggerichs. It has been an amazing blessing to Kimberly and I over our 25 years of marriage.