Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs
by Emerson Eggerichs
The Simple Secret to a Better Marriage
How can I get my husband to love me as much as I love him?" This was the basic question I heard from wife after wife who came to me for counseling during the almost twenty years I pastored a growing congregation. My heart broke for wives as they wept and told me their stories. Women are so tender. On many occasions I sat there with tears rolling down my cheeks. At the same time I became irked with husbands. Why couldn't they see what they were doing to their wives? Was there some way I could help wives motivate these husbands to love them more?
I felt all this deeply because I had been a child in an unhappy home. My parents divorced when I was one. Later they remarried each other, but when I was five, they separated again. They came back together when I was in third grade, and my childhood years were filled with memories of yelling and unsettling tension. I saw and heard things that are permanently etched in my soul, and I would cry myself to sleep at times. I remember feeling a deep sadness. I wet the bed until age eleven and was sent off to military school at age thirteen, where I stayed until I graduated.
As I look back on how my parents lived a life of almost constant conflict, I can see the root issue of their unhappiness. It wasn't hard to see that my mom was crying out for love and my dad desperately wanted respect.
Mom taught acrobatics, tap dance, and swimming, which gave her a good income and enabled her to live independently of Dad's resources. Dad was left feeling that Mom could get along fine without him, and she would often send him that message. She made financial decisions without consulting him, which made him feel insignificant, as if he didn't matter. Because he was offended, he would react to her in unloving ways. He was sure Mom did not respect him. Dad would get angry over certain things, none of which I am able to recall. Mom's spirit would be crushed, and she would just exit the room. This dynamic between the two of them was my way of life in childhood and into my teenage years.
As a teenager I heard the gospel-that God loved me, He had a plan for my life, and I needed to ask forgiveness for my sins to receive Christ into my heart and experience eternal life. I did just that, and my whole world changed when I became a follower of Jesus.
After graduation from military school, I applied to Wheaton College because I believed God was calling me into the ministry. When I was a freshman at Wheaton, my mother, father, sister, and brother-in-law received Christ as Savior. A change began in our family, but the scars didn't go away. Mom and Dad are now in heaven, and I thank God for their eternal salvation. There is no bitterness in my heart, but only much hurt and sadness. I sensed during my childhood, and I can clearly see now, that both of my parents were reacting to each other defensively. Their problem was they could offend each other most easily, but they had no tools to make a few minor adjustments that could turn off their "flamethrowers."
While at Wheaton, I met a sanguine gal who brought light into every room she entered. Sarah was the most positive, loving, and others-focused person I had ever met. She had been Miss Congeniality of Boone County, Indiana. She was whole and holy. She loved the Lord and desired to serve Him only. She should have had a ton of baggage from the divorce that had torn her family, but she did not let it defile her spirit. Instead, she had chosen to move on. Not only was she attractive, but I knew I could wake up every day next to a friend.
The Jean Jacket "Disagreement"
I proposed to Sarah when we were both still in college, and she said yes. While still engaged we got a hint of how husbands and wives can get into arguments over practically nothing. That first Christmas Sarah made me a jean jacket. I opened the box, held up the jacket, and thanked her.
"You don't like it," she said.
I looked at her with great perplexity and answered, "I do too like it."
Adamant, she said, "No, you don't. You aren't excited."
Taken aback, I sternly repeated, "I do too like it."
She shot back. "No, you don't. If you liked it, you would be excited and thanking me a lot. In my family we say, 'Oh my, just what I wanted!' There is enthusiasm. Christmas is a huge time, and we show it."
That was our introduction to how Sarah and Emerson respond to gifts. Sarah will thank people a dozen times when something touches her deeply. Because I did not profusely thank her, she assumed I was being polite but could hardly wait to drop off the jacket at a Salvation Army collection center. She was sure I did not value what she had done and did not appreciate her. As for me, I felt judged for failing to be and act in a certain way. I felt as if I were unacceptable. The whole jacket scenario took me by complete surprise.
During the jean jacket episode, though neither of us clearly discerned it at the time, Sarah was feeling unloved and I was feeling disrespected. I knew Sarah loved me, but she, on the other hand, had begun wondering if I felt about her as she felt about me. At the same time, when she reacted to my "unenthusiastic" response to receiving the jacket, I felt as if she didn't really like who I was. While we didn't express this, nonetheless, these feelings of being unloved and disrespected had already begun to crop up inside.
We were married in 1973 while I was completing my master's degree in communication from Wheaton Graduate School. From there we went to Iowa to do ministry, and I completed a master's of divinity from Dubuque Seminary. In Iowa, another pastor and I started a Christian counseling center. During this time, I began a serious study of male and female differences. I could feel empathy for my counseling clients because Sarah and I, too, experienced the tension of being male and female.
You Can Be Right but Wrong at the Top of Your Voice For example, Sarah and I are very different regarding social interaction. Sarah is nurturing, very interpersonal, and loves to talk to people about many things. After Sarah is with people, she is energized. I tend to be analytical and process things more or less unemotionally. I get energized by studying alone for several hours. When I am with people socially, I interact cordially but am much less relational than Sarah.
One night as we were driving home from a small group Bible study, Sarah expressed some strong feelings that had been building up in her over several weeks.
"You were boring in our Bible study tonight," she said, almost angrily. "You intimidate people with your silence. And when you do talk, you sometimes say something insensitive. What you said to the new couple came across poorly."
I was taken aback but tried to defend myself. "What are you talking about? I was trying to listen to people and understand what they were saying."
Sarah's answer went up several more decibels. "You need to make people feel more relaxed and comfortable." (The decibels rose some more.) "You need to draw them out." (Now Sarah was almost shouting.) "Don't be so into yourself!"
I didn't respond for a few seconds because I was feeling put down, not only by what she said but by her demeanor and her tone. I replied, "Sarah, you can be right but wrong at the top of your voice."
Sarah recalls that our conversation that night in the car was life-changing for her. She may have been accurate in her assessment of how I was acting around people, but her delivery was overkill. We both dealt with things in our lives due to that conversation. (We still sometimes remind one another, "You know, you can be right but wrong at the top of your voice.") Overall, I think Sarah has improved more from that conversation than I have. Just this past week she coached me on being more sensitive to someone. (And this is after more than thirty years in the ministry!)
That early episode in our marriage planted more seeds of what I would later be able to describe and articulate. I knew Sarah loved me and her outburst was caused by her desire to help me. She wanted me to appreciate her concern and understand that she was only doing it out of love, but the bottom line was I felt disrespected, attacked, and defensive. Over the years, we continued to grapple with this same problem. She would voice her concern about something I was not focusing on as I should. ("Did you return so-and-so's phone call? Did you jot a note to so-and-so?") I would do my best to improve, but occasionally I would slip back, making her feel that I did not value her input.
And Then I Forgot Her Birthday
A few more years went by, and Sarah's birthday was coming up. She was thinking about how I would respond-would I even remember? She always remembered birthdays, but birthdays weren't big on my radar screen. She knew she would never forget my birthday, because she loved me dearly. She wondered, however, if I would celebrate her birthday. She was thinking, Does he hold me in his heart the way I hold him in mine?
So what she did was not done in a mean spirit. She was simply trying to discover things about me and men in general. She knew that forgetfulness was a common problem, and she was just being curious. As an experiment, she hid all the birthday cards that had arrived before her birthday. No hints of her birthday existed anywhere, and I was going along in my usual fog, studying and thinking. On her birthday I had lunch with a friend. That evening as Sarah and I had dinner, she softly asked, "So, did you and Ray celebrate my birthday today?"
I can't describe exactly what goes on inside the human body at a moment like that. But it felt as if my blood went out of my heart, down to my feet, and then shot full force into my face. How would I ever explain this one?
I hemmed and I hawed, but I couldn't explain forgetting Sarah's birthday. My forgetfulness had been unloving, and I could see that she was hurt. But at the same time, I had these strange feelings. Yes, I had been wrong to forget, but I hadn't ignored her birthday intentionally. I felt judged, put down-and rightly so. At the time, I couldn't describe my feelings with a word like disrespected. During those years, when the feminists were going full blast, men didn't talk about being disrespected by women. That would have been arrogant, and in church circles it would have been considered a terrible lack of humility.
Loving Times and Spats of Ugliness
The years rolled by-a blur of preaching, pastoring, and counseling more married couples. Sarah and I continued to grow in our marriage as we learned more and more about one another, and we had a lot of great times. But along with the loving times were spots (should I say spats?) of ugliness. Nothing was long term; we would almost always pray together afterward, asking forgiveness from one another as well as from the Lord. But what did it all mean? Where was our marriage going? After all, I was a pastor who was paid to be "good." How could I justify all my little slip-ups that were "good for nothing"?
As someone has said, the problem with life is that it's so daily. And Saran and I irritated each other almost daily with bad habits we couldn't shake. One of mine was leaving wet towels on the bed. At least once a month Sarah would be angry about my wet towel. And every three months or so, I would start drifting back into being preoccupied with other things, neglecting certain duties, and forgetting certain requests. When she would critique me, tension would arise and I would come across as blaming her or making excuses.
Sarah periodically coughs and clears her throat, and early on in our marriage when we would be praying, I would get irritated by her coughing. How childish could I be? We were praying to the Lord of heaven, and I was bothered by something she couldn't help. Other times, she wanted me to praise the Lord when I was frustrated. Frankly, I didn't always want to praise the Lord, so did that make me less spiritual? When she was frustrated, I didn't tell her to praise the Lord! Didn't that make me less judgmental and more spiritual?
Tension has a way of tearing down your self-image. On the heels of confrontation, I felt I could never be good enough. And on the heels of family conflict, Sarah felt she was a failure as a mother and wife. As with all couples, the specifics that prompted these tensions weighed heavily on us as a couple. Indeed, life can be "so daily."
It is not Sarah's first choice to travel, study, and teach because that is not her gifting, though she is willing to go for the sake of our ministry. I can't stand fixing things that break in the home since that's not my talent. So I usually complain when trying to fix something which doesn't get fixed anyway (and that's why I didn't want to do it in the first place!).
I share all these little "secrets" about my wife and me to let you know that we do not deliver our message on marriage from any pedestal of perfection. We have struggled on many fronts and will continue to do so, but now we struggle knowing we can win! Over the years, ever so slowly, we have discovered the "secret" that has made all the difference for us (and for many other couples).
The "Secret" Hidden in Ephesians 5:33
For more than twenty years I had the privilege of studying the Bible thirty hours a week for my pulpit ministry. I also earned a PhD in family studies, plus a master's in communication. I had a lot of formal training, but when this illumination from Scripture exploded in my heart and mind one day in 1998, it simply blew me away. I literally exclaimed, "Glory to God!" The insight that I finally recognized in Scripture, and which I later confirmed from reading scientific research, explained why Sarah and I would get into our arguments. I finally saw very clearly why Sarah could be crushed by my words and actions, just as my mom had been crushed by my dad. And Sarah could say things that would send me through the roof, just as my mom had said things that would send my dad through the roof.
What was the secret? Actually, it was not a secret at all. This passage of Scripture has been there for some two thousand years for all of us to see. In Ephesians 5:33, Paul writes, "Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (NIV).
Of course, I had read that verse many times. I had even preached on that verse when conducting marriage ceremonies. But somehow I had never seen the connection between love and respect. Paul is clearly saying that wives need love and husbands need respect. As I started sharing my secret in messages and later in seminars and conferences, I would often run into people who would say something like, "This Love and Respect Connection sounds good, Emerson, but isn't it a little theoretical? We have real problems-money problems, sex problems, how to raise the kids ..."
As I will show throughout this book, the Love and Respect Connection is the key to any problem in a marriage. This is not just a nice little theory to which I added a few Bible verses. How the need for love and the need for respect play off of one another in a marriage has everything to do with the kind of marriage you will have.
How God Revealed the Love and Respect Connection
In the beginning, when I was struggling to find help for other marriages as well as for my own, I was not searching for any "Love and Respect Connection." But that connection surfaced as I pondered what Ephesians 5:33 is saying. My thought process went something like this: "A husband is to obey the command to love even if his wife does not obey this command to respect, and a wife is to obey the command to respect even if the husband does not obey the command to love."
So far, so good. Then I reasoned further: "A husband is even called to love a disrespectful wife, and a wife is called to respect an unloving husband. There is no justification for a husband to say, 'I will love my wife after she respects me' nor for a wife to say, 'I will respect my husband after he loves me.'"