Don’t we all love how the words unconditional love sound? Who doesn’t want to know that someone will love them, despite their failures, flaws, and shortcomings, without an “if you do this” attached? I’d hate to think what the world would be like if our most valuable human relationships, especially marriage, were based on conditional love.
But when it comes to respect, most of us think of it as an attitude towards someone that is earned. I’ve even heard it said that “love is unconditional, but respect must be earned.” I think we all understand the sentiment of that phrase, and I would imagine that the majority of us agree with it to a point.
Yet God, in His wisdom, is so countercultural when it comes to marriage. Rather than give us permission to care for one another conditionally, He instructs husbands to love unconditionally (and we all cheer for that) and we as wives to respect unconditionally (did you cringe?). Sound hard?
Instructions from the Lord
Our instructions are simple in Ephesians 5:33:
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband also.
No conditions permit the husband to be unloving to his wife, and nothing is given that would permit the wife to disrespect her husband. Regardless of a man’s faults, mistakes, bad habits, or even hurtful choices, we are called to respect him if he is our husband. Respect is so vital to a man!
Unconditional Respect in Action
So what exactly does this unconditional respect look like? Does it mean that we enthusiastically agree with everything our husbands say or do, even if inside we differ strongly? Does it mean that we pretend to not have an opinion when a decision has to be made? If something is said or done that hurts us, do we just smile and ignore our hurt?
I don’t believe that God is calling us to do those things as wives when He calls us to respect our husbands. Just like our pastor friend told Jesse and me before we were engaged that love is a choice, we, as wives, need to have the mindset that respect is a choice that we can make to build up, rather than tear down, our marriages. Our feelings may change depending on circumstances, but we can work to have consistently respectful words and actions towards our husbands at all times.
For example, my husband and I may be in a disagreement about the way a certain parenting situation was handled at home. I see things one way, and he has a differing view. Respecting him during a discussion doesn’t mean that I drop my perspective and just agree with his view. We can absolutely have an honest discussion! However, I can show him respect, even if we disagree for the moment, by listening to and validating his point of view, not interrupting, and not putting down his perspective.
What if a decision has to be made and you both have different opinions on what the best choice is? Again, we can talk with our husbands and share our views. We may have some disagreements regarding the situation. In the end, if my husband and I have to make a decision, and he chooses something that I don’t think is right, I can still choose to be respectful. I can keep my disapproval to myself after the decision is made, especially in front of our children and others. I can work with him regarding the situation without grumbling. And if time goes by and it’s proven that he made the wrong choice, I can support him and encourage him rather than point out that my choice would have been better. God knows that if he were to decide something based on my preference and it failed, the last thing I would want to hear is an “I told you so.”
How about thanking him for his efforts and areas of strength? All of our husbands have areas that can be improved (just like we, as wives, have many areas of weakness!), and it can be easy to fall into the habit of focusing on those weak areas. For example, let’s say my husband has a terrible habit of forgetting our birthdays and anniversary (he doesn’t, by the way), but he always remembers to fix things around our house. Wouldn’t our marriage be helped if I thanked him for doing those tasks, even though I’d rather he remember the other days? I believe so! If I then approach him about working on remembering the special days after making it a priority to thank him for his other efforts, we are more likely to have a successful discussion.
Is it always going to be easy? No, of course not! Will it automatically make you feel happier in your marriage? Not necessarily. But I’ve always loved the main idea in Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage (affiliate link) : What if God intended marriage, not primarily to make us happy, but primarily to make us holy? Choosing respect in our marriage is a way for God to refine us!
Tough Marriage Situations
I fully realize that some of you reading may be in an incredibly hard spot in your marriage. You may be married to an unbeliever. Your husband may have a sinful habit in his life that is very destructive to your home. Your finances may be in a complete wreck because of poor choices on his part.
If I could encourage you, continue to still look for areas where you can show respect to your husband, but also consider looking for outside help if needed. Counseling with a solid pastor or Biblical marriage counselor may help you work through more serious challenges while still keeping a heart of respect.
Now how about you? Have you ever thought of respect in marriage as being unconditional?