Love and Respect Make or Break your Marriage

I used to think that what my husband needed most was my love. After all, that is what I most feel I need the most from him. However, I found that what he needs most is something different. Of course, he needs love. Yet, the most strongly felt need for a man is for respect.

It’s No Secret. God Spells It Out For Us.

God knew that men would gravitate toward respect and women would gravitate toward love. After all, He designed us! This doesn’t mean that men don’t need love and women don’t need respect. It just means that one is our most powerful motivator.  He makes this clear in a passage summarizing God’s commands to husbands and wives:

Ephesians 5:33

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Our Preferences Show This is True

According to Shaunti Feldhahn’s research presented in For Women Onlyhundreds of men responded to the following question:

“Think about what these two negative experiences would be like: to feel alone and unloved in the world OR to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone. If you were forced to choose one, which would you prefer?” (p.23).

While women would more often prefer to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone if forced to choose, 3 out of 4 men would prefer to feel alone and unloved.

We Duke it Out for Our Greatest Needs

Research regarding conflict affirms that what God has said plays out in real life. We are usually willing to fight for the things that matter most to us. When husbands and wives are in conflict, men tend to respond most strongly when they feel disrespected, and women tend to respond most strongly when they feel unloved.

Ironically, what often happens is the worst thing that could. The wife is craving love, but when she doesn’t feel it, she responds disrespectfully. This is so upsetting to the husband that he responds even more unlovingly. Vice Versa, the husband is craving respect, but when he feels disrespected, he responds unlovingly. The wife feels this poignantly and responds even more disrespectfully. It is a vicious cycle!

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs researched this concept. 7,000 people responded to the following question: “When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?”

The Results?

83% of the men said “disrespected” and 72% of the women said “unloved.”

Make Or Break It

Stanley, Trathen, McCain, and Bryan wrote a marriage-defining book based on solid, empirical research into what makes marriages thrive and what makes marriages fail. Written as a practical marriage guide from a Christian counselor’s perspective, it was the book our pre-marriage counselor heavily encouraged us to study together: “A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage.

According to the research results you can find in the book, the Four Key Patterns That Destroy Oneness (Chapter 2) can be related this concept of men being most motivated by respect and women being most motivated by love. These are four patterns during conflict between husbands and wives that extremely damaging to the marriage.

1. Escalation: What Goes Around Comes Around

Escalation is when negative comments spiral into heightening frustration and increasing anger. This can easily be seen when men feel disrespected and act unlovingly. The wife feels that and responds more disrespectfully. If both continue to get more heated, more and more hurtful things will come out of their mouths that sap the lifeblood out of their marriage

2. Invalidation: Painful Put-Downs

A Lasting Promise defines this as “a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of another.” Since men and women are wired specifically slightly more toward respect or love, it can be easy for a man to not exactly know when something they are doing could make their wife feel unloved. Vice versa, it is an ongoing series of surprises for me as I seek to figure out what makes my husband feel disrespected. I’m just not wired to recognize disrespect in so many ways.

So, let’s imagine a wife feels unloved. Feeling wounded, she invalidates her husband with phrases like

  • “You just don’t love me!”
  • “Why don’t you love me?”
  • “I thought you loved me!”

Consider how much that could cut a man to the core based on this:

In Shaunti Feldhahn’s research in For Women Only, she asked men “What is the one thing that you wish your wife/significant other knew, but you feel you can’t explain to her or tell her?” The top response by far was: “How much I love her” (pp. 178-179).

3. Negative Interpretations: When Perception is Worse Than Reality

When one partner believes the other partner’s motives are more negative than they are, it can destroy a marriage. One aspect of this is mind-reading. This is when one spouse assumes they know what the other person is thinking or why they did something (p. 38).

Since we often interpret other people based on our own perceptions of the world, it might be easy for a man, so attuned to feel disrespect, to think that his wife is disrespecting him on purpose. In reality, she has no clue that she disrespected him, but he believes she did it on purpose. Just imagine how destructive this kind of mind reading can be by either the husband or the wife!

4. Withdrawl and Avoidance: Hide and Seek

According to A Lasting Promise, this is when “one partner shows an unwillingness to get into or stay with important discussions,” which can look like them getting up and leaving the argument, fighting it off with a snappy comeback, getting quiet, looking away, or agreeing quickly without planning to follow-through (p 40).

Sometimes men, fearing the disrespect that seems to tear them down, avoid hard discussions with their wives. In the past, they have felt disrespecting during hard discussions, so they avoid them altogether. Their wives pursue and they retreat all the more.

Sometimes women, remembering raised voices of their husbands and unloving words or tones behind words, despise the idea of hard discussions. They retreat in some way, getting quiet or agreeing and not following through. The husband feels more disrespected and pursues them, pursuing the relationship. They retreat all the more.

All of these Utterly Destroy a Marriage

Love and respect have a role to play in each of these marriage-destroying factors. Understanding it better and learning how to communicate your care to a spouse in a way they can hear is critical. It is even more critical during conflict.

Strengthen Your Marriage

Everything you can do to communicate love to your wife/respect to your husband will bulwark your marriage for the long haul. Find out what communicates love to your wife/respect to your husband. Find out and do it. Find out what communicates hate to your wife/disrespect to your husband. Find out and stop doing it. It’s as hard and simple as that.

For More On This Topic:

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Curious about how love and respect apply to your children?

They totally do! Of course, not every spouse or every child will fit the mold of female desiring love more and male desiring respect more. I have female friends for whom respect is more important, and know of men for whom love is more important. However, since the majority of boys need respect more and the majority of girls need love more, you can seek to consistently apply the same concepts with your children and find out if they are helpful. If you have sons young or grown, hands down, you’ve got to read: Mother & Son: The Respect Effect. It might just be life changing for your relationship with your sons.

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