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;Proverbs 31:30-31
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.
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.
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.