Respect is an issue that’s been on my mind a lot lately. More to the point, the issue of a wife’s respect (or lack thereof) for her husband within the marriage relationship. I think it started after reading a facebook post in which a woman belittled her husband publicly and then laughed about it, with several of her female friends cheering her on. It embarrassed me. It made me feel bad for her husband. But most of all, it got me thinking – no, obsessing – about exactly how much power we as women have to either build up our husbands (and by extension, our marriages) or tear them down.
Before I go any further, let me say right now that I’m not a marriage counselor, nor do I play one on TV. And I am certainly NOT advocating that women in abusive relationships should sit down, shut up, and take it. I am, however, an opinionated woman who’s done some research and has a fair bit of practical experience with this very issue. I will get preachy (warning: bible verses dead ahead!). I will also readily admit right now to my own hypocrisy and need for growth in this area. This blog is my opinion, nothing more, and if you don’t like what I have to say or don’t agree with me, that’s fine. My aim is to get us as women to do more than react emotionally to events in their marriage and to their husbands – I want us to think.
So ladies, buckle up and let’s hit the ground running, shall we?
“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
I’ll give you a minute to get the moans and groans and “all he has to do is ‘love’ me, but I have to respect him?” wails out of your systems…….everybody done? Good. What’s this verse talking about, anyway? For starters, let’s keep in mind that God first commands the husband to love his wife “as himself”. A few verses before this one, God clarified what He meant by that: “…as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (verse 25). That means a husband is to put his wife and her needs before his own. In everything. Even if he’s had a hard day at work. Even if he’s tired. Even if he doesn’t “feel” like it. He is to die to himself – his own selfish wants and desires – and die for her if necessary. And as the head of the family (yes, I said it!) he will be held accountable before God for the state of his marriage and family. Think about it, ladies…that’s a VERY tall order! How many of us would want that awesome and terrifying responsibility? And yet this is what your husband shoulders every day of his life. And I believe that EVERY man, whether he’s a Christian or not, feels this pressure and responsibility and, in fact, is hard-wired to strive to fulfill it.
What does God require of wives in return? That we respect our husbands. I’m not talking about respect in the “Yes, Master, I’ll do whatever you say and go sit in the corner and keep my mouth shut” sense. This is a respect that enables you to look at your husband and say, “Hey babe, I really appreciate everything you do for us, and I just wanted to let you know I’ve got your back. I’m in your corner. I’m proud of you.” Respect like this affirms to a man his ability to fulfill the God-given mandate of caring for and providing for his family. And trust me, when a man doubts his capabilities in this area (or sees that you doubt them) it can be devastating for him. Why do you think so many men are so crushed when they lose their jobs? It’s a threat to who they are on a fundamental level. Are you beginning to see the tremendous power God gives to women within our marriages? Just as we as women crave affection from our husbands and feel emotionally starved without it, men crave respect from their wives and will begin to feel unloved if they don’t receive it (or worse, receive its opposite). With one carefully chosen sentence, we can draw our husbands closer to us, and with one carelessly uttered cutting remark, we can push them farther away.
“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1
You are a fool if you think you can call your husband names, talk to him as if he were a two-year-old child, make fun of him, and be constantly critical (ESPECIALLY in public or in front of his friends) and not pay the price. You may be blessed with a very easygoing husband who doesn’t seem to take offense, but trust me, ladies: your words are taking root in his soul, a little at a time. And sooner or later, the fruit of those words will break the surface. Men are not stupid, nor are they children, and they know when they’re being treated as if you think they are. And it hurts them every bit as much as it hurts you when he ignores your need for a cuddle and some kind words at the end of a hard day.
At this point, we as women should be asking ourselves some very important questions. A character in one of my favorite movies asks another character, at a pivotal point in his life, “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?” I would like to adapt this to our current discussion. Ask yourself: Has anything I’ve done made my marriage better? If not, then why are you still doing it? Ask yourself, “Do I want my husband to feel our home is a place he would want to come home to? Or by my words and actions, am I making him feel like he’s jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire?” We have choices to make in these critical moments. Choices that either build up or tear down.
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
I’ll admit, I struggle in this area. I have a quick temper. But I’m learning to keep my mouth shut until my brain has time to override the impulses of my heart. One thing that helps immensely is the fact that Mike and I have talked about how to deal with potential disagreements. We both agreed that we will never approach a disagreement with this attitude: “He/she did that just to piss me off!” I know, if in the future he does something that makes me upset or angry, he didn’t deliberately set out to hurt my feelings. And he knows the same thing about me. Our mutual desire is for a marriage, not a perpetual emotional boxing match.
A perfect example happened just this morning. I mentioned that it was garbage day before Mike left for work, because he takes the trash can to the curb before he leaves. Today, however, I saw him drive to work without setting the can out. I had a few choices at that point. I could’ve a) run down the driveway after his truck, yelled at him to take the garbage out and embarrassed him in front of the neighbors, or b) called him on his cell phone, chewed him out for not taking out the trash and hung up on him, patting myself on the back for calling him out on his laziness, or c) not said anything, but stewed about it all day and planned to wait until he got home from work, then let him have it, or d) got off my butt, realized that it’s just the freaking trash for Pete’s sake, it’s no big deal, nowhere is it written in stone that it’s his job and his alone, wheeled the trash can out to the curb myself, and gotten on with my day. I know my husband. I know what a thoughtful, considerate, hard-working man he is. I also know that in the mornings as he’s leaving, his mind is already turning to the dozens of irons he has in the fire at work, and even though he had every intention of taking the trash out this morning he simply forgot (I know because I got a text from him about an hour ago apologizing for forgetting it). That’s it. I didn’t assume it was some twisted, passive-aggressive plot to get back at me for something.
I don’t share that with you to brag about my husband (though he is pretty awesome) or make you feel bad. I mention it to try and get you to see how easily my morning (and Mike’s) could’ve gone in a completely different direction had I chosen options a, b, or c.
“Well, that’s all fine and good for you,” you say. “You have a husband who actually cares how you feel. But my husband is such a (fill in the blank) that I don’t know if I can show him respect.” Or, “I’ll show him some respect when he starts showing me some attention and affection.” Okay. I understand how you feel – BELIEVE me, I do. I’ve been there. It’s HARD to be respectful to someone when they don’t seem to deserve it. But my question to you is the same one I posed above: Has anything you’ve done up to now made your marriage better? Can you honestly tell me you’ll be happy tiptoeing around each other like irritated roommates for the next thirty or forty years? People have wasted decades, silently stewing and waiting for the other person to change first; meanwhile, nothing changes at all.
Here’s another point to consider…the possibility of an affair. Before I go any further, I need to clarify: I am NOT saying that when a man has an affair, it’s always his wife’s fault. That’s ludicrous, and I can name off the top of my head several idiot jerks I know of who cheated on their wives simply because these men were idiot jerks. I am NOT saying that being mean to your husband justifies him having an affair. I am also NOT saying that every man who feels disrespected by his wife is going to run out and cheat. But think about it…we are all sinners, your husband included. We are all capable of making horrendous decisions, your husband included. (I refuse to call an affair a “mistake”. A mistake is reading directions wrong and turning one street too soon; an affair is a decision.) How do you think a lot of affairs start? The husband goes to work after being brow-beaten by his wife for the thousandth time, feeling like a complete moron and a total let-down to his family. He’s in charge of a group of people, one of whom is an attractive co-worker who happens to think your husband is a pretty good boss, is pretty smart, and she lets him know it. Soon, he’s getting addicted to the ego boosts he gets at work, because he’s not getting them at home. Even if things never escalate to the level of a full-blown affair, he ends up deriving more personal satisfaction and fulfillment from being around her than from being with you. Ladies, that’s a dangerous spot for your man to be in.
But I’m not done. I’m not going to let us women off the hook, either. When you allow yourself to start viewing your husband as a child you’re forced to “raise”, or as incompetent, lazy, or stupid, you cannot help but lose respect for him. And women need to be able to respect the men they’re married to as much as men need the respect we give them. Why do you think the “strong, silent type” is so attractive? Why do so many women love seeing movies (think “Taken”) where the man kicks ass first and asks questions later, all in the name of protecting the women he cherishes? So, let’s flip the scenario around: you go to work one morning after berating your husband for not knowing how to do what you think is a simple household chore, and you discover there’s a new guy in your office. He’s handsome and charming and ultra-attentive. He listens to everything you have to say with great interest, he compliments you, he solicits your advice, and on and on…can you see where this is going? You may never have any intention of having an affair, but the moment you feel yourself seeking out another man’s company over your husband’s because of the way he makes you feel, you’re on VERY thin ice.
I’m a big believer in people living up or down to our expectations of them. If they feel like we think they’re childish, stupid, lazy, and worthless, then that’s how they’ll act. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying you’ll feel like it – every cell in your body may be screaming out against it, in fact – but if nothing you’ve done up to this point has made things any better between the two of you, why not go out on a limb and show your husband some respect? What have you got to lose?
Okay, ladies (and gentlemen, if there are any reading this)…let me have it. What’s your take on the whole respect issue between spouses?