Monthly Archives: July 2019

Mindfulness & Meditation During Sex

For many years, I was horrible at meditation. I would try to be still, but I’m naturally fidgety. I would try to relax, but my muscles were tense. I would try to focus, but my mind would get distracted.

If there was someone leading the meditation, they would say something like, “Imagine a placid lake, calm and flat as glass.” So I’d do that…and two seconds in, a jet ski would go by. Followed by a motor boat, a pontoon, and a few fish leaping around. In more imaginative moments, the Loch Ness monster would raise its head. #MeditationFail

And yet, Psalms often mentions the benefit of meditating on God’s Word, like this passage:

Blessed is the one
  who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
  or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
  and who meditates on his law day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

Learning to Meditate

Given that I reached “Amen” on maybe 9 of 10 prayers I said, I became determined to learn to meditate. I needed that focus to pray and consider God’s Word.

I downloaded a meditation app. There are several, but I happened to use HeadSpace. The early meditations are really good, but at some point it does get more into Eastern spirituality views. I disregarded that and chose a Scripture or praise to focus on instead. It worked! I learned how to be still, relax, and focus.

Only, I also realized I’d been doing that already—for years and years. Not in my everyday activities, but my sexual intimacy. Much of what I was learning was consistent with what I’d practiced and taught about experiencing pleasure and reaching orgasm in the marriage bed.

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The Role of Mindfulness

Meditation is a practice used to achieve mindfulness; that is, “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” ( Yes, the concept is tied to Buddhist traditions, but they hardly hold the market on being mindful (see Psalm 26:2-3).

Keying in on that notion of being fully present and aware, isn’t that what we hope to have in our sex lives? Don’t we want to feel mindful of what’s happening, so we can savor the affection and pleasure of being with our husband in such an intimate way?

And yet, we struggle. Both external stimuli and internal monologues compete for our attention. We are fidgety, tense, distracted. An inability to relax and focus contributes to many wives being unable to enjoy sex or achieve orgasm.

An inability to relax and focus contributes to many wives being unable to enjoy sex or achieve orgasm. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Meditating During Sex

How then can we use the concept of mindfulness and the practice of meditation to increase our awareness and enjoyment during sex? Here are several techniques you can use in the bedroom:

Breathing. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you exhale, feel your tension release. Then let your breathing return to normal, but attend to those breaths for a little while longer. Just savor the sense of breathing in and out, in and out.

Acceptance of distractions. One of things I previously had wrong was trying to push away distractions. Instead, it’s important to simply accept the stimuli that could pull us away. Take note of what you see or hear (the mess around you, the noise down the hall), accept its existence, and then turn your focus back to where you are and what you’re doing.

The same is true for unrelated self-talk—don’t fight it, but rather recognize it and then turn your attention and mind back to where you want it.

Distractions somehow lose their power when you admit they’re there but just don’t play their game. (Note: I’m not talking about a crying child who really needs your attention, but general distractions.)

Body scan. One meditation technique involves “checking in” with your body by scanning from head to toe. That is, begin at the top of your head, check in with that body part, and move your focus slowly down through your face, your neck, your shoulders, and so on.

You can pair this practice with our view of God’s beautiful creation. That is, as you check in with your body parts, consider how God knit you together (Psalm 139:13-14), think about the form and function of each body part, revel in those places sensitive to touch and sensuality. Again, this can help you get your body ready for arousal and connection.

Mantras. A mantra is a word or sound you repeat to maintain concentration. Yes, I know its Hindu origins, but we’re not using it that way. I’m not suggesting you om your way through sex. (Please don’t.)

Rather, repeating phrases to bring home a message was used in the Bible as well (see Psalm 136 and “His love endures forever”). You can use that same concept to maintain your focus or increase your positivity during lovemaking. Examples:

  • You struggle with body image, so you repeat in your mind, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 136:14) to remember the beauty God imparted to you or simply “His desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10) to remember that you are beautiful to your husband.
  • You were taught that sex is dirty or less-than-spiritual, so you repeat in your mind, “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:7-9) to recognize that God Himself created this act to nurture and express our intimacy.
  • You feel selfish at times enjoying sex as much as you do, especially if/when the activity mostly involves your pleasure, so you repeat in your mind, “drink your fill of love” (Song of Songs 5:1), to remind yourself that God encourages us to drink deeply of sexual delight in the marriage bed.

Focal point. Sometimes in meditation, you’re asked to choose a focal point, a place to center your attention. During sex, your focal point will likely change, but it should follow your sense of arousal so that it feels fluid.

For instance, instead of thinking about everything that’s happening during sex, focus on where your husband hand is stroking, how his fingers feel, what your skin underneath senses, what physiological responses you feel inside, etc. As his hand moves, let your focal point follow.

Be fully present in experiencing the sensations his hand, mouth, or penis provide your body. As you near orgasm, focus your attention entirely on that part of your body, just leaning into that focal point.

Prayer. The whole reason I started learning meditation was so I could focus long enough to get all the way through a prayer to “Amen.” Interestingly enough, I’m not sure I reach “Amen” all that more often, but I am more focused in my prayer time.

You can use that same focus to pray in the midst of sex. Yes, you can! (See Praying Before, During, and After Sex.) It probably won’t be a full prayer, but even “Thank you, God” or “Be with me, Lord” is a prayer. You may be surprised to find that calling on God in the midst of lovemaking settles your heart and increases your delight.

Techniques of meditation and mindfulness can help you become more fully present in the moment of lovemaking, so that you can experience arousal, pleasure, and satisfaction as God intended.

My Thoughts on Love & Respect: Part 3 (Sex)

Let’s wrap up my three-part series on the book, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, by Emerson Eggerichs (2004). The first part in the series addresses Eggerichs’s general premise and whether he advocates abuse, and the second part addresses the “Crazy Cycle” and his take on gender roles.

Today let’s talk about Eggerichs’s views in the area I usually write about! Sex.

Eggerichs covers sex in marriage primarily in his chapter titled “Sexuality—Appreciate His Desire for Sexual Intimacy,” which appears within the section on the “Energizing Cycle.” This part is dedicated to “principles, techniques, and common sense to help husbands and wives learn how to practice the Love and Respect message on a daily basis” (106).

For what it’s worth, he starts with chapters telling husbands how to meet their wives’ need for love and then goes on to advise wives how to meet their husband’s need for respect. Likewise, that’s where I’ll begin.

To the Husbands

In his chapter on Closeness, Eggerichs advises husbands: “be affectionate and attentive every day, not just on days you want sex. Affection should be an end, not a means” (121). Well, yeah! I’ve talked about this on my blog too:

In the next chapter on Openness, Eggerichs covers the importance of a husband sharing and being transparent with his wife. He finishes that chapter with this advice:

“And one more thing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that if you are good-willed and open to your wife emotionally, she will feel close to you and open with you sexually. To put it another way, you must not be open to ‘get sex.’ A wife sees through that and is turned off sexually. But when you authentically meet her emotional needs, she’ll be empathetic to your sexual needs” (130).

I’ve done this ministry long enough to know we should not make guarantees like “when you do X, she’ll do Y.” Sometimes a spouse does everything right, and their mate still refuses sex. Sometimes, the refuser has good reasons their spouse is unaware of (e.g., past sexual abuse or pain during intercourse). My point is simply that some situations are more complex.

But overall, I agree with the advice. I’ve talked plenty about how external factors affect a wife’s willingness to engage sexually and ways a husband can pave the way. For example:

To the Wives

Eggerichs begins his chapter telling the story of a wife who delivered an ultimatum to her husband: she would not respond sexually until he met her emotional needs. The wife later became convicted that she needed to be the bigger spouse and attend to his needs first. “She didn’t have that need for sex. It wasn’t within her, but she realized that this was her husband’s need, and the Lord had spoken to her about meeting his need first” (220).

In my copy of the book, I jotted in the margin: “Is this statement about this particular couple or men and women generally?” Because it’s a great idea to be the one who takes the first positive step! As I discussed in the first post of this series, marriage should involve extravagant love, and extravagant love goes above and beyond. (See Sex and Friendship: Are They the Chicken and the Egg in Marriage? and You Go First—The Forgiven Wife.)

As I continued to read, Eggerichs made it clearer that he views sex as the husband’s need and intimacy and affection as the wife’s need: “Sex for him and affection for you is a two-way street. Just as he should minister to your spirit to have access to your body, so, too, you should minister to his body if you want to gain access to his spirit” (220).

Is that true? Does a husband, as he says, have “a need for physical release through sexual intimacy” (221)? Let’s unpack that idea.

First, nobody needs sex in the sense that they will die without it. (Sorry if that’s news to you, but it’s true.) To husbands worried about that statement, I also agree that nobody needs flowers on Valentine’s, weekly dates, or romantic conversation. That said, all of these meet a deep emotional need for intimacy.

God created us for relationship—with Him and each other. So yes, one way of nurturing and expressing that connection in marriage is sex. It gets at our emotional need for intimacy in a physical way.

Second, the longer a higher-drive spouse goes without sex, the more the desire for connection is felt in a physical way. It’s like an itch that begs to be scratched, a hunger that growls to be sated, an overfilled balloon that needs to be released. So yeah, I get the concept of “a need for physical release.”

However, the higher-drive spouse isn’t always the husband. In fact, it’s often not the husband—as in 15-30% of marriages. While that’s still a minority, it’s millions of couples. My higher-drive wife group on Facebook, with nearly 600 members, will testify they feel the itch too!

Third, God cares just as much about her sexuality as He does about his sexuality. The point of 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 is not that your spouse owes you “access to [her] body,” but that mutuality matters. If anything, God starts with the hubby meeting the wife’s sexual needs! “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” God presumes both genders want access to the other’s body, or rather physical intimacy within marriage.

And of course husbands want access to her spirit too. Most husbands enjoy their wives well beyond the bedroom. They just like who their wives are as persons.

The Problem with the Sex Chapter

Eggerichs provides some really good advice interspersed with some statements that had my head shaking as I read. But the real problem with his sex chapter is this: It includes the same erroneous or incomplete teachings that have been perpetuated throughout the Church and marriage resources for most of my life.

Emerson Eggerichs is hardly alone in espousing such ideas as:

  • “…he needs sexual release just as you need emotional release (intimacy)” (222).
  • “Husbands, particularly, can come under satanic attack when deprived of sexual release” (222).
  • Quoting a mom who chastised her grown daughter for withholding sex in her marriage: “‘Why would you deprive him of something that takes such a short amount of time and makes him soooooo happy!?'” (222).
  • “Men, especially, may smile, but the cold, hard truth is that men are often lured into affairs because they are sexually deprived at home. A man who strays is usually given total blame for his affair, but in many cases he is the victim of temptation that his wife helped bring upon him” (224).
  • “[The wife] cannot comprehend that seeing some well-endowed woman at the office with a plunging neckline would ‘turn him on.'” And later: “Simply put, a man is responsive to what he sees. He needs his wife’s understanding of his struggles” (227).
  • “Do your best to give him the sexual release he needs, even if on some occasions you aren’t ‘in the mood'” (227).

What comes across in such statements is the notion of a sexually driven husband who, of course, struggles with lust because he’s visually oriented, needs sexual release with his wife to avoid that temptation, and doesn’t really expect her to be that into it. In turn, wives are expected to sexually resistant, but admonished to “take one for the team” by putting out regularly.

We’ve covered some of these ideas in our podcast episodes on Lies Women Believe, Part 1 and Part 2. And more in Myths We Learned from Pop Culture. And wives can learn more about their sex drive with a replay of our recent webinar, while husbands should definitely check out our upcoming webinar on this topic for them.

But a lot of well-meaning Christians have given advice based on an understanding of sexual intimacy that sells both husbands and wives short. Husbands don’t just want a physical release; they want to make love to their wives. Men aren’t destined to lust or watch porn or cheat if they don’t get enough sex. Wives are not without sexual interest simply because their sexuality doesn’t look like a man’s. Women are not without their own sexual temptations and struggles. And, again, plenty of marriages have a wife with more sexual interest than her husband.

The Silver Lining

As you can see, there’s some good advice here from Eggerichs. However, I have concerns about statements like those highlighted above and how they could be misused to push outcomes not in line with God’s design for sex in marriage.

The good news is Eggerichs is trying to address this. He recently did a blog series on sexual intimacy:

There’s a lot I considered quoting from those posts, but here’s just one excerpt:

“This attitude of husbands that took a one-sided position to 1 Corinthians 7 and demanded fulfillment of their male conjugal rights was contrary to Abba Father’s revelation to husbands and wives. One cannot imagine the pain many wives encountered. Or, equally depressing on the other end of the spectrum were those husbands depriving their wives of sexual intimacy.”

Still, many more people will read his book than his blog. So where I come back to is what I said in my last post: It is past time for a new edition of Love & Respect. Eggerichs could clarify his thoughts, use new examples, and include warnings against sexual mistreatment in marriage. He could better explain God’s design for sex in marriage as a mutually satisfying, intimate, loving and respectful relationship.

In a Nutshell

Eggerichs’s advice to husbands is pretty good, and much of what Eggerichs says on sex will resonate with couples who face the situation of a husband desiring more sexual intimacy and a wife reluctant to pursue it. However, his admonitions miss the mark for many couples and don’t capture the fullness and goodness of God’s design. That said, I don’t find Love & Respect to be an outlier among Christian sex advice that I’ve heard most of my life.

Ultimately, we need Christendom at large to gain a better understanding of God’s design for sex in marriage. We’re making progress, but there’s a lot more to be done. Every Christian needs to understand that God made both men and women sexual beings and placed sex within marriage for both husbands and wives to foster and express intimacy.

Every Christian needs to understand that God made both men and women sexual beings and placed sex within marriage for both husbands and wives to foster and express intimacy. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Eggerichs could further that mission by engaging with Christian women with ministries in this area—me, Chris Taylor, Bonny Burns, Gaye Christmus, Sheila Gregoire, Juli Slattery, Julie Sibert, Ruth Buezis, take your pick—who could share wives’ stories that a male pastor, author, and speaker probably hasn’t heard. Then he could update his book. I suspect a new edition of Love & Respect would be well-received.

A different take: A Review of Love and Respect: How the Book Gets Sex Horribly WrongTo Love Honor & Vacuum

My Thoughts on Love and Respect: Part 2

This week, I’m addressing a specific book, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs. Though published back in 2004, it has stirred up quite a bit of controversy this year in some marriage circles. If you haven’t yet, please go back and read the first part of this 3-part series on the book. In that post, I cover the book’s general premise and whether Eggerichs advocates abuse.

Today, let’s talk more about how love and respect impact each other and gender roles as Eggerichs sees them.

The Crazy Cycle

Perhaps the best contribution of Eggerichs’s Love & Respect is his concept of the “the Crazy Cycle.” His formulation is “without love from him, she reacts without respect; without respect from her, he reacts without love. Around and around it goes” (16).

Whether it’s about love or respect or something else, dysfunctional couples do tend to feed off each other in negative ways. I saw this in my own marriage when my husband and I had extreme conflict years ago: I wanted to keep talking until the problem was resolved, while he wanted to stop talking when he became emotionally flooded. In my mind, he didn’t love me enough to keep at it until we were okay. In his mind, I didn’t respect who he was and his need for a break from the tension. The more I pursued, the more he withdrew; the more he withdrew, the more I pursued; and on and on.

So yeah, Crazy Cycle. And I’ve heard how it happens to other couples—differences in emotional needs (or sexual desires) and consequent misunderstandings result in a spiral of tension and conflict. Before you know it, you’re caught in the vortex and can’t seem to find your way out.

Eggerichs says that either of you can break that cycle, by understanding your spouse’s need and continuing to love or respect. But his perspective is that we’ve all received that message to keep loving, thus feeding women’s emotional needs, while we’ve missed the message to keep respecting, thus ignoring men’s emotional needs.

If you’re a well-meaning spouse, however, one would hope you’d apply the part you need to hear to yourself (whether it’s love or respect) and not be pointing fingers just at wives. (See Who Are You Praying to Change in Your Marriage?)

Are Men and Women That Different?

Scripture recognizes, and even espouses, that men and women are different. Just consider the first two chapters, in which you find:

  • “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27); and
  • “But for Adam no suitable helper was found….Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:20, 22).

We’re not the same, or God wouldn’t have felt the need to create man and woman in a complementary relationship.

However, Eggerichs doesn’t simply state that we’re different, but different in a specific way: that husbands need respect, wives need love. (This premise is discussed at length in the first post in this series.) He goes on to assert that a man’s natural tendency is to respect, while a woman’s natural tendency is to love. “The Lord has created a woman to love. Her whole approach to nurture, her sensitivity, love, and compassion are all part of her very nature….[God’s] not going to command her to agape her husband when He created her to do that in the first place” (40). Is that true?

Well, the Bible shows plenty of times when men neglected to give women the attention they deserved, and husbands are specifically instructed to be gentle: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives” (1 Peter 3:7a).

Meanwhile, I find it hard to argue against the notion that wives can lash out with disrespect in a way that hits hard for husbands when several Proverbs have some version of “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9; more examples here).

Here’s some research Eggerichs cites as well:

  • Prominent marriage author Shaunti Feldhahn commissioned a study in which 400 men were asked if they had to choose, would they rather endure: “a) to be left alone and unloved in the world; b) to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone”? And 74% of men said they’d rather be alone and unloved (52, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men).
  • The Gottman Institute (originally focused on marriage research) states that 85% of stonewallers (neglect/shutting down) are male (60, 5 Things Men Can Do to Strengthen Their Relationship).
  • Eggerichs reports on his blog having asked 7,000 spouses: “When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved at that moment or disrespected? In response, 83 percent of the men said they feel disrespected and 72 percent of the women said they feel unloved.” (Though I could not quickly find specifics about how the survey was conducted.)

However, as a wife who would have answered that I’d prefer to be left alone and unloved in the world rather than feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone, I know these descriptions not true across the board.

Wondering about this love-respect balance, Dr. Shauna Springer reported a survey she did of 1200 highly educated, accomplished women, asking that same question. Among this selective sample, 65% reported that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate. Apparently, I’m not alone among women.

Moreover, in Gottman’s original 1999 book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he states that based on an eight-year study of 130 newlywed couples, “men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages….Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct (100). In that same chapter, he directly addresses the issue of roles: “I am not advocating a spiritual belief system about the roles of men and women. Our research has included couples who believe the man should be the head of the family as well as couples who hold egalitarian viewpoints. In both kinds of marriages, emotionally intelligent husbands have figured out the one big thing: how to convey honor and respect” (102).

Eggerichs himself agrees that wives need respect (see How a Wife Can Feel Loved But Disrespected), but his book is written in such a way that non-majority wives and husbands won’t see themselves well in these pages. He mostly takes the view that love is for wives and respect is for husbands, and even though we need both, we will view them from our love or respect lens according to gender.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:30-31
Intimacy Revealed Ad

Speaking of Gender Roles

The first part of Love & Respect covers the “missing piece” of respect for husbands; the Crazy Cycle that happens when we feed off each other negatively; and why each gender’s emotional need should be met in marriage. By and large, I actually think it’s a good message and an angle many couples hadn’t heard before. As I’ve said, the information about the Crazy Cycle was especially helpful to my own marriage when we were struggling and attended a marriage retreat based on Eggerichs’s Love and Respect video course.

However, big portions of the latter half of the book read like a marriage manual from a bygone era. Eggerichs draws conclusions about how husbands can love their wives and how wives can respect their husbands that match historical or cultural understandings of marital roles more than biblical ones.

Here’s a quick sampling of statements that felt like a skewed view of men and women:

  • “A man has much more ability control his reactions. His blood pressure may be going through the roof, but he can keep it under wraps” (125).
  • Speaking to husbands about why should be thankful for their wives’ sensitivity: “Her sensitivity enables her to stay up all night with the kids when they are sick. Her sensitivity is what drives her to wait on you hand and foot when you’re down with the flu, moaning, groaning, and wanting another Excedrin” (129).
  • “Remember, the husband is the Christ figure; the woman is the church figure. And as a church places its burden on Christ, a wife wants to place her burdens on her husband. Even if she can’t articulate it in these words, your wife thinks of you as that burden bearer—as having those big shoulders” (134).
  • “As the husband, you tie your self-image into who you are in the field—that is, in work, in accomplishments, in conquests. Your wife, however, ties her self-worth into who she is in the family” (159).
  • “Since childhood, your wife dreamed of the wedding day as she played dress-up and sang, ‘Here Comes the Bride!'” (160).
  • “But in terms of a man’s self-image, he needs to be the chairman; he needs to drive” (172).
  • “Grant your husband authority, as Scripture describes it, and things are much more likely to fall into place. If you try to undermine his authority or subtly rebel against it, the Crazy Cycle will spring to life” (201).
  • “The problem many women have today—including Christian wives—is that they want to be treated like a princess, but deep down they resist treating their husbands like the king” (186).

That last one is just odd. King and princess indicate a father-daughter relationship, not a husband-wife. If I treat my hubby like a king, I better be treated like a queen!

Now, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs is nearing 70 years old, so some of this could be a generation gap. After all, my mother was the one who stayed up all night with us sick kids and waited on my dad when he was down with the flu. But my husband has taken care of our sick kids, and he’s waited more on me when I was sick or on bedrest. Moreover, I have far more opportunities to experience work or accomplishments that boost my self-image than my grandmother or mother had, but my daughter-in-law has even more than me. (Not to mention that childhood me dreamed of being a detective, a dragon slayer, or that queen—but never a bride.)

Still, some of those statements sell wives short in a way that I don’t see Jesus doing with the women of His time. This isn’t about the egalitarian versus complementarian debate (I’m personally closer to the latter anyway), but rather an accurate view of men and women.

Summing Up

Giving love and respect, understanding that Crazy Cycle, and recognizing we’re not the same—whether that’s gender, personality, background, or something else—are all worthwhile efforts in marriage. But when it comes to specifics, some of Eggerichs’s statements feel lopsided and/or outdated. At the very least, his book would benefit from an updated edition based on real couples today.

My Thoughts on Love & Respect: Part 1

This week, I’m doing something different—sharing my thoughts on an issue I’ve been asked about. If you came here to get sex tips for your bedroom or address a sexless marriage or enjoy something funny about this whole sexy thing, here are a few other posts you can go read:

But recently, there has been some controversy in marriage circles and conversations about a particular book and what it teaches. That book is Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs written by Emerson Eggerichs. The core question has been whether the book encourages maltreatment and abuse of women. But the discussion also touched on whether the book defines sex in terms of a physical need for husbands and an obligation for wives.

While I’d read Love & Respect many years ago (and taken the video course at a marriage retreat), I decided to read the book again. Not with the hope of finding or not finding proof of the accusations, but with as open a mind as I could have.

Following is part one of my conclusions, with two other parts coming later in the week. Someone else might have a different take, but where I make a point, I try to back it up with an excerpt from Love & Respect, along with the page number where the quote can be found. I also expand on my own perspectives that differ from the author.

The Missing Piece

Eggerichs begins with the premise that the importance of love in marriage has been well-covered in churches and marriage classes. “For the past forty years, the American church has preached unconditional love. I preached it for many years in my own church, as I remained clueless about the importance of unconditional respect” (48). The addition of respect as part of the marriage relationship is his unique selling proposition; that is, what differentiates this book from other marriage books (27).

Given this initial premise, Eggerichs focuses more on wives giving their husbands respect, since that’s the part he believes has been neglected. “Yes, love is vital, especially for the wife, but what we have missed is the husband’s need for respect” (11). Understandable, but the next sentence is this: “This book is about how the wife can fulfill her need to be loved by giving her husband what he needs—respect” (11). That’s a bothersome statement, as it seems to place the burden for making a marriage work on the woman respecting her husband.

To be fair, he includes plenty on husbands needing to love their wives and how men can assume the responsibility to make a marriage work better. The “Crazy Cycle” Eggerichs describes even begins with the husband’s part: “Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love—ad nauseum” (25).

He also points out that either spouse can, and should, go first in giving the love or respect their mate needs: “Taking the role of the mature mate and moving first may be risky, but it is powerful” (73), and “In your marriage, be the first to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3:11)” (73).

Defining Differences by Gender

Eggerichs’s approach rests on a core belief that love isn’t enough, or that love to a man is better spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T (174). This viewpoint hinges on the final verse of the Ephesians 5:21-33 section on husbands and wives: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Eggerichs focuses on how the husband is commanded to love his wife, but rather commanding the wife to love her husband, she is told to respect him.

You can believe or not believe his premise. Eggerichs goes into how he pursued that interpretation, considered its various angles, weighed it against the struggling couples he counseled, and looked at research on this topic.

For myself, I believe the premise in part. That is, adding respect to the conversation about marriage is important, and overall men seem more concerned about receiving respect and women about receiving love (more on that in the next post).

However, we have other scriptures in the Bible that tell us to love and respect each other without regard to gender:

  • “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
  • “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17).
  • “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

There are also verses instructing husbands to respect their wives and wives to love their husbands:

  • Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7).
  • “Then [the older women] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4, and yes, that instance of love is phileo rather than agape).

While Eggerichs agrees husbands also need love and wives need respect, he emphasizes the opposite so much that readers can forget that we all desire love and respect and are commanded to give it.

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Unconditional Love & Unconditional Respect

Eggerichs uses the terms unconditional love and unconditional respect a lot. Here’s an example of his view:

“My thought process went something like this: ‘A husband is to obey the command to love even if the wife does not obey the 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'” (23).

He thus lays out how unconditional love and unconditional respect are keys to a godly marriage and how expressing them can heal your relationship and open up the feelings of love or respect you’ve been missing from your spouse.

But here’s where I’m going to get really unpopular. I’ve come to detest that word unconditional. I can discuss my theology on it another time, but practically speaking, that word has been used like a mallet on people, pressuring them to put up with things God never intended us to put up with. We use God as our example, but even if there are no conditions to His love, God most certainly laid out expectations in commands and followed up with bad consequences if you don’t get with the program.

We are called to extravagant love, far beyond what we usually display, given our selfish nature. But what happened when someone displayed ongoing hate toward our Father? When they hardened their heart again and again? Look at the biblical record, and you’ll see that God didn’t stick around interminably; sometimes, He walked away.

Can He come back? Sure, He did that too. But at times he “hid his face” from those who pursued evil and would not listen. And in a way, isn’t that love too? To set reasonable conditions in the relationship, walk away if they’re not being met, and pray that your absence causes a change of heart.

So this call to unconditional love and unconditional respect can be problematic in practice. While I recognize we shouldn’t have to earn love and respect, because we’ll never deserve it enough, we should have reasonable expectations in our marriage of good treatment.

It is from those relationships, where things are reasonably good, that Eggerichs’s advice is best understood. For those without good will, a call for unconditional love or respect can become manipulation at best and abuse at worst. (See Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage?)

But Does Eggerichs Advocate Abuse?

In short, no. Eggerichs addresses the importance of having two good-willed people in a marriage, using that phrase “good-willed” more than 30 times. For instance: “What do I mean by good-willed people’? Simply that both of these people love each other a great deal. They do not mean real harm; they do not intend real evil toward one another. They are hurt and angry, but they still care deeply for one another” (39). That’s the audience he’s writing to.

Eggerichs also recognizes abuse of women throughout history. “Over the centuries, men have used Scripture in ignorant, abusive, and even evil ways. They have justified all kinds of terrible treatment of women, all in the name of ‘the Bible says so.’ But the Bible doesn’t say so. It says something much different from what is claimed by chauvinists” (184).

That said, he does believe in the what he calls “biblical hierarchy”; that is, a woman placing herself under the headship of her husband, while her husband takes up the responsibility to love and protect her. And one might presume he’s fielded questions in the past about that belief and abuse: “Will the concept of biblical hierarchy lead to abuse? Will a man take advantage of being the head of the family by putting down and even abusing his wife and children?” (186).

He answers: “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. Any hierarchical role given to him has nothing to do with the abuse. The evil-willed man always treats those around him abusively” (186). Eggerichs then goes on to talk about the importance of a good-willed husband who accepts his duty to love and protect his family, not selfishly use his position over others to mistreat them.

Now, the gender-role continuum ranges from patriarchy through complementarianism (hard, moderate, soft) and egalitarianism to feminism/matriarchy, and some Christians assert that more patriarchal systems create an environment where abuse is not addressed properly. Believe me, I take that concern seriously. But I also don’t think you’ll convince another Christian to surrender their view by saying it can be abused. After all, so many things God created for good can be twisted for evil.

We have to engage in conversations about what God actually said and our resulting theology and ultimately decide for ourselves what we believe about gender roles in the church and in marriage. That theological debate is beyond the purview of my blog (hint, hint: don’t leave a long comment about it).

Regardless, any and all marriages need church resources that will honestly and effectively address abuse. No wife should go to a church leader with the heavy news that she’s being abused in her marriage and be told to simply submit to her husband more.

No wife should go to a church leader with the heavy news that she's being abused in her marriage and be told to simply submit to her husband more. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Back to Eggerichs’s view: “When a man acts in this way [doing something illegal, wrong, evil, abusive, dishonest, unethical], he is not a good-willed husband, and he forfeits his right to be head and to be followed. A wife’s submission to God takes precedence over her submission to her husband. She is not to sin against Christ in order to defer to her husband” (196).

Wrapping Up

Next time, we’ll get into more about gender roles, how Eggerichs views their impact on marriage, and whether his views lead to problematic outcomes. And in the third and final installment, we’ll tackle his chapter on sex.

Other recent takes on Love & Respect:
Love and Respect: Why Unconditional Respect Can’t Work – To Love Honor & Vacuum
Don’t Study the Counterfeits – The Generous Husband
Respect: A Dirty Word? – The Curmudgeonly Librarian

Don’t Miss Your Last Chance to Sign Up for Our Webinar

Just a quick post to remind you that This Is It. Our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast is hosting its first webinar for wives on Understanding Your Sex Drive tomorrow at 7:30 pm eastern. You must register, so that we can provide you the link to attend.

What Will We Cover?

We’ll address sexual interest generally, woman’s anatomy, external factors that impact sex drive, and actions to employ during sex. Be assured that we will speak to both wives with lower sexual interest and greater sexual interest than their husbands!

Beyond that, it’s a chance to see the podcast hosts in action—the way we see each other when we record our podcast episodes. Four faces on the screen, sharing in turn, conversing about ideas, and making each other laugh.

How Much Does It Cost?

It’s only $5 to join us! Just think of all the things that cost you more than five dollars—a Chick-Fil-A meal, a tube of lipstick, a pair of socks. Why not make a small investment that could pay big dividends for the sexual intimacy in your marriage?

What If You Can’t Attend on Thursday?

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Can You Submit a Question?

Yes. Once you’ve signed up for the webinar, we’ll provide instructions on how to submit a question. We’ll have a Q&A section to address as many questions as we can.

How Do I Sign Up?

Click the image above or the button below, and you’ll be taken to the registration page for our webinar. While you’re there, check out the other two webinars we’ll be offering. You can sign up for one, two, or all three (with the third one for husbands).