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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
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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

How to Read a Marriage Book

We live at a great time when so many resources exist to help marriages with a variety of challenges, including the sexual arena, and it’s worthwhile to put “Read a Marriage Book” on your to-do list.

That said, there’s a good way and a bad way to read marriage books. If you go in with the wrong expectations or without an attitude of discernment, you could come away disappointed or learn something counterproductive. So let’s talk about about how to read a marriage book.

Recognize there is no magic bullet.

A magic bullet is “something providing an effective solution to a difficult or previously unsolvable problem” (Merriam-Webster). And oh, how we wish there was a magic bullet to resolve all of our marital conflicts, misunderstandings, and challenges. But there isn’t.

Hey, I could increase my blog traffic and book sales substantially if I chose topic titles like “10 Surefire Ways to Take Your Sex Life from Boring to Breathtaking!” or “Resolve Your Sexless Marriage in Three Easy Steps!” Except I don’t want to lie to you.

Even when the solution is simple and straightforward, putting it into practice can be difficult. You have to overcome bad habits, establish new routines, stick it out during that time between planting and harvesting (which can feel like forever), and pray your spouse responds they way they should.

You should know you’re running a marathon and not just around the block, so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Mind you, it’s well worth the run! But it’s not easy.

Thus, any resource that guarantees following a system will produce the exact result you want is like that diet that says you can lose 10 pounds in one week and never feel hungry. Yeah, right. That doesn’t mean the diet, or marriage program, is a bad idea. It might yield good results, but recognize it’s unlikely to cure all of your marital woes by next Tuesday.

Don’t discard the mostly good for the little bad.

Too often, readers take an all-or-nothing approach to marriage resources. Once they discover something they disagree with, they write off the whole thing or read the remainder through a negative or suspicious lens.

Is there any marriage resource with which I’ve agreed 100% of the time? That would be a big no. Even my own stuff written years ago, I’d probably write differently today. Meaning the only resource I don’t disagree with is the Bible!

Or wait—I do disagree with the Bible. I simply decide in that case I must be wrong and need to adjust my thinking, not the other way around.

But if you get a marriage book in which 80-90% of the advice is good, it’s a wonderful resource. Ignore the 10-20% and focus on how much good stuff you’re getting, some of which you can put into practice and reap the benefits.

Read for what you can do to improve your marriage.

You know what marriage book would be a fun read? One that talked about what a terrific wife you are and then recounted all the problems your husband is bringing to the marriage—basically concluding, “It’s not me. It’s you.”

“It’s not you, it’s me” — Seinfeld

But hey, even if your husband is 90% the problem, you have 10% to fix. And the reality is that you cannot change your spouse. You can only influence them through what actions you take.

So when you read a marriage book, look for what messages you need to hear that help you improve your relationship. Take ownership for your part. And where you recognize your spouse is indeed the problem, figure out how to influence the issue rather than solely laying blame on them.

Remember that marriage books largely assume good will.

Most marriage resources presume two good-willed spouses who love each other—even if they don’t currently like each other all that much—and want a better relationship. This is not to say that they haven’t said and done things that are hurtful and undermine their ultimate goal.

My husband and I said terrible things to one another when our marriage was bad, many years ago. We wish I could take those things back, but we were both coming from places of deep emotional pain and lashing out carelessly. That said, we were both good-willed people who loved each other and wanted a better marriage. We just didn’t know how to get there.

If you have a good-willed spouse, a marriage book could help you achieve an important breakthrough, improve a struggling relationship, or simply add greater intimacy to an already good marriage.

But if you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! Get professional help. Leave immediately if your safety is at risk. Find resources not about marriage but abuse in marriage. And if you’re not sure about your situation, check out Family Life’s Are You in an Abusive Relationship? list of questions.

If you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Understand that gender doesn’t explain everything.

A number of resources say “men are like this, and women are like this,” and yeah, there’s some truth to that, generally speaking. But it’s an oversimplification that ignores other factors like personality, talents, background, values, and more.

If just the words “man” or “woman” explained everything, then all women would be alike and all men would be alike, and how boring would that be! I suspect your chose your husband because he was a particular kind of man, and you like his unique aspects. (Okay, mostly. You could do without the way he picks his teeth after supper.)

We can misjudge our own husband if we presume a statement about male stereotypes applies to him when it doesn’t. And he can misread you by presuming every female stereotype applies to you.

How do you avoid getting the wrong impression? Ask your spouse.

When you read a statement you’re not sure about, open up a conversation with your beloved like, “Hey, I was reading about how men are ____________, and I’m wondering if you feel like that’s accurate for you.”

I’ve been surprised by the answers I’ve gotten from my husband with this approach. Sometimes, he confirms the statement, and I learn something new I hadn’t recognized before. Other times, he says it doesn’t describe him at all. And then there are times when it’s kinda-yes but with clarification. Regardless, by the end of the conversation, I understand my husband better. And isn’t that a good goal?

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You may be thinking by now: With all these potential land mines, what’s the point of reading marriage books or even blog posts?!

Because they often have great advice that can sincerely help your marriage.

I have personally benefited from numerous books and blog posts, as well as podcast episodes, video courses, and devotional products. Various marriage authors have illuminated areas I need to attend to, information about my spouse he had difficulty explaining, and actions that can improve our relationship.

And hey, Hot, Holy & Humorous and my books have a long history of helping married couples in their bedrooms, with many emails to prove it! I know firsthand that marriage resources can make a difference.

But approaching marriage resources wisely will make a real difference in what you get out of them.

What other advice would you add for how to read a marriage book or other resource?

Wives, Your Voice Matters (in the Bedroom & Beyond)

Last week, I asked wives to answer a simple question: Why don’t you comment more often? The answers I received were enlightening. And a little surprising.

The Results of My Survey

Among the reasons were lack of time, agreeing with what was said and having nothing to add, and a few issues with some male commenters. But what caught me off guard was how many women said they did not comment because they didn’t know who would want to hear what they had to say.

Consider these examples:

  • I often write a comment … and then don’t post it because I figure I’m not an expert so I doubt my two cents is actually worth anything.
  • I generally feel that my words could come across wrong or are not useful as I often speak bluntly.
  • I tend to not comment because I always catch myself with “why would my opinion matter?
  • Much like [another commenter] I often wonder why my opinion would even matter, which I know is a little weird considering I don’t have that thought about the comments of others.

While I don’t believe gender differences completely explain this viewpoint, research has shown women are less likely to exhibit boldness than men.

What the Research Shows

According to a commonly cited internal report from Hewlett Packard from the 2010s: “Women…applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.” Further studies showed that women didn’t lack confidence in themselves as much as confidence in the system being willing to hire them if they didn’t meet every qualification.

Men have also been shown to be bolder in dating apps, initiating more contacts than women, not by double but four times the number of messages. Certainly some of this is cultural, in that men tend to initiate relationships more often, but it still indicates a bias toward men just going for what they want.

And then there’s the study showing that at meetings where both men and women attend, women speak 25% less than men. Moreover: “Participants who held the floor for a greater percentage of the group’s deliberation were more likely to be seen as influential by the other members of the group. Thus the active use of voice translates into greater perceived influence, as we expected.” Even more discouraging, perhaps, was the researchers’ conclusion that women fare better in homogeneous groups, meaning all women.

So are we ladies really supposed to exist in a world where we only express ourselves fully when in the company of women?

What Are We Missing?

Look, I’m a big fan of gathering into all-female groups at times. I co-host a podcast with that framework, Sex Chat for Christian Wives. I also have a higher-drive wife group on Facebook, comprised exclusively of women whose libidos are higher than their husbands. And when I speak, I primarily teach women’s groups.

However, I’m really bothered that some of us gals don’t feel like our opinions, our beliefs, our desires are worth expressing, even in mixed company.

And I’ve seen this play out with wives in the bedroom, who have sadly absorbed the message that their sexuality and/or sexual pleasure doesn’t matter as much as their husbands’. When nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet, we have promoted this belief in our culture, both Christian and secular, by talking much more often about the male sex drive, by telling wives their role is to meet their husband’s sexual needs, by presuming that male sex arousal is the sexual cycle for all people (see our “Women’s Sexual Response” episode), and by using scriptures about the mutuality of sexual intimacy to argue that a wife can never say no.

Instead, I want to say unequivocally right now to all of you wives out there: You matter.

The Importance of Women and Their Words

What you feel, what you think, what you believe … is important. What you want, what you need, what you dream about … is valuable. Who you are … is precious.

Just ponder these verses:

  • Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26
  • See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16a
  • Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7
  • 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 in a society that discounted a woman’s testimony as unreliable in court, our Lord Jesus appeared first to women, making them the initial eyewitnesses to His resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). What a message about how He values the words of women!

What This Means about Your Bedroom

I often feel in my ministry as if I’m balancing two disparate concepts I want wives to understand about their sexual intimacy:

  1. We must lovingly care for our spouse’s sexuality.
  2. We must speak up for what we need and desire.

Some might say it’s a weaving selflessness and selfishness in the marriage bed. But I think of it as other-focus and self-awareness—an approach that values both of you as equally worthwhile partners in intimacy.

Do you discount your sexual desires? Do you tend to believe his pleasure or climax matters more than your own? Do you hesitate to speak up for yourself and what you want? Do you lack boldness in your bedroom?

Maybe it’s time, or well past time, to value your opinions, express yourself, and create more mutual conversation and sexual intimacy in your marriage.

And hey, comment more here! I’d love to hear what you gals think.

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Sources: Harvard Business Review – Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified; Forbes – Act Now To Shrink The Confidence Gap; Forbes – The Confidence Gap In Men And Women: Why It Matters And How To Overcome It; The Daily Free Press – Men’s online dating habits more bold than women’s, study finds; Enterpreneur – Head Into Your Next Male-Dominated Meeting Ready to Contribute by Following These Tips; American Political Science Review – Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation