Love & Respect vs. Logic & Reality, Part 1
“Men need respect; women need love.” If you’ve darkened the door of almost any evangelical church lately, you’ve probably been blasted with this particularly noxious variety of hot air in sermons, books, Bible studies, seminars, marriage counseling… the propaganda outlets are virtually innumerable. But without a doubt the biggest culprit in the mass swallowing of this tripe is the book Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. I’ve entitled this series of posts Love and Respect vs. Logic and Reality because I think both Dr. Eggerichs and his readership could benefit from a healthy dose of the last two.
It’s likely most of you are familiar with this book already, so I’ll spare you the sordid details, except to briefly note for the sake of context Eggerichs’ basic premise: men are hardwired by God to need respect and women are hardwired by God to need love, and this brings much to bear on husband-wife relations in marriage. Frankly, it baffles me why Eggerichs needs 24 chapters and 5 appendices to make this one very simple point. It’s also noteworthy that his premise is exactly the same as his conclusion — a stellar example of circular reasoning.
One minor problem: his premise/conclusion is not borne out either by Scripture or by science. Now, much good material has already been written on both these points. I am not a big fan of “reinventing the wheel”, so I would rather send you in the direction of those writings instead of rehashing them myself. Nate Sparks at Sparking Conversation has written some excellent pieces on why Love and Respect is based on poor Biblical interpretation and false “scientific” claims. Kristin Rosser’s paraphrase of Ephesians 5:33, which sheds light on what Paul probably meant by “love and respect” is eye-opening as well. Also, this article by Psychology Today cites research calling into question Eggerichs’ supposedly self-evident notion that women don’t need respect as much as men do.
What first struck me while thumbing through the pages of this book was a conspicuous absence of definitions for the terms that underlie the author’s main premise. Love and Respect, ironically, doesn’t flesh out the concepts of either love or respect very well. This leaves us with questions that are so obvious we almost feel stupid for asking them, like: What is love? What is respect? How are they the same? How are they different? We’re not told, at least not explicitly. It’s largely up to the reader to assume that his or her own personal ideas about the subject are the same as Eggerichs’.
Now, an author relying heavily on reader inference is not a bad thing in some genres of writing, such as poetry or parables. But in a book that bills itself as a divinely inspired “secret” formula for an amazing marriage, we have the right to expect things to be a little more clear-cut. If love and respect are inherently gender-specific concepts, I would expect (1) there to be an appreciable difference between the two, and (2) that the author would explain in detail the nature of this difference and why treating your spouse with equal amounts both love and respect, regardless of gender, won’t work.
Eggerichs can’t do this, nor does he try. In more than a few of the scenarios he cites of a husband feeling disrespected or a wife feeling unloved, you could easily switch the two partners and not gain much insight into any key differences between love and respect (or between men and women, for that matter). For example, he says that his wife has a habit of putting pepper on his eggs even though he has asked her not to. This is “disrespectful” behavior toward her husband. He, on the other hand, has a habit of leaving wet towels on the bed after a shower even though his wife has asked him not to. This is “unloving” behavior toward his wife.
Here’s my question: What’s inherently “disrespectful” about peppering someone’s eggs when they don’t want it? What’s inherently “unloving” about leaving a wet towel on the bed? Both are inconsiderate behaviors, but I’m asking what, specifically, makes one disrespectful and the other unloving. If the situations were reversed, and the husband was the one peppering the eggs and the wife was the one leaving wet towels on the bed, would that make the husband the disrespectful one and the wife the unloving one? If not, why not?
Here’s an even better one. Eggerichs forgot his wife’s birthday one year, and spent the day with his friend instead of with his wife. This was, obviously, an unloving thing to do. When he came home to his wife at the end of the day, she brought to his attention the fact that he had left her at home alone on her birthday. By his own admission, her reminder was gentle and gracious, not accusatory. Yet he felt disrespected: “judged, put down — and rightly so” (p. 13).
“Rightly so”? Let that sink in for a moment. It was disrespectful of his wife to expect that he would remember her birthday.
If you’re confused, so am I. Let’s move on.
Eggerichs maintains the male-respect/female-love dichotomy by “proving” through faulty research and cultural stereotypes that men and women are so very, very different and both want very, very different things from their partners. Yet I would argue that as men and women are both human beings and both equally made in the image of God, both are therefore alike in more ways than they are different. I would also bet that if you gave them a chance to tell you what they want, you’d find that men and women don’t have such wildly disparate notions of what would make them happy, after all. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.
Whilst sifting through my inbox not long ago, I happened upon an old email from my former small group leader. He had cc’d the group on the results of a recent survey of married couples in the church on how they prefer to be shown love and respect in their marriages. I thought the survey was insightful in providing some clues that the needs of husbands and wives are not really so different as we’d like to think. I’ve reproduced this list below, unedited (so I can’t take responsibility for typos or things that don’t make sense, of which there are a few).
How to Show Respect to a Husband:
Values decisions and requests when made
Gives importance to things I find important
Speaks well of me to others
Does not contradict me in front of the children
Reciprocates love emotionally
She allows me to deal with things in my own way without pressure
Purposely seeking to meet my needs without pointing out my faults
To be thoughtful of insecurities and encourages me in those areas
How to show Love to the Wife:
Values my opinion
Helps with house chores
Gives realistic expectations, hopes ,desires, criticism…
Wants me to grow without candy coating
Shares his heart – trust me with it
Is real with me
Leads me/our family spiritually. I.e bible reading, prayer, washing me through the water of the word
Spends time with me and concentrating on me when he gets home from work when it would be easier (and maybe even more enjoyable 🙂 ) to pop in a movie or read the news online
Makes time for his wife even after a long day at work
Is affectionate through the day – simple things like a text to say, “I love you,” etc.
Understands the wife’s needs and meet those needs through communication and support.
Goes out of their way to spend time with their wife
Is spontaneous with affection. Affection defined as kind words, touch, and attention.
Alright, now I want to draw your attention to an interesting overlap between items on the “husband” list and items on the “wife” list:
Husbands: “Values decisions and requests when made.” Wives: “Values my opinion.”
Husbands: “Praises me.” Wives: “Is spontaneous with…kind words.”
Husbands: “Reciprocates love emotionally.” Wives: “Is affectionate.”
Husbands: “Thoughtful of insecurities and encourages me in those areas.” Wives: “Wants me to grow.”
Husbands: “Supports decisions.” Wives: “Meet needs through communication and support.”
Hmm. So, what are we seeing here?
Both spouses desire (among other things) validation, verbal affirmation, affection, encouragement, and support. In other words, they both want many of the same basic things. Which brings us back to the question I posed earlier: Why — and how — do these things constitute respect when done for a husband, and love when done for a wife? And is “what husbands want” versus “what wives want” really so different after all?
Answer: they don’t, and it isn’t. Dr. Eggerichs cannot demonstrate a qualitative difference between the concepts of love and respect, because the truth is that they are intertwined. Common sense and human decency will tell you that true respect is not possible without love and vice versa. Respect (courtesy, consideration, and kindness) is not divorced from love; it is part and parcel of love.
The closest Eggerichs comes to an attempt at differentiating between love and respect in any meaningful way is when he states that it’s possible to respect someone without loving them because “You respect your boss. You don’t love your boss” (p. 69).
Really, Dr. Eggerichs? You’re seriously going to compare marital devotion with the kind of obsequious, self-serving “sucking up” that goes on in corporate environments? This is a pretty poor substitute for the real thing, if you ask me. You may dress up the reality in more flowery terms, but the bottom line is: you do what your boss wants because you want to keep your job. Is this what husbands are supposed to want from their wives? Acquiescence to their demands? Obedience so as not to lose their favored position? How sad.
This stunted definition of respect in turn forces upon us an impoverished definition of love as nothing more than emotional warmth and sentiment. According to Dr. Eggerichs, greeting card companies are proof that this kind of love is what women want, need, and are best at communicating, because so much of their consumer base is female. Also, women are bad at respect because greeting cards talk about love, but not respect: “Women are locked into love. Love is their mother tongue… Sadly, the deepest needs of husbands goes unmet because wives (and the card publishers) are locked into relaying sentiments of love” (p. 49).
(Did you catch that? Married men are suffering, and Hallmark is to blame.)
What a terrible insult to the souls of women (and men) to equate the kind of sappy drivel found in greeting cards with the love that is supposedly “a woman’s deepest need.” The God who demonstrated His definition of love by hanging on a cross would have something to say about that, I’m sure.