Often, people will say that a husband should only be respected if he “earns” it. This attitude is precisely the problem. A wife ought to respect her husband because he is her husband, just as he ought to love and honor her because she is his wife. Your husband might “deserve” it when you mock him, berate him, belittle him, and nag him, but you don’t marry someone in order to give them what they deserve. In marriage, you give them what you’ve promised them, even when they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
This doesn’t mean that a man has a license to be lazy, or abusive, or uncaring. He is challenged to live up to the respect his wife affords him. If his wife parcels out her respect on some sort of reward system basis, the husband has nothing for which to strive. As the respect diminishes, so too does his motivation to behave respectably. Respect is wielded like a ransom against him, and he grows more isolated and distant all the while.
They both swirl in circles around the drain. He fails, so she gives him no respect, and then he continues to fail because he feels disrespected, and she continues to give him no respect because he continues to fail. And so on, and so on, and so on, all the way to the divorce attorney.
The same thing happens with love. If love is unconditional, then the light of love always shines in your marriage, even in its darkest times. But if your love is given in direct proportion to your spouse’s ability to “earn” it, then it will inevitably diminish and fade over time.
Love in a marriage is, as people often point out, a choice. But it’s also a duty. So is respect. I love my wife because I choose to love her. I choose to love her because that is the vow I made; it is my charge, my warrant. Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to love my wife because she’s kind, warmhearted, and beautiful. But if she becomes less kind, and I withdraw my love because of it, then my love was never love to begin with. It was just a pleasant feeling; a natural response to her nicer tendencies.
This is not to say that women should tolerate a man who fails in his duties, but that her intolerance for his failures can only be constructive if it is rooted in respect. Sadly, many women will approach their husbands and say: “You need to stop doing such and such or start doing such and such, because you’re a failure and I don’t respect you.”
She might not explicitly state this, but it is the message she implicitly sends. There is zero chance that this message will help to heal the damage; it only plunges another dagger into the already gaping wound.
A few months ago I wrote a post about pornography. I stand by every word I typed, but I feel like I could add another couple thousand sentences to the end of it. Ever since I published that piece, I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of men and
women on both sides of the porn problem.
Men emailed to tell me that they developed a porn habit and it did great damage to their marriage. But they told me that they resorted to porn after years of being disrespected, shunned and belittled by their wives. They weren’t making an excuse — only offering some perspective and context.
And hundreds of women told me that their husbands developed a porn habit and it caused them to lose all respect for them. This inability to respect their husbands nearly, or in some cases completely, wrecked their marriage.
A vicious cycle. The men didn’t want to fight for a marriage if they weren’t respected, and the women didn’t want to respect men who wouldn’t fight for their marriage. He withholds his love, she withholds her respect. They’ve both set fire to the thing that needs to be fixed.
Respect is our language. If it isn’t said with respect, we can’t hear it. This is why nagging is ineffective and self defeating. This is why statements made in sarcastic tones, or with rolling eyes, will never be received well. We have a filter in our brains, and a statement made in disrespect will be filtered out like the poison it is.
Men are notoriously reluctant to share feelings or display vulnerability. Many times, we keep those inner thoughts locked away — our feelings guarded and hidden — because we know we are not respected. A man will never be vulnerable to someone who doesn’t respect him. Never.
A man isn’t satisfied or content if he isn’t respected. If he can’t find respect where he is, he will seek it somewhere else. This can have disastrous implications for a relationship, but it applies in other areas of life as well. A man is much more likely to stay in a low paying job, a physically demanding job, a dangerous job, or a tedious job, than a job where he isn’t respected.
I’m only emphasizing this because I think it might actually be news to some people. Society does not permit men to be vocal about their need for respect, so the need is often ignored.
I could sit here all day adding “yes, but husbands also need to…” disclaimers. I won’t, because I’ve probably written a dozen or more times on that subject. Every once in a while, I think we should talk about what wives need to do. And here it is. This, above all else. Respect your husbands. Even when he doesn’t deserve it.