Your husband doesn’t have to earn your respect

Your husband doesn’t have to earn your respect.

I don’t agree with everything Matt says here. I find hyperbole in several of his supporting pillars, but I have struggled with this question for approximately two years (maybe longer). I admit it. And there have been times the vignette he opens with could have been me and my husband. I do find the pervasiveness of the  man-mocking meme curious.  I took my kiddo to a play that was culturally Indian last weekend. Even here, I found women joking about their lazy, good-for-nothing husbands.

I was raised by a strong woman, a feminist, in the deep South… where cultural norms and religious dictates often get confused. I grew up in a family whose tree looks tangled and confusing due to generations of rampant divorce. I don’t say this to shame my family. It just is, and I am daily learning new ways it has influenced the woman I am today.

More than a year ago, during a trying time in my marriage, I sought counsel from one of the ministers at my church. She encouraged me to give my husband respect. That challenge made my stomach turn. I had a visceral response of gut-wrenching “ugh.” This was becoming a more difficult conversation than I wanted it to be. I named the barriers to respect I faced. She named respect as a need for men. “He’s not __________! He’s _________! He doesn’t deserve my respect,” I said. I don’t even remember the specifics of my protest at this time, nor would I want to publish them if I did. Her response was something akin to, “What if you had to earn his love?”

At the time, I did feel like I was trying to earn his love. He wasn’t loving me well, and it was apparent in the level of conflict and dysfunction in our house. He was perpetually trying – and failing – to earn my respect, as I was trying – and failing – to earn his love. But this is not right. As a husband, he should not have to earn my respect. It should have already been established in the dating process. My pastor encouraged me to emulate God in my relationship to my husband. Lofty advice. It felt trite, and I protested so. I am not God. But I yield. Somehow the cycle of had to be broken. No more earning and demanding the other earn what we most needed. Offering him respect was one way I could begin to do something different. And it was and still is at times hard.

Single ladies… please…. Your respect for your man should be well-established prior to saying ‘I do.” Marriage is hard, and commitment takes work, but some of the major hurdles couples face can be circumvented if you can say you trust and respect your significant other wholly, and that he loves you well prior to saying “I do.” But what about those who are married already without this being well-established? Ladies, I am with you. This one’s hard. And all I can say is the result is well worth the cost. He needs your respect. And the deficit thereof can make coming home a painful, rather than joyful process. You want intimacy, yet your disrespect pushes him farther away and makes you an unsafe person for him to be vulnerable with. You have the power to change this. You can change the ugly cycle of demanding/earning. It will cost you, and it will bring peace and joy… and love.

Overall, I agree with what Matt Walsh writes in this particular post, but there are a few things he says and doesn’t say that I feel need to be addressed.  First, Matt speaks from a position of power that he may be unaware of. This is probably part of why he gets so much flack for opining about what women need to do in this manner. Perhaps the culture of disrespect towards men that Matt discusses is a backlash against the demands that men, in a position of power, have imposed on women for numerous years prior. I, on the other hand, may have more license to tell women what we are doing to harm our relationships simply because I am one.

I must argue with Matt when he writes,

“I’ve noticed that the corollary – a message about the respect women must give men, a message challenging wives and encouraging husbands – isn’t quite so palatable for many people” (emphasis mine).

Matt, to challenge a woman to respect her husband is one thing. To state that women at large must respect men at large is absurd and belies your presumed power and your ignorance of the barriers that prevent women from respecting all men. When I open above with the statement (which I copied from and linked back to Matt’s blog) that husbands do not need to earn their wives’ respect, I admit that while I believe this applies to all spousal arrangements, my intended audience here is those women who identify as Christians. This is a Biblical instruction, but not based on the way Matt cut-and-paste quotes Ephesians 5, which appears to rearrange the context. I am looking solely at Ephesians 5:32-33. Our marriages will mirror the ideal of Christ’s relationship with the Church when we live in love as we should. That looks like: Men – love your wives as you love yourself. Put away selfishness which will diminish your ability to love your wife. You promised her you would do this. Wives, respect your husband, because he needs it and your respect has more power to fuel and encourage him than any other human person in his life.

Peace be with you.