However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.-Paul’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus, 5:33
I am not going to talk about submission in Ephesians 5. It is an abused and willfully misunderstood concept and not nearly the most important part of the chapter as it relates to marriage; this verse, Ephesians 5:33, is the most telling and practical advice on marriage in the entire Bible. It is centered on two truths about men and women. Men need to be respected and women need to be loved.
Now, that’s a generalization, but one that tends to prove itself out with observation. And before I go any further with it, women also need and deserve respect and men need and deserve love, but that’s not what Paul is driving at, and he’s not necessarily talking about what we want, he’s talking about what drives us. ‘Experts’ used to say that women needed security and that men needed to provide, but that’s simply not the whole truth, it’s a reflection of what is. Plenty of women are perfectly willing to live with lack of financial security and risks if they are partnered up with a man who loves them. Thinking about the truth in Bon Jovi’s old song, “Living On a Prayer.” Enjoy the hair.
If women crave security, it’s the security of being loved.
And men don’t actually care about providing, they care about being good at it. Men like to accomplish things and earn respect, and it starts early. Why do so many boys play video games for so long? A man will risk everything on a small business venture because he wants to build something, something that will bring him respect; self-respect first, and then his wife’s.
At this point, far too many folks I know start complaining about their part in this concept. “Why do I need to bolster his stupid, male ego?” “Why should I try to make her feel loved all the time? Isn’t taking care of her and being present enough? That’s just needy nonsense!” But we forget that we as Christians live under a different base ethic. We are to love each other and treat each other as we want to be treated. Nix that. We need to treat each other as THEY want to be treated, because that’s how WE want to be treated. The key to the love and respect aspect of marriage is just this, treat your partner as they need/want to be treated. To behave lovingly to a woman is to make sure she knows you love her. To behave lovingly to a man is to make sure he knows you trust him and his decisions (respect). A few simple suggestions follow.
1. Husbands, find out what makes your wife tick. How will she know you love her?Is it flowers? Hugs? Poems? Chores? Then do it, don’t complain, don’t selfishly expect a ‘return’ on your investment, just do it. Not letting your wife know that you love her can cost you everything. Listen to some country music and understand what I mean.
2. Wives, encourage and be sincere, false encouragement is worse than none. Look for what he does well and tell him. Don’t take anything for granted and compliment his work ESPECIALLY in areas where he is not confident, like with the kids. Just try it and see what happens.
3. Husbands, stand up for your wife, compliment her in public, talk about how awesome she is and how lucky you are even when she is there. Be sincere in this, if you need to remind yourself of how blessed you are, do it. Especially to the kids, make sure they know that she is the apple of your eye and if they treat her badly, defend her. She feels loved and the kids learn something.
4. Wives: suggest, and be careful how you do it, ways he can improve at different things. Partner and help him get better in areas he wants to be better at and things he needs to be better at. Be careful, consistent criticism will cost you his love.
There’s a lot more I could say, but that’s a start.
The best books I can recommend are by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. They do great research and the books are funny and readable. The first two are, “For Women Only,” and, “For Men Only.” They wrote several others as well.
Also, John Eldredge has two books, one about men, “Wild at Heart” and one about women, “Captivating,” written with his wife, Stasi. They are quite good, but not specifically dealing with marriage, just gender and, in my opinion, a bit speculative.
Also, “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs which I found full of practical advice but seemed to emphasize the woman giving respect to get love which I found unbalanced and not fully within our central ethic.
Anyway, love each other, submit to each other and treat each other as you want to be treated. Husbands, let her know how much you love her. Wives, let him know how capable you think he is, how proud you are to be his partner. This is the best.
The two paintings are by Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edmund Blair-Leighton.