Thursday, August 15, 2013

Respect and more respect

“Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs” Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs 2010

I love the Bible. But sometimes I don’t love Bible verses. People like to take their one favorite verse out of context and use it to steamroll or translate everything. You can’t base your whole marriage on one verse. Or a whole book.

 Dr. Eggerichs  says this one verse will change your marriage. “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)

Giving to get
“This book is about how the wife can fulfill her need to be loved by giving her husband what he needs- respect.” It’s nice to be clear at the start. I begin with two concerns. First, is it the wife’s job to fix every problem? Second, is she only giving something to get something?

Dr. E will go on to contradict this, saying both people need to work on their relationships, don’t expect the other person to do it first, you don’t give just so you can receive. He offers some sage advice to take responsibility for how you react to your spouse rather than blaming them. Yet he is clear that the main point of this book is teaching wives the need to unconditionally respect their husbands.

All husbands and wives are the same
I appreciate that Dr. E shared his personal stories. (Dr. Laura never does.) Little snippets like how spouses get upset because the other burned the food or left a mess are easy to identify with. It’s silly how much of marital fighting is over the small stuff, and Dr. E has good ideas on getting past that.

But Dr. E assumes that all husbands and wives have marriages that look exactly like his. The oddest aspect is his thematic description of disputes.

When a husband can take [criticism] no longer, he gets up and walks out without a word… He distances himself to prevent things from escalating… Men have an honor code… he doesn’t want to fight verbally or physically… as she gets louder, he gets quieter. Soon she may be screaming at him with venomous words that he’s never heard in all his life. As a rule, women have learned to fight with words. They are masters of the art, and husbands can feel helpless before the onslaught.

I don’t know of any stereotype that men stay silent. Many men are verbally hurtful or even abusive. Dr. E’s expectation is that wives are the critical, nit-picking, complaining spouse in relationships. But many men are perfectionists, have high expectations that can never be met, and are verbally abusive in conflict. And there are some women who go silent and try to escape the fight. Some women feel like they can never be good enough for their husbands.

Stories like these may speak to certain couples. “Love and Respect” was someone’s wedding gift to my sister. After skimming the first couple chapters, I talked to her and was startled to find that she loves it.  I am still trying to understand why. First, she identifies with the want for love more than respect. She loves to give and receive attention, affection, and share interests. (I wish I’d read this book in high school as a guide to make her happy.) Second, she doesn’t mind that not all the descriptions about women relate to her. She says, “I don’t act like that, but I know some women who do.” But does selective reading justify forgiveness of stereotypes?
Secret Codes
Another struggle I had with this book was the idea that communication between men and women is primarily impeded because of their gender. Dr. E uses colorful metaphors for these communication troubles. But if women see the world through pink glasses and hear through pink hearing aids, wouldn’t all women have perfect communication? (We don’t.) And if men see through blue glasses, and hear through blue hearing aids, why would I want to marry one? Wouldn’t I be more compatible with someone of my own species?

People everywhere have a hard time communicating with each other. There isn’t a binary system of seeing, hearing, and speaking.1 Even siblings raised in similar situations have disputes due to misunderstandings. I’m not convinced that a spoonful of love and respect is the solution to all these problems. Humility, giving the benefit of the doubt, forgiveness and listening are some good building blocks.

But we don’t need any extra tools. Dr. E says decoding is easy, because it’s always the same message. “You loaded the dishwasher wrong!” means “Love me!” “Why is the house a mess?” means “Respect me.” Every time.

What is Respect?
Dr. E says God requires wives to unconditionally respect their husbands, according to his favorite verse. He is defensive about this because he knows that respect must be earned. Otherwise, it isn’t real. Fake respect is flattery. Dr. E tries too hard to say respect doesn’t need to be earned, but his practical advice belies the fact. I can summarize his recommendations in two parts.

First, act respectfully even if you don’t feel it. Especially in public, in front of your children, or during fights. Don’t raise your voice or make an angry face. This isn’t about faking it, this is about common courtesy. It’s kindness more than it is respect, so I can agree with it. “A wife [can] display a respectful facial expression and tone… while confronting his unloving behavior and without endorsing his unloving reactions.” Agreed.

Second, think of things you already respect about your husband, make a list and tell him so. This is similar to counting your blessings in the middle of hard times. This may mean respecting his intentions even if his performance is weak.

This book is long because Dr. E thinks his advice is more complicated than it is. He dumbs down his content for his expected audience. “As one wife put it, ‘We think so differently. I don’t even relate to what he considers respect (or the lack of it.)’” Why would it be hard to understand that your husband feels disrespected when you yell at him and criticize him?

I think differently from my husband, but also from my female friends. At best, this book made me embarrassed for not being “correctly” female. I wish I were naturally full of love and giving like Dr. E thinks women are. “The Lord created a women to love. Her whole approach to nurture, her sensitivity, love and compassion are all part of her very nature.” (page 36) I wish being disrespected didn’t hurt or matter so much to me.

I’m at a point in my life where I want respect more than love. Part of that is my personality, but part of it is because I’ve been disrespected. My calling to ministry has been questioned and doubted. My insecurities and worries have been put down. I don’t need someone to tell me they love me despite my failures; I want to be told that I haven’t failed; I’m still going to get somewhere.

I don’t think I’m alone as a women who needs respect. Even thinking of a household with traditional gender roles, stay-at-home-moms are often disrespected. An old cliché is that the hardworking husband comes home and says, “What have you been doing all day?” when the house is a mess and the kids are crying. He’s being disrespectful, plain and simple.

A woman’s need for respect is part of the reason feminism exists. Limiting women’s opportunities, choices and voices is disrespect.

Men protect women
The biggest reason Dr. E thinks wives should respect men for is men embracing their God-given roles. We finally look at some context to the respect verse.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:22-27 (Complementarians generally skip verse 21.)

Dr. E draws three legalistic conclusions. First, a man’s role is to love and protect his wife, and she should place herself under his protection. Later he calls it, “the umbrella of protection” which is a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere in patriarchal writings.2

Adding to the text, Dr. E says men are wired to protect and die for their wives and families. It’s hard to say this out loud without sounding over-dramatic. Most Americans live in safety. What exactly do I need protecting from?3

Second, Dr. E proposes that husbands should get 51% of the responsibility and authority in the relationship. Why 51%? The Bible doesn’t command it. Another interpretation of “Submit in everything” would say the man gets 100%. Should we only submit 51% to Jesus? Which leads to the last big problem…

The worst conclusion of this passage is stated as if it’s a commonly accepted truth. “You [husband] are the Christ figure to her…” (page 163). Yes, everyone should follow the example of Jesus, but you shouldn’t take His place.4 Even if a husband dies for his wife, he doesn’t make her holy and blameless. The man doesn’t need to do Jesus’ job for Him. The implications of a husband being more Christ-like than the wife can be devastating to a marriage. What hope can there be for equality if the husband is God?

A funny phrase occurs frequently throughout this book. “A husband with good will” is one with good intentions who makes understandable mistakes (mostly because he doesn’t understand the secret code of women). I think it’s good to assume the best of your spouse, that even if they aren’t acting nice at the moment, overall they have good intentions and don’t want to hurt you. But this idea of goodwill is meant to give comfort to your worries that giving authority to someone who hasn’t earned it isn’t going to have bad consequences. I think the reason Dr. E uses this idea to defend the weakness of hierarchical complementarian household structure.

Will the concept of biblical hierarchy lead to abuse? Will a man take advantage of being head of the family by putting down and even abusing his wife and children? Yes, this is possible, but because it is possible does not mean a woman should refuse to allow her husband to be the head. If a husband is evil-willed, the abuse will happen anyway, no matter what the family structure is… if a man is good-willed, his wife’s respect and his hierarchical position will not cause him to abuse, because that is not in his nature.  (emphasis mine)

It’s odd to hear a former pastor like Dr. E say this. I’m used to hearing about people’s sin nature, selfishness, and tendency to do evil. But Dr. E thinks most men are good-willed, only needing a little encouragement to act in a positive way. Evil-willed men are the odd exceptions. I wonder where he thinks their evil will came from. Much unkindness and evil arises in situations, not just because of something written into a person’s DNA. Does power corrupt? Do men need checks and balances? Or are men uniquely designed to be in charge and will flourish in their designed habitat?

World history has not proven that to be a success. Women have been abused, enslaved, neglected, dehumanized, and denied rights. Men have done much evil with their power. Perhaps I would like this book if Dr. E said that historically, people haven’t been doing marriage God’s way. Here is something we missed, some new understanding to help us. But instead he calls us backward in history, acting as though marital problems are new.

Like my sister, maybe you can sift through this book and find good advice and insight. But the overall premise of the differences between men and women are based on culture, nostalgia, jokes, clichés and assumptions, not the design of God.

1 Dr. E thinks he can use science to prove his gender roles. “It is well know that men and women score differently on tests. He is high in analytical aptitude; she is high on verbal aptitude.” (page 150) Not true.
2 The trouble with umbrellas is that if you walk out from under the umbrella and are hurt, someone will say you were asking for it.
Rape and domestic violence is the noteworthy exception to this. But I don’t think the solution is to have a man guarding over every women every moment. The man with authority over her is usually the one hurting her, not a stranger.
4 Dr. E repeats this idea, sneaking it in his endnotes. “Man needs to be honored… [as] the image and glory of God.” (page 322) Are women not the image of God?


  1. I read your entire review for perspective before I commented on your Amazon post. Great review! I agree that there was quite a bit of generalization used in arriving at the book's suggestions.

    We read this book together as a young marrieds group of 7-8 couples. We tried using the workbook together but eventually stopped. Honest sharing and confession ended up being the better route - and choosing to discuss one main thought per chapter. True, this is a case of over elaboration of a point, and the chapters seem repetitive. Writing is a little self-promoting, but nonetheless, the discussions we've had were both raw and refreshing, and it bonded our group while strengthening our marriages.

    In order to avoid the trap of stereotyping, we explored the scriptures (on top of the one verse espoused by the book) on our own and evaluated how they applied to our own specific marriage dynamic (the couple assigned to lead the week's discussion). So in the course of our sharing, we definitely were able to see (what you mentioned) that the personalities and character tendencies may flip between the man and the woman.

    By the way, even though we understand the concepts, living it out is another thing. The crazy cycle is soooo difficult to resist, especially in the heat of the moment. :)

  2. I'm glad the book was a good discussion starter for your group, and that you allowed space for the wives to identify with the "men's needs" and vice-versa. If Dr. E had written it that way, it would almost redeem the book for me.

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