Faith & Spirituality

Love & Respect vs. Logic & Reality, Part 3

In my previous post I discussed the alleged rights and privileges of husbands as per the claims of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in Love and Respect. I have comparatively much less to say about what wives should expect out of the deal. Eggerichs admits that his book is more about respect than about love, and therefore men stand to gain more from it than women (because men are consistently underrepresented in matrimonial discourse, according to Eggerichs).

That said, I do want to give some attention to the wife’s supposed motivation for following the Love and Respect formula. The theory goes that she should be respectful so that her husband will be loving. Amazingly (and completely contrary to what someone with a PhD in psychology ought to know about human nature), this system will spit out results like a vending machine. Any woman who presses all the right buttons will get what she wants, guaranteed. “When a husband receives unconditional respect from his wife, those fond feelings of affection will return, and he will start giving her the kind of love she has always hoped to receive” (p. 67). “When a wife respects her husband… he starts rolling out the red carpet for her!” (p. 80). “This is the key to empowerment: you get what you want by giving him what he wants” (p. 221).

It’s very simple, ladies. Just worship the ground your husband walks on, and he will read you love poems by moonlight, buy you flowers, and basically be a Casanova with eyes only for you. (Regardless of whether or not he was ever this kind of man in the first place, apparently.)

The problem is that this only works until it doesn’t. Some husbands are good men, but romantic overtures of the rom-com variety just aren’t in their wheelhouse and never will be. Some husbands are married to the most wonderful, loving and caring wives who bend over backward trying to please them while getting very little in return for their trouble. (This can happen vice versa, as well — but the point is, it happens. Probably more often than Dr. Eggerichs would like to think.)

Most sadly of all, some husbands are physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, and prescribing the wife’s “unconditional respect” as the remedy for this situation will do nothing but pour gasoline on the fire. Regrettably, application of the Love and Respect formula fosters an atmosphere that is ripe for abuse of all kinds (Nate Sparks has written on this at length here).

Eggerichs does reluctantly admit that some husbands and wives will be temporarily (or permanently) unresponsive to their spouse’s respectful/loving initiatives. This caveat is shoehorned in on the book’s final pages as a disclaimer of sorts, meaning that we are not to anticipate such a scenario as normative. And even if we could — oh well, at least God is pleased with us for making a good effort.

I’m glad Eggerichs deigned to include this point somewhere in the book. But after nearly three hundred pages’ worth of “love your spouse so that you’ll get what you need/want”, shifting to “love your spouse because it pleases God” comes across as too little, too late. This is unfortunate, but it’s no wonder Dr. Eggerichs glosses over this point. Humility is prerequisite to pleasing God, and humility is, by design, a foreign concept to Love and Respect. Probably because it doesn’t boost anyone’s ego. Or sell enough books.

At this point I need to say something to all the people out there who are miffed at me for having the nerve to malign a prized feature in their marriage library: If your marriage is in absolute shambles and you and your spouse are throwing rocks at each other all the way to divorce court, and you implement some of the suggestions in this book, you will see improvements (barring extenuating circumstances such as abuse, addiction, or mental illness). You can’t go too far wrong, for example, by prioritizing quality time with your spouse, being affectionate, giving him/her your full attention when s/he is talking, apologizing when you’re wrong, etc. (All the usual disclaimers apply about this strategy not fixing an abusive relationship, of course.)

The problem comes when we try to put people into boxes. This circumvents the very valuable (but time-consuming and often humbling) process of getting to know them as individuals. When we take the “box” route, we tend to approach our relationship with our spouse as a self-made expert on what “all men need” or “all women want”, and not as a student of this particular man, this particular woman and what he or she thinks, feels, and wants. When they disappoint us, we write them off: “typical man” or “emotional woman”, instead of digging deep into the real heart of the matter.

Now, can you get away with doing this and still have a decent marriage? Yes, but why would you want to? Wouldn’t you want to get to know your spouse for who they are, and not for who someone else says they should be?

Manipulation and self-serving motives are the poisonous seeds of the Love and Respect tree whose rotten fruits are abuse, dysfunction, and stunted growth, all perpetuated in the name of Christ. I’m more than a little surprised that so many Christians are continuing to blithely scatter these seeds and eat the rotten fruit by the bushel, and feed it to others as well. There’s a universal truth about rotten things, though — they have a way of disagreeing sooner or later. It’s only a question of when, and how.

Fortunately, there’s a remedy: The good fruit that comes with loving your neighbor as yourself, and treating others the way you’d want to be treated.

There’s much more to be said from a practical perspective about what it takes to have a happy marriage, of course. But taking the above advice to heart — no manipulating, no people-pleasing — is at least a decent starting place.

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