I recently attended the Love & Respect conference by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, who has his doctorate in Child and Family Ecology. His book, Love & Respect, introduces the idea that in a marriage, women are motivated by love and men are motivated by respect. This idea, he explained during the conference, is based on the biblical command in Ephesians 5:33 that says “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (ESV).” Dr. Eggerichs explains that by disobeying this command we activate the Crazy Cycle in our marriage: “without love she reacts without respect and without respect he reacts without love”. He elaborated that although we all need love and respect in our relationships, the primary need for men is respect and for women is love. He presented differences in perspectives using colors: men see the relationship through blue lenses and women through pink lenses…”neither is wrong, just different” he says.
It’s a simple enough idea, and assuming you agree with it and you and your partner are on the same page, the question arises, how do we practically apply it? Shouldn’t he start loving me more and then I’ll respond with respect? After reading some reviews on the book, I realized that a few men and women were offended by his simplistic explanation of what makes marriage work. Their interpretation of his idea became, “I’m supposed to respect my husband even though he doesn’t deserve it so then I can get the love I’m yearning for?” or “I’m supposed to love my wife even though she doesn’t deserve it to get the respect I’m yearning for?” Dr. Eggerichs was very strategic during the conference addressing the possible skeptics in the audience, wondering how this could be applied to their marriage. He explained that it takes one mature person to step up and break the crazy cycle. Mature people understand that they are in control of their reactions and responses to others. They can choose to be kind, loving and respectful. I could already imagine the skeptics challenging that statement with, “but he or she makes me be unloving or disrespectful!” According to Dr. Eggerichs, that would be a response coming from an immature person. To be honest, I understand the skeptics. It’s nice to read an idea on paper about how fulfilling our roles in marriage will create this Energizing Cycle described by Dr. Eggerichs as “His Love motivates Her Respect,” but reality is much more complex. Individuals who lack boundaries or present with maladaptive ways of relating to others (in a dysfunctional or abusive marriage, for example) may need to address other primary issues before venturing into this love and respect journey. It’s important to be wise and to know when enough is enough. Clearly, Dr. Eggerichs is not encouraging a woman being abused to respect her husband in the midst of it and to merely be a doormat for more abuse. His strategies should be applied once the abusive or maladaptive behaviors has been dealt with.
For those couples who are ready to apply his methods, the obstacles that keep this type of intervention from working could be a past hurt that hasn’t been healed, trust that has been broken, a heart that is too tired to try again or even hope for change. It takes faith to decide to expose oneself and show love and respect to the other person without knowing what will result. It also requires a forgiving heart to give someone something they haven’t earned or deserve. Throughout the conference I felt like a pendulum, agreeing on one end and disagreeing on another. It was as if the worldview and the Godly view were at war within me. Wanting to believe that God’s plan for marriage is a perfect one but knowing that even in this perfect plan there are challenges. Is it all worth it? I truly believe that God has placed our spouses in our lives to re-create or redeem us into the versions of ourselves that God intended…in other words, to become more like Christ.
It’s very difficult to address all marriages because they are all different and complex. We can’t assign the same formula to every marriage and expect the same result. There are couples that are ready to start trying something new to better their marriages, and there are those who have already given up hope. Are you struggling but still wanting to work things out, or are you so wounded that you have no energy to even consider things could get better? Although reading books on marriage can be extremely helpful, it can be even more beneficial to have a counselor look into your relationship and facilitate a healthy dialogue to help begin the healing process in both of you. Once healing comes, you both will be strengthened and encouraged to show one another the forgiveness, love and respect that marriage was designed to display.