Should you have unconditional respect for your husband, as Emerson Eggerichs claims in the book Love & Respect?
I was overwhelmed by the response to my review of Love & Respect’s sex chapter yesterday. Many of you asked for my take on the whole book, and not just the sex chapter. So that’s what I’d like to give today.
You know, the super embarrassing thing is that I actually gave this book a 4-star review on Goodreads a few years ago. Didn’t even remember that, except a commenter mentioned it yesterday (I changed the review). I did skim the book when it first came out, and to be honest, I assumed it was good. It was a best seller; it was put out by Focus on the Family. It was sent to me in a huge package of books when I started speaking at marriage conferences. I trusted the Christian publishers. I trusted the conferences. But now I realize that we all need to use a little more discernment. So let’s do that today.
As I looked at the book anew, the subtitle on the cover itself jolted me: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs.
It’s saying that men need respect–desperately–whereas women merely desire love. Whether intended or not, right from the start, the man’s interests in marriage are elevated over the woman’s. This continues into how Eggerichs frames the book (from the first paragraph):
Even though the book is written for couples, Eggerichs explicitly states that the aim of the book is to teach the wife to change to respect her husband so that her husband will love her. Changing her behavior is his focus.
I have much I could say about how we should never act one way in marriage for the purpose of getting someone to do something else. That’s manipulation, and it’s wrong. I could also comment on his premise that women only really need love and men only really need respect. But I don’t have room to address everything today, so I’d like to focus just on the idea that women should be giving men unconditional respect.
Again, I do know that many people have read this book and found it helpful. Likely it reminded them that they should be thinking about what their spouse needed, and stop being so selfish. That’s always a good thing to learn. However, there are enough underlying problems with the book that I’d like people to reconsider it. While I already talked about my problems with how Love & Respect portrays sex, I’m also troubled by its take on respect.
How does Eggerichs define respect?
He doesn’t, actually. In the whole book, he never gives any succinct definition of respect. So let’s build up a definition using the illustrations and teachings that Love & Respect gives.
First, Eggerichs teaches that respect in marriage means allowing him to make the decisions.
He says love and respect are not the same thing; you respect your boss, for instance, but you don’t love your boss. (68). So the way we treat our boss is analagous to the way we should treat our husbands–we should do what they say.
Though he never defines respect, he does tell us what respect feels like to a husband. To do so, Love & Respect uses the acronym CHAIRS:
- Conquest (appreciate his need to work and achieve)
- Hierarchy (appreciate his desire to protect and provide
- Authority (appreciate his desire to serve and to lead)
- Insight (appreciate his desire to analyze and counsel
- Relationship (appreciate his desire for shoulder-to-shoulder friendship)
- Sexuality (appreciate his desire for sexual intimacy)
A big part of respect, then, is recognizing that your husband is in authority over you.
“How should a wife act if she strongly disagrees with her husband about some issue? 1 Timothy 2:12 has some advice. Paul writes, “I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet.” (220)
You must allow him to make decisions and trust his intuition, rather than your own. Indeed, we have to do this for our own good, because women are far more easily deceived than men. The Serpent deceived Eve, and then Eve went and got Adam and gave him the fruit. (230).
Eggerichs completely misrepresented the Genesis story here, by the way, since the Bible clearly says that Adam was with Eve the whole time:
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6).
But nevertheless, Eggerichs feels that husbands are uniquely called to be responsible for the family, and thus we must allow them to make the decisions and defer to them, especially since we cannot trust ourselves.
Second, you respect your husband by giving them sexual release.
I talked about Love & Respect’s take on sex yesterday at great length. Men need physical release. They experience this as respect. If you don’t give it to them, they will be tempted to have affairs or to ogle other women.
Third, you respect someone by being quiet–no matter what
How you speak to your husband determines whether you are being respectful or not.
Look at these dichotomies Love & Respect sets up (these are just a few; throughout the book women are warned not to nag, scold, belittle, criticize, etc.):
“If you’re in a conflict and you remain respectful and quiet as you distance yourself a bit instead of preaching, lecturing or criticizing, what will he do?” (70)
“She can try to make personal adjustments and treat her husband respectfully according to what Scripture says, or she can continue with a sour look and a negative, disrespectful attitude.” (88)
So she’s either:
- preaching, lecturing, criticizing, giving a sour look, or having a negative attitude; or she’s
- treating her husband respectfully and remaining respectful and quiet.
Those are our only two options. And he uses expressions like “remaining respectful” or “speaking respectfully” throughout the book, over and over again, without ever explicitly explaining what they mean, as if that were just self-evident.
Now, maybe part of speaking respectfully is standing firm for what’s right, or refusing to enable sin, or expressing your concerns if you think he’s wrong. The only way we can know is to look at some stories and see what he instructs women to actually say. So let’s do that.
In the Appendix, Eggerichs helps a woman who is married to a workaholic deal with his hours away from home.
To influence him directly, respectfully say, “Your son (daughter, children) needs you at home more. You have a unique influence on him. In certain areas, nobody matters to him as much as you do. It may not appear that way to you, but your positive presence has the power to mold him. I know you are swamped and have little time, but I also know that you want to give him that part of you that no one else can give to him. Thanks.”
After delivering your “we need you at home more” message, don’t repeat it for anywhere from ten to twenty days. Then mention it again, quietly and positively with the general tone of “just a positive reminder because of your importance”….
Quietness shouts loudly. (316)
So in the Love & Respect world, “speaking respectfully” means that you may very briefly state what you want, but you must then be quiet for several weeks before you can repeat anything like that again. And speaking a few sentences every few weeks are the only tools you have at your disposal to address your husband’s issues.
How to Ask Your Husband for Help:
Fourth, you respect your husband by allowing him to do what he wants in your house.
There are instances when a woman may want something that is perfectly reasonable–something that, if a husband and children listened to her, would cause them to be less selfish, better people–something like not being slobs.
But in this case, it is better for a wife to continue to let her husband and sons be selfish than it is for her to allow them to “reap what they sow” and speak up about their selfishness and/or laziness.
We know this from Emerson Eggerichs’ own marriage, and I’m going to quote this story at length because it needs it. Speaking about his wife Sarah, Eggerichs writes:
As Sarah will readily admit, she recalls this time of tension between us and realizes that she had grown very negative, trying to change everyone to conform to her standards, particularly of neatness. She complained about every crumb on the counter, every shoe on the floor, every wet towel left on a bed, every candy wrapper that missed the wastebasket. She was trying to help all of us, especially me and my two sons, to realize we would be happier if we were neater and more organized. Frankly, it wasn’t working too well. (emphasis mine)
It so happened that Sarah decided to take a trip to another city to see her mother, and she took along our daughter, Joy. I stayed home with our two sons, Jonathan and David. A week went by, and Sarah and Joy returned from their trip. When I picked them up at the airport, her first question was, “Well, how was your time?”
I replied, “Oh, it was good.”
“Did you miss me?” she wanted to know.
I couldn’t lie, so I said, “You know, we had a wonderful time. We just ate where we wanted to eat. We made forts when we wanted to make forts. We made the beds when we wanted to make the beds.”
Sarah got my message. She realized that we had made the beds for the first time that week just before coming to the airport. And she also realized that we hadn’t really missed her that much. Oh, we still loved her as wife and mother, but we hadn’t missed all the badgering and criticizing.
Right there Sarah made a choice that she would like me and our sons despite our sloppiness. (pages 242-243)
I am so overwhelmed by how horrid this story is that I barely have words. Eggerichs pays lip service to how husbands should love their wives, but here’s a perfect example of how he withholds love simply because she speaks up about not wanting wet towels on the bed.
The resolution to this issue? Once again, as it is with the vast majority of illustrations in the book, the wife decides to do what the husband wants, and stops wanting or expecting anything else.
Now, if he were using this illustration to say, “her tone was off and was very disrespectful, so once she spoke differently I felt respected, so I listened to her and instructed my boys to as well” that would be one thing. But the resolution here is not that she spoke in a different tone; it’s that she stopped speaking or asking for anything at all.
I don’t know this couple personally, and I can’t comment on their particular marriage. But I will say this: withholding love when your spouse makes reasonable requests of you, and then stating that making any reasonable request is a sign that you are disrespectful and thus means that you are being disobedient to God, is classic emotional abuse with a spiritual component. He is not describing a healthy marriage; he is describing an emotionally abusive one, and I don’t use that term lightly. This illustration is used as an example of HER disrespect. To me, when I read that story, all I can see is the husband’s blatant disrespect of the wife, and the husband empowering the sons to disrespect her as well. Indeed, her husband isn’t even supporting Sarah in trying to teach her sons crucial life skills! My son-in-law Connor’s response to this story was to say:
I feel so much sympathy for those kids, because twenty years later, they’re going to grow into the kind of men we won’t have sympathy for.
This example, along with many, many more, give the impression that if a wife ever speaks up about something that she doesn’t like her husband doing, she is being disrespectful and is thus going against God, no matter how in the right she is (wet towels on the bed are seriously horrible, people). In the Love & Respect world, a woman’s opinion, feelings, or even well-being no longer matter.
Finally, this respect must be unconditional–even if the husband is doing something really wrong.
“This is not about the husband deserving respect; it is about the wife being willing to treat her husband respectfully without conditions.” (18, emphasis mine)
“Obviously, wives can go on “winning the battles” by attacking, criticizing, or lecturing husbands who are drinking, straying, or whatever their problems may be, but they will eventually lose the war.” (88, emphasis mine)
So whether our husbands are having affairs or drinking excessively, we must always be quiet and respectful. He does say in some places that you don’t need to defer to a husband who sins terribly against you, but then he throws in lines like this which show that even in the case of adultery, we’re supposed to have unconditional respect. So his disclaimers ring hollow.
He uses the example of an abusive spouse to drill this lesson in:
Another wife who had suffered physical and verbal abuse from her husband (which I absolutely condemn as wicked and urge a wife to seek protection and help for) and had gone back to him after he repented, realized she had not completely forgiven him and certainly wasn’t showing him respect. After coming across our materials, she began showing him respect, mostly by remaining quiet and dignified instead of arguing. (278)
Now, anyone who knows anything about abuse knows that “repentance” is part of the abuse cycle and means nothing, in and of itself. A guy is abusive; he gets called on it and she sets up boundaries; then he apologizes, love bombs her, and convinces others that he never meant it and that he’s changed. So the relationship is restored, and he can now begin abusing her again.
This happens over and over again, until she finally says, “no more!”, or until she at least says “you must show me that you are safe by seeking counselling, taking responsibility for your actions, and acting appropriately for a very long time before we can consider resuming a relationship.” After there has been abuse, a man must show that he is trustworthy through his actions, not just his words. And this should be demonstrated over an extended period of time.
But that’s not what Eggerichs portrays. Instead, Eggerichs approvingly reports that the man repented and he’s back home!
Then the relationship improves–not because he stops abusing her, but because she stops reacting to his anger. She was to blame for the conflict in their marriage after all.
Unconditional respect doesn’t help a relationship; it hurts a relationship.
Some situations do not need for us to be “quiet”. They need us to pick up a whip of cords and turn over some money changers’ tables! But Eggerichs includes nothing from Ecclesiastes 3 about how there are times to speak up. He includes nothing from Proverbs about how to deal with fools or someone who is acting badly. It is as if he believes all of the advice in the Bible about how to handle those who are doing wrong does not matter if the person doing wrong is your husband.
And I find that highly problematic.
While unconditional love can involve standing up to these types of behaviours and enacting boundaries, unconditional respect, in Eggerichs’ conception of respect, cannot. I explained this problem in another post I wrote:
While you can unconditionally love someone but still offer “tough love”, there’s no equivalent for “tough respect”.
For instance, if your drug addicted sister comes to you and asks for $500, it’s showing her love to refuse. But how do you offer respect to someone addicted to porn, or with anger management issues? I’ve argued that respect cannot mean respecting what they do, but rather respecting their right to make their own choices, free of manipulation from you. However, that also means that you have a right to make your own choices in return.
Eggerichs, though, never gives women any of these choices–any room to draw any boundaries or stand up for what’s right.
A Better Way to Honour God in Your Marriage:
Instead, taken together, here’s how I would describe the Love & Respect model of a respectful wife:
She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her. When he is doing something really wrong that hurts the family and children, she remains quiet and speaks only briefly. She may mention what she is upset about once, but then she does not bring it up again for several weeks. This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. If he is angry or abusive, she is respectful by not speaking up when he has angry outbursts, but instead by remaining quiet. No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it.
Everything in this book shows women how to make sure they’re doing what their husbands want. And that, apparently, is how we please Jesus–by doing whatever our husbands want.
There is so much more I want to say, but perhaps I’ll just leave it at that, and come back tomorrow to talk about the real underlying flaw in marriage books like Love & Respect.
I’m seriously emotionally exhausted after reading all of this over the last few days and then writing it up. I look forward to your comments.
Other Posts in the Love and Respect Series:
I’ve received hundreds of comments over the last week about the harm Love & Respect did to people’s marriages.
I was going to post a whole bunch of them, but here’s just one, which I hope is helpful because it shows how a different way of seeing marriage actually helped.
Love & Respect was gifted to us as a wedding present by some elders in our church that we still love to this day. Our relationship was bad from the start, but I truly believed it was because I wasn’t dealing with situations right. I thought I just didn’t know how to speak his language. I finally picked up the book, and tried to work through it. It kept getting worse, and I kept thinking it was because the enemy was just fighting our marriage. My husband would get so angry and would be so relentless with his fighting, and as soon as I cried (like bawling my eyes eyes, yelling crying) he would finally stop. But it was like there was a release in him, a kind of peace that could only occur if I finally cried.
I couldn’t make it through the book. I even tried a different set of books by Emerson’s wife, but I never could make it through. Over and over and over I thought it was ME doing something wrong. If I just did this or did that or could speak a certain way, it could change everything.
I FINALLY heard God say to work on myself. I heard it before, but misinterpreted it to mean work on my part in the marriage. No, He meant literally don’t even think of my husband, work on me and my health and my relationship with Him. So I tried, but since I still had to deal with my husband every day, it was monumentally difficult.
I don’t remember how, but I finally found Sheila’s 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and Thought 5 just brought everything into clear, sharp focus. In that moment I was released from every ounce of guilt I’d built up over the years. I thought my marriage falling apart was my fault, I just couldn’t find the right combination of things. All the times I spent standing up for myself and my kids WEREN’T wrong. They were RIGHT. And the problem was my husband’s!
I won’t pretend I now believe I was perfect or above reproach. There are always things that can be better. But I can now see my HEART was always in the right place. I am not a typical abused wife. I never “submitted” to his abuse nor did I ever just let it happen. I stood my ground every time and put myself in between him and the kids whenever he got out of hand (he was not physical, but was angry and verbal and physically imposing). But I ALWAYS felt guilty afterwards. I beat myself up for not responding more kindly or respectfully. But I could not figure out how to be kind and respectful in those situations. The ideas in this book kept me in an unhealthy spiral for years. Sheila’s book set me free. It set off the most amazing journey over this last year. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever been through. THANK YOU!!
If you want a healthier way to act respectfully and lovingly in marriage, please see 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage instead.
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Since posting these reviews of Love and Respect, many people have asked me how they can share their concerns with their churches and community.
We created a report of the hundreds of comments we received (including good and bad reviews) which is available to download together with a sample letter to send to churches.
You can download both and send them to whoever you think needs to read them here: