Everybody I know in a relationship – those who are dating, those engaged to be married, and those who are married want one thing – a good relationship with their partner built on love and trust.

Yet, because every person is different, with different wiring, a different past, and different experiences, everybody in a relationship has problems relating to the other person at some point – no matter how much in love they are.

However, despite the diversity among people, there are two common denominators that you need to know about that will make an enormous difference in your relationship.  

Women need to feel and be shown love while men need to know they are respected.  

Despite the many other differences between people and between men and women, this may be the most important.  The bible identifies these two common denominators as the ultimate keys to healthy relationship building. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, identifies these two components to a healthy marriage.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs wrote a book in 2004 by this title: Love & Respect. He has developed many follow up tools since this original book (DVDs, seminars, other books), but this book speaks to the heart of relational issues. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of this book for further reading on this topic.

But here we are going to touch on the basics of how important love and respect are in a relationship, especially marriage, for the purpose of giving you a new perspective that will help you have a better and more satisfying relationship or marriage.

I think we can all agree that anxiety, tension and put - downs are never good for anybody’s self - esteem and are only damaging to any relationship.

But what if I told you there was a little secret to helping both the husband and wife feel better about themselves. And when people feel better about themselves, they naturally make their relationships better.  In other words, doing one thing can help the husband, the wife and the marriage! And there is a bonus to this as well. When husbands and wives live in harmony with one another, it also puts them a step closer to having an authentic relationship with God.  

And while this is an important part of the context of the passage from which this scripture verse comes from, we will focus primarily on the horizontal dimension of this – the human relationship between the husband and wife. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband - Ephesians 5:33

Every day we are building up our relationships or tearing them down.  If we are sowing anger, mistrust, disrespect and dishonor, we are going to reap a dysfunctional or destructive relationship.

However, if we sow love, honor and respect, we are going to reap happiness, joy and peace in our relationships and marriages.

The following are thoughts taken from the book Love & Respect.

•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.” [p. 16] As long as one waits for the other to start, the marriage will continue to spin out of control in a destructive direction.
•Eggerich states that it took him awhile to understand the relationship between love and respect, but this is what he saw from observing many marriages: “When a husband feels disrespected, it is especially hard to love his wife.  When a wife feels unloved, it is especially hard to respect her husband.” [p. 16]
•When husbands feel disrespected, he has a natural tendency to react in ways that feel unloving to his wife. When a wife feels unloved, she has a natural tendency to react in ways that feel disrespectful to her husband [p. 16]

WITHOUT LOVE, SHE REACTS WITHOUT RESPECT WITHOUT RESPECT, HE REACTS WITHOUT LOVE

It is not as though women don’t need to be respected or men don’t need to be loved.  

Women do need to feel respected, but it isn’t what they need most.  It isn’t what primarily drives them or gives them a sense of well - being and purpose. Men need to be loved, but what they need even more is to be respected by their wives.

When men do unloving things, they under mind the security of the love that their wives need most.  And when wives make under cutting remarks that make their husbands feel belittled, they are keeping from their husband what is most precious to them. Rarely do you hear a wife talk about needing “more respect” from her husband.  You usually hear just the opposite that she needs more reassurances of his “love.”  And rarely do you hear a husband question whether his wife loves him, but rather you hear him talking about his need to be respected more.

As Eggerichs talks about, when wives aren’t feeling loved, her natural inclination is to complain and criticize her husband, thinking this will motivate him to become more loving. And when husbands are feeling disrespected, they tend to act in very unloving ways. Do you see how this cycle works?  The more a man is respected, the more love he is empowered to give.  And the more a wife feels loved, the more empowered she is to give respect to her husband.

In the original language in which Ephesians 5:33 was written, the word Paul uses for love here is the word agape.

This is the Greek word for “unconditional love.” In other words, regardless of how a husband is treated, he is to show his wife unconditional love. But as we have already learned, it makes it a whole lot easier for a husband to do this when he is respected.

Now, in our culture, the message has been stated for years: LOVE IS TO BE UNCONDITIONAL – BUT RESPECT MUST BE EARNED!

This is a saying that doesn’t just apply to marriage in our society. Rather this is an underlying message that seems to apply to everyone.  And while it seems correct, it actually is counter - productive. It really should be, “Love is unconditional. Respect is unconditional. Trust must be earned.”

Certainly when it comes to marriage, respect is to be given – not earned. 1 Peter 3:1-2 tell wives to respect [some versions use the word submission] their husbands. These husbands were either of poor character or unbelievers. These were guys who didn’t earn the respect of their wives. But this is the point – to show respect even when it isn’t deserved. This same principle applies when we as followers of Christ are called to forgive someone who has hurt us. Even more so, you can understand why God is commanding wives to respect, even husbands who haven’t earned it, because this is the heart of God. God has given to us His Son when we didn’t deserve it. He has forgiven us when we haven’t deserved it. God is big on being graceful. God is about being generous, even to those who don’t deserve it.

The principle that is laid out for us in Ephesians 5:33 works both ways. Neither the husband nor the wife can cry “unfair!” Wives are to unconditionally respect their husbands even when they don’t deserve it and give it when they don’t feel like it.   

Husbands are to show unconditional love even when their wives haven’t earned it and when they don’t feel like being loving.

The key to improving our relationships and marriages is to not just act on what we are feeling, but rather to put into play greater principles and values. When we live and act upon these higher principles of unconditional love and unconditional respect, we will reap a transformation of our marriages. To do this means that we value God’s wisdom more than our own.  To live like this means we don’t just act on feelings and do what feels good; but rather we rely on God’s power to help us show love and respect when we could not otherwise do it on our own.

One of the practical ways this plays out in our lives when we commit to living this way is that we will do less judging of the other person’s motives. In other words, when the husband does act unloving toward his wife, his wife will know that it is not his intention to be unloving. She will recognize and be able to separate his unloving acts or words from his heart. Deep down she will know he loves her. This will help keep her from nagging, being critical and complaining, thus leading them back into a cycle of a lack of love and respect. This will empower to give him what he most needs.

The same will be true for the husband. When his wife says or acts disrespectful toward him, he will give her the benefit of the doubt. He won’t just jump to the conclusion that she doesn’t like him or wants to tear him down. Rather he will separate her behavior or words from her heart. He will be able to rest easier knowing that deep down she does respect him. This will empower him, despite hurt feelings, to continue to love her – to continue to give her what she most needs.

One final thought.  Because we are human, we aren’t always going to be at the top of our game. Even LeBron James or Tom Brady have an off-night. Our relationships are going to have “off-nights.”  We are going to go through peaks and valleys... good and bad times... fun and stressful times. We aren’t always going to feel like giving love and respect.  We are going to miss the mark, even when our motives are totally pure.  

Sometimes we are going to be misunderstood. But if we will be committed to loving our wives and wives will be committed to respecting their husbands, the overall level of our relationships and marriages will dramatically change altitudes for the better!

Written by: Jack Guyler
Source: Love & Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs