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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

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.

15 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Love and Respect: Part 2”

  1. “A man has much more ability to control his reactions”—I would assume this would be an across the board trait. The men in my family of origin did not have this ability. I’ve been watching my son play sports for years–dads, coaches, referrees and players all have issues with controlling reactions/anger management. A coworker just lost her male cousin because another man decided to resolve a dispute with a gun. I’m not sure what reactions he is talking about but it just isn’t something I see across the board. Men might be less likely to cry-is that what Eggerichs is referring to?
    I recently received a professional award. I’m generally not one to seek the limelight, but the award, and reception meant a lot more to me than I thought they would.
    Perhaps women aren’t brought up to expect respect as much and that is why it isn’t so important. Or they are used to mistreatment. I’ve been a nurse for a very long time. Nurses from long ago were told they would need to stand when a male doctor entered their presence. When I was a younger nurse it wasn’t unusual to be belittled by a male doctor especially if you had to call them in the middle of the night. Really nothing could be done or would be done about it.
    Regarding survey results…..I don’t see one or two surveys as conclusive evidence about respect. Certainly the surveys could be more expansive. I’ve read a few of Feldhahn’s books—-I honestly think she is asking questions in such a way to get a certain answer. To the extent she relies on a lot of stereotypes, her books don’t really resonate with me also.
    Regarding your comment about the king-princess…I had not noticed that–but I think Eggerichs definitely wants the man placed above the woman.
    Regarding the crazy cycle—I think it is a good starting point. But I think it gets misinterpreted to an extent. If the man loved his wife more she would stop drinking so much on the weekend. If the wife respected her husband more he would be more motivated to not lose his job, etc.

  2. Great piece. I would say that as a woman who grew up in a different generation than he did, one of the frustrating issues with the book is the church has a history of making his “gender roles” biblical. The expectation that I would get up with the children in the middle of the night because that is how God made me is ridiculous. I am a great mother, I have 4 beautiful children. Yet, my husband was typically the middle of the night parent. However, too often the church would preach these types of, sorry to say sexist stereotypes from the pulpit even though there was not any biblical support for it. This is what women are frustrated with regarding this book. I have rarely heard complaints regarding the biblical portions but rather the cultural ones. So, when it falls on tone deaf church leadership and a knee jerk willingness to defend the book as a whole not just certain elements proves how deep sexism still runs in our church communities. Many men in blogs and in churches appear to be using the criticism to try and say that it proves the church is being taken over by feminists. I have to chuckle when I read those comments. I am not a feminist because I can state that I never dreamed of my wedding day as a child and sang here comes the bride. It makes the church and some Christian men seem scared to allow women to be seen as Christ sees us. As made in Gods image. His gender stereotypes are also harmful to men. My husbands self image is not tied to his work performance but rather who he is in Christ and how he treats me and our children. That is not to say that it is not important to be a provider. It is, that is how God made him. However, it’s not the most important. I also think it’s ironic that one of the examples he gives is that men can stay calm even when their blood pressure is skyrocketing (paraphrasing) yet research has seemed to prove time and time again that of the two genders men have more difficulty with explosive anger and then verbally or physically abusing. Statistics don’t back up his claim.
    I love that you are doing this series. I think it’s important.
    Thank you!

    1. I agree that cultural roles have often been passed off as biblical within the church. And I find it particularly curious regarding childcare, since in Bible times, male children from around age 5 to 20 were primarily cared for by fathers or other men, in apprenticeship or formal schooling. (See Bible Study Tools: Education in Bible Times.) Also, the Bible records women having careers, as midwives, real estate investor, cloth dealer, tentmaker, etc.

      I do believe that men and women are different, and husbands and wives should be complementary, but we have to make sure our views of that are bibically grounded, rather than viewed through our cultural or historical lens. (Or one from, say, Leave It to Beaver. ;))

  3. J,

    Great 2nd part, still trying to absorb nice 1st part.

    There is a lot going on.

    When it comes to emotional or physical, there is certainly a love problem, though I’m sure some may not look at it that way. But even so, when it does occur on the surface there is a lack of evidence.

    Even in a loveless marriage or if there is hope, a husband and wife can retool the way they think and communicate by being mutually polite, pursue compromises without verbally sparring or colliding, understand none of us are wired the same and pursue similar goals and treat one another with kindness.

    Much of what you are writing should be included in curriculum starting at a young age, where kids learn to be good citizens toward each other, not always easy when a child witnesses their parents bickering, which is the same as force feeding their will on the other.

  4. I have thought this series to be much more grounded biblically than other reviews. But I have to ask a question because you first say perhaps it’s generational and several times say something akin to cultural gender differences are being passed off as biblical teaching. So this is the question? Are we in a spot to judge culture & gender stereotypes? Something that worked for thousands of years (yes, Proverbs 31 woman purchased land and vineyards but her primary responsibility was in the home, Titus 2). We live in a time where LGBT is celebrated. Where men “becoming/pretending to be” women and women “becoming/pretending to be” men is celebrated. Families are broken. Children are broken. Women are broken and men are broken. The church is literally dying in the areas reading your blog and cedes ground daily. It’s easy to look around and judge prior generations, and perhaps pick three good things that have come out of all these opportunities but how about the hundreds of bad things. What about the church and families being broken? At what cost to human souls and the Kingdom of God? Perhaps there was a reason things were set up as they were year after year for as long as man and women have been on earth- because right now we are witnesses what happens when we get out of those roles and what the costs are. There have been a few brief periods such as this and they all ended this way. It’s like socialism, they think they just haven’t done it right and this time it will end without millions in their graves. It won’t. Men are men and women are women. We both have roles. Does that cause some discomfort? Yes, sure it does. Anything that is worth doing causes discomfort. But what is the pain on the flip side. Look around you are seeing it. You may like your job and accomplishments and on a one off basis you may make it work- people do hit the lottery and oil is struck- but by and large it leads to the pain and suffering you are seeing around you daily.

    1. Actually, I buy that men and women are different, and certain roles then play to their capabilities or strengths. Just as an example, I could feed our baby with my body and my husband couldn’t, so it just makes sense that I would be the one doing more infant care. Men are biologically stronger than women, so of course they were/are the protectors. You can see many basic differences God created in us here: Man vs. Woman: The Differences

      What I find problematic is that some have married those understandable roles with current-day trends in a way that doesn’t make sense. For instance, historically, boys and young men tended to be taken under their father’s wing, not their mother’s. But in today’s world, many moms are still raising their sons all the way up to age 18, our age of adulthood, or beyond. And throughout history, most work revolved around the home, but most people don’t hunt or raise their own food or make their own clothing, so women may be working the same amount of time then as now, but because it’s not in the home, some say it’s bad. But is she really watching her kids less compared to a wife who had to make every meal entirely from scratch, make and mend clothes, etc.? I think it’s a more complicated question, and the principles of the Bible should guide us in figuring out the specifics for our situation.

      1. You asked the question, “is she really watching her kids less compared to a wife who to make every meal entirely from scratch, make and mend clothes, etc?” And I will answer a resounding, unequivocally YES! Because the children, young boys and girls of all ages were with her the entire time helping her as she taught them the ways of life and of the Lord.

        But the answer is always in the fruit. What kind of fruit did the old “culture” produce and what kind of fruit does the new culture produce? When did the church grow and when did it shrink? When did families stay together and kids grew in the Lord and when did they not?

        I agree the Bible should guide us. But I believe the old much closer than the new to resemble “Biblical culture” and if we are going to cast stones about generation gaps and misappropriating culture for Bible we had better make sure we stand in a place to accurately judge.

        1. We should be careful hailing back to eras and cultures where women were regularly mistreated. God’s people have always been called to a higher standard, but I implore you to look deeply at what the Bible teaches. I also recently re-read the entirety of Love & Respect. Have you?

          1. “We should be careful hailing back to eras and cultures where women were regularly mistreated.” — EXACTLY what I was thinking, J. There are certainly always challenges, but everything was not so great in the past, especially for women and children, just because families were traditional. Thank you for this important series.

  5. My wife and I were in a marriage class on Sunday mornings in which we studied this book. After whole-group presentations we would break out into husbands and wives for further discussion.

    One thing I remember from the men’s discussion group was that not a single guy was of a opinion that “respect” was something they needed desperately in their marriage. At least not in terms of a position of authority or leadership, even in a loving context. We actually struggled to understand the authors rationale for such a strong emphasis on this point

    Overwhelmingly, the guys in my group said they needed:
    1) To be gently appreciated and valued for who they were
    2) A sexual relationship in which their spouse demonstrated a desire for intimacy

  6. I find articles like this both interesting but terribly sad.

    The only thing I wanna comment directly about is the would you rather piece; feel unloved and alone or inadequate and disrespected by everyone.

    To me both go hand in hand with the other, it may not be the feeling you indentify with first but the lather is the second feeling. (And honestly they all could go either way too.)
    For example, if you feel first inadequate but the second feeling in the shadows is you feel unloved. And so on and visa versa

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  9. My husband and I had a great discussion last night, and it started with me asking him the question, Would you rather endure “a) to be left alone and unloved in the world; b) to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone”? His response was that to him it was the same thing. Which makes me think that mostly people who feel loved will likely feel respected, and that people who feel respected in a relationship probably usually feel loved as well.

    We also talked about how we are commanded to love and respect other believers, the verses you mentioned about loving and respecting goes both ways, and how what one person perceives as respect might not be how another perceives it, which brought us around to listening to the other person and following through – ie, he doesn’t like her to do X so she avoids it, or she asks him to do Y which he puts as a priority. Basically, treating each other as we want to be treated, treating each other as God would have us all treat one another with brotherly love (obviously in deeper ways in a married relationship! :)) )

    Anyway, I’m rambling, it was a good discussion with my hubby. We’re mostly on the Complementarian side of things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave respect and he doesn’t crave love. What’s important for us is figuring out the best ways to show our spouses that love and respect we both desire.

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