“Can a wife love her husband without respecting him?”
This is a good question to understand, because many people don’t think there’s a difference between a wife loving her husband and respecting him. This leaves many women thinking they respect their husbands, while the husbands are feeling disrespected.
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To learn how wives can love their husbands without respecting them, watch the message I delivered at a Marriage God’s Way Conference, and/or read the blog post below…
Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5:33
In Ephesians 5:25–32, the apostle Paul described in detail what it means for a husband to love his wife as himself. One might then expect the passage to end with similar instructions to the wife: “Let each one of you in particular love his own wife as himself, and let the wife love her own husband as herself.” Instead, Paul commanded wives to respect their husbands.
Husbands Still Want to Be Loved
This is not to say that men do not want to be loved:
Older women…admonish the young women to love their husbands.Titus 2:3-4
Wives Still Want to Be Respected
I am also not saying that wives do not want to be respected:
Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to [them].1 Peter 3:7
Honor is synonymous with respect. In fact, the NIV translates 1 Peter 3:7 as “treat them with respect.” Thus, it is important for wives to be respected, and it is important for husbands to be loved. But of the two—love and respect—respect is more important to husbands, and love is more important to wives:
- Husbands want to be loved, but they want to be respected even more.
- Wives want to be respected, but they want to be loved even more.
Consider how most wives covet their husbands’ expressions of love, such as cards, phone calls, e-mails, or flowers. Though husbands might appreciate such gestures, what they desire more is their wives’ respect. I do not need my wife to buy me flowers, call me during the day and tell me she loves me, or write me poetry. I might appreciate these things, but what I need is her respect.
In marriage counseling, when I hear wives expressing their frustrations about their husbands, it typically sounds like this: “I don’t feel that my husband loves me. I wish my husband loved me more. He never tells me he loves me.” But when husbands express frustration, it more often sounds like this: “I wish my wife respected me more. I wish my wife followed my lead. I wish my wife supported my decisions.”
In truth, it is much easier for a wife to say she loves her husband than to show it through respect. But it is through respect that a wife expresses her love for her husband. If a wife does not show respect, her husband will not feel loved. A good perspective for couples to keep in mind is that feeling unloved is as painful to a wife as feeling disrespected is to a husband.
The Research Behind a Wife Respecting Her Husband
Modern research supports biblical instruction on this topic. Marriage expert Dr. Emerson Eggerichs shares some interesting statistics about husbands and wives in his well-known book, Love and Respect. In one survey, four hundred men were asked:
“If you were forced to choose, would you prefer to feel alone and unloved or disrespected and inadequate?”
Seventy-four percent responded that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate. When Dr. Eggerichs conducted the same survey with women, a similar percentage of women responded that they would rather feel disrespected and inadequate than alone and unloved. Dr. Eggerichs sums up his findings:
“[A wife] needs love just as she needs air to breathe, [and a husband] needs respect just as he needs air to breathe.”Dr. Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. “About Us.” Love & Respect Ministries.
Another survey asked seven thousand people: “When you are in a conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” Eighty-three percent of husbands responded with “disrespected.” Seventy-two percent of wives responded with “unloved.” This reveals that during marriage conflicts husbands often react because they feel disrespected and wives often react because they feel unloved.
A Portrait of Love Without Respect
Plenty of men are walking around feeling loved by their wives but not respected by them. Scripture provides a perfect picture of a woman who loved her husband without respecting him: Saul’s daughter, Michal, the first wife of King David. Even though she was responsible for one of the strongest displays of disrespect ever recorded from a wife toward a husband, Michal is also the only woman Scripture specifically mentions as loving her husband:
Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.1 Samuel 18:20
This is not to say other women in Scripture did not love their husbands. I am sure many of them did—but it is not emphasized. Why is that?
I admit I am being a little speculative here. Perhaps it is because—as we have already discussed—the priority is for women to respect their husbands rather than to love them. As a result, Scripture emphasizes a wife’s respect more than her love. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is a case in point. She is held up as an example for wives, not because of her love but because of her submission and respect.
This also reveals why Michal, even though she is the one wife in Scripture said to love her husband, is not praised. The disrespect she showed David ruined any potential of her being a positive example for women. We find her conduct toward David in 2 Samuel 6.
Soon after David became king of the nation of Israel, one of his top priorities was transporting the ark of the covenant to his capital. The biblical account describes this as one of the most joyful moments of the new king’s life. As the procession entered Jerusalem:
David danced before the Lord with all his might.2 Samuel 6:14
Unfortunately, Michal did not share her husband’s joy.:
Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.2 Samuel 6:16
Michal thought David’s behavior was terribly unbecoming. Her father, Saul, was all about appearances, and he would never act this way. Perhaps this had rubbed off on Michal, so she found David’s behavior far below the dignity of a king:
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”2 Samuel 6:20
King David arrived home eager to share his joy with his family, but Michal was so disgusted with him that she could not even wait until he got inside. Picture a mother coming out to reprimand a child. You can hear the scorn and disrespect in her words. Wives might ask themselves: “Am I like this?
- “Do I pounce on my husband when he does something wrong?”
- “Do I ridicule him over something inconsequential?”
- “Do I make him feel like a little boy who is in trouble?”
Just to be clear, Michal was not the only one wrong in this situation. David did not respond lovingly to his wife:
So David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”2 Samuel 6:21-22
David harshly pointed out that God chose him over Michal’s father and then added: “You think this is bad? I’ll act even worse than this!” The phrase “held in honor” may be the clearest and simplest definition of respect in the Bible. David told Michal: “You might not respect me, but there are plenty of other women who do.” Pointing out other women’s feelings was prideful and insensitive.
Disrespect Can Change a Husband’s Feelings Toward His Wife
This encounter between David and Michal does not end happily:
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.2 Samuel 6:23
I take this to mean that David no longer had sexual relations with Michal. I am not defending David’s actions. Husbands are supposed to love their wives unconditionally, and David definitely did not do that. As is the case in most marriage conflicts, both spouses were at fault:
- It is sinful for husbands to punish their wives as David punished Michal.
- It is sinful for wives to disrespect their husbands as Michal disrespected David.
With that said, it is important to notice how dramatically this one event changed David’s relationship with Michal. Only a few chapters earlier, he made every effort to be reunited with his wife (2 Samuel 3:13–14). This reveals how much David previously longed to be with Michal. But once Michal disrespected David so drastically, his attitude toward her changed drastically. He now resented her. It was not the right response, but it was the reality.
It is no different today. When husbands are strongly disrespected by their wives, they become resentful and distance themselves from them. It is not right, but it is a common fruit of disrespect. If not dealt with, the result may be a destroyed relationship such as that between David and Michal.
The account between David and Michal is very instructive:
- It gives wives an example of how not to treat their husbands.
- It gives husbands an example of how not to respond to their wives.
- It illustrates that wives loving their husbands is not the same as respecting them. Perhaps Michal still loved David at this point, but we can be sure that he did not feel loved because of the way she disrespected him.
Respect Is Not an Option for Wives
A husband must make his wife must feel supreme. It is not about what the husband thinks or says but about how the wife feels. Similarly, a husband must feel respected. It is not about what the wife thinks or says but about how the husband feels. Just as a wife’s perception regarding being the supreme relationship in her husband’s life is her reality, so too is a husband’s perception regarding being respected his reality.
Husbands are commanded to love their wives even when they do not feel like it. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands love your wives . . .” without containing the word “if.” The same is true for wives. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband” without containing the word “if.” Just as husbands are to love their wives when they do not feel like it, wives are to respect their husbands when they do not feel like it. As much as wives want their husbands to love them unconditionally, husbands want their wives to respect them unconditionally.
The moment any marriage becomes conditional with a husband saying, “I am not going to love my wife because she . . .” or a wife saying, “I am not going to respect my husband because he . . .” the marriage suffers. When each spouse’s obedience is not conditional on his or her love for Christ but rather on the other spouse’s behavior, this is the recipe for a miserable marriage. Only when two people are equally committed to obeying God’s commands unconditionally will a marriage experience the health and joy God desires for it.
Discussion Questions for the Comments Section
- Do you think a wife can love her husband without respecting him?
- Can you think of any other examples of respectful or disrespectful wives in Scripture?
- Do you feel your wife pounces on you when you do something wrong like Michal did with David? Why or why not?
- Describe a time you felt your wife responded appropriately when you did something wrong.
- In what ways have you punished your wife when she has disrespected you like David did with Michal?
- Have your feelings toward your wife changed because of her disrespect? If the answer is yes, describe the disrespect. Then confess your sin of not loving your wife unconditionally and ask for her forgiveness.
- In what ways do you feel your husband has punished you when you have disrespected him like David did with Michal?
- Do you feel you pounce on your husband when he does something wrong like Michal did with David? Why or why not?
- If your husband feels you pounce on him when he does something wrong, how can you handle things in the future, so he doesn’t feel this way?
- Do you feel like your husband’s feelings toward you have changed because of your disrespect? If the answer is yes, describe the disrespect. Then confess your sin of disrespecting your husband and ask for his forgiveness.