“Wives respect your husband” (Ephesians 5:33) is one of the primary commands for wives. Read or listen to this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to learn what it looks like for a wife to respect and disrespect her husband.
Table of Contents
- FOUR WAYS WIVES CAN RESPECT THEIR HUSBAND
- FOUR WAYS WIVES CAN DISRESPECT THEIR HUSBAND
- MEN LIVE UP TO THEIR WIFE’S RESPECT OR DOWN TO THEIR WIFE’S DISRESPECT
- WIVES RESPECT YOUR HUSBAND BY ADAPTING TO HIM
- EMBRACING YOUR HUSBAND’S VISION
- A PORTRAIT OF LOVE WITHOUT RESPECT
- MAKE LOVING AND RESPECTING EASIER
During a counseling session, as I was helping a couple who struggled a lot with fighting, the wife had an epiphany. Most couples enjoy working together, but these two always ended up disagreeing with each other. The husband explained that nothing he did was ever good enough for his wife. She always countered him with a better way to do things, and she picked apart all his decisions. She was genuinely confused about her husband’s frustration because she thought she was simply trying to be helpful. It wasn’t until this session that she realized her husband found her “helpful” suggestions to be disrespectful.
Though a wife might believe she has good intentions in mind, if a husband feels she is being disrespectful, that creates a big problem for two reasons. First, a husband craves his wife’s respect. Second, Scripture not only commands that a wife submit to her husband, it urges her to respect him as well.
In Ephesians 5:25-32, the apostle Paul described in detail what it means for a husband to love his wife as himself, as discussed in the previous chapter. One might then expect the passage to end with parallel 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: “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).
Why the difference? First, this does not mean that men don’t want to be loved. When we discussed phileo earlier, we reviewed this command in Titus 2:3-4: “Older women…admonish the young women to love their husbands.” Ephesians 5:33 also doesn’t say that wives don’t want to be respected. First Peter 3:7 says, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to [them].” Honor is synonymous with respect. In fact, the NIV Bible translates 1 Peter 3:7 as saying “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 don’t 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 express their frustrations about their husbands, often they say, “I don’t feel like my husband loves me. I wish he loved me more. He never tells me he loves me.” But when husbands express frustration, usually they say, “I wish my wife respected me more. I wish she would follow my lead. I wish she supported my decisions.”
In truth, it’s 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—the very fact Scripture calls a wife to respect her husband confirms this. If a wife doesn’t show respect, her husband won’t 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.
Modern research supports the biblical instruction on this topic. Marriage expert Dr. Emerson Eggerichs shares some important statistics about husbands and wives in his popular book Love and Respect. In one survey, 400 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.”Emerson Eggerichs, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 36.
Another survey asked 7,000 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.”Eggerichs, Love and Respect, 160
This reveals that during marriage conflicts, husbands often react because they feel disrespected and wives often react because they feel unloved.
FOUR WAYS WIVES CAN RESPECT THEIR HUSBAND
How does a wife convey respect to her husband? Here is a basic checklist of what respect looks like to a man.
First, admire him
A wife respects her husband by admiring him, looking up to him, and holding him in high regard. In the Amplified Bible, Ephesians 5:33 reads, “Let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].”
Second, be trustworthy
Proverbs 31:11 says of the virtuous wife, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” A husband feels respected when he can trust his wife. When he is away, she acts in a manner that would please him just as though he were present. He’s sure that she won’t hide anything from him. Conversely, when a wife is untrustworthy, she communicates that she doesn’t respect her husband’s headship.
Third, be protective
A wife respects her husband by protecting his name and reputation. She doesn’t slander him or complain about him behind his back. With the prevalence of social media, a wife’s criticism of her husband can be more damaging than when she gossips to her friends. With a single click, hundreds of people can become aware of the wife’s accusations against her husband.
When our church gathers, because I’m typically trying to focus on ministering to people, I’m not able to be with Katie very often. Other than the associate pastor and me, I think she’s the most sought-after person in our church, especially by women. I feel very blessed that I never have to worry about what she says or how she acts when I’m not with her.
Proverbs 31:23 says of the virtuous wife, “Her husband is [respected] in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” Why is there a verse praising a husband in a passage that is all about a virtuous woman? How is his position a credit to her? This husband would not be respected and sitting among the elders if his wife’s behavior caused others to lose respect for him. There are husbands who find it challenging to achieve respect in their circles because their wives slander and diminish them and damage their reputation behind their backs.
Fourth, be appreciative
A wife respects her husband by expressing appreciation for how hard he works to care for his family and by considering the sacrifices he makes to be a good father and husband. Few attitudes communicate respect more than thankfulness, and few attitudes communicate disrespect more than ingratitude. This leads us to the next point.
FOUR WAYS WIVES CAN DISRESPECT THEIR HUSBAND
Conversely, no matter how much a wife might profess her love, certain attitudes communicate disrespect to her husband.
First, be discontent
When a wife routinely expresses frustration with her life, home, family, or possessions, inevitably she will end up disrespecting her husband. A discontented wife makes her husband feel like a failure because he is the one—at least in her eyes—who is not providing well enough to keep her content.
Katie and I have always been a single-income family. When we married, I was a schoolteacher, and then I became a pastor. We have nine children, and while God has always provided, our lives are far from glamorous. Yet if you were to listen to Katie, you would think we’re well off. She has committed to being content. Like love, contentment is also a choice. The same goes for discontentment.
Second, use disparaging speech and body language
A wife disrespects her husband when she
- talks down to him or treats him like a little boy who is in trouble
- interrupts or talks over him
- rolls her eyes, huffs and puffs, or wags her finger at him
Even worse is when such disparaging speech and actions extend to others, such as telling friends “a funny story” about a husband’s inability to do something or how many times it took him to fix something.
This reminds me of a sad situation I witnessed. A man enthusiastically started sharing a story with a group of people. Those listening were enjoying what he had to say. His wife arrived, rolled her eyes, interrupted him, and said, “Let me tell you what really happened.” The man was visibly embarrassed. Oddly enough, her account wasn’t much different than his. I’m not sure what reason she had to interrupt him other than to make him look bad and draw attention to herself. When a wife treats her husband this way in public, you must wonder how much worse things are in the privacy of their home.
Third, frequently second-guess him
Even when a wife thinks she is respecting her husband, she sends the opposite message when she second-guesses everything he says, offers all the reasons he is wrong, constantly corrects him, or undermines him when he makes decisions. From her perspective, she might be trying to help, but in reality, her actions communicate, “I don’t trust you. You don’t know what you’re doing. I could do this better.” Sometimes the words “I’m just trying to help” don’t help.
Fourth, badmouth him to the kids
One of the worst ways a wife can disrespect her husband is by belittling him in front of their children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a wife disagreeing with her husband, but there is a right and a wrong way to do this. Disagreements between a husband and wife should be thoughtfully communicated and resolved in private. When a wife tells the children “I wish your dad would…,” or “It’s too bad your dad doesn’t…,” or “I can’t believe your dad…,” it diminishes him in their eyes. When a wife corrects her husband in front of the children—or worse, slanders him—she destroys his credibility and ability to lead the home. Instead, a wife should strive to instill her children with a good opinion of their father.
MEN LIVE UP TO THEIR WIFE’S RESPECT OR DOWN TO THEIR WIFE’S DISRESPECT
As a wife looks for her husband’s best qualities, focuses on his strengths, speaks well of him to others, and praises him to their children, she will find her respect for him growing. Conversely, if a wife speaks badly about her husband to others—whether they be friends, neighbors, or the children—she will find her respect for him diminishing.
Katie thinks too highly of me. I am not the man she thinks I am. I am far from the father and husband that she tells our children and others I am. But I want to be that man. I want to live up to her praise. Yes, primarily I want to please the Lord, but secondarily, I want my wife to think well of me. I desire her respect and I want to be the man that she treats me as though I am. If Katie were to belittle or slander me, I doubt that I would be motivated to give my best.
Most men have no problem living up or down to the bar their wives set for them. If a wife disrespects her husband and treats him like he’s a child, he’ll have no problem living down to that level. If a wife respects her husband and looks up to him, he’ll be eager to live up to that level.
WIVES RESPECT YOUR HUSBAND BY ADAPTING TO HIM
We will talk more about submission later in this book—for now, it is important to note that the biblical instruction for wives to submit to their husbands also includes the concept of adapting. This is captured in the Amplified Bible:
- Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands as [a service] to the Lord.”
- Colossians 3:18—“Wives, be subject to your husbands [subordinate and adapt yourselves to them], as is right and fitting and your proper duty in the Lord.”
- Titus 2:5—“[Wives should] be self-controlled, chaste, homemakers, good-natured (kindhearted), adapting and subordinating themselves to their husbands.”
- 1 Peter 3:1—“In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them].”
One of the most important ways for a wife to adapt to her husband is by learning what he finds respectful and disrespectful. After listening to hundreds of hours of my teaching, Katie often knows how I will answer questions and can even finish sentences for me. Because of this familiarity, she helps me know when not to say certain things. She will discreetly swipe her hand across the front of her neck, signaling, “Not a good idea.” Perhaps the most common criticism I have received in response to my preaching is that I talk too quickly. During a sermon, Katie will make a hand motion that lets me know to slow down. I find these actions helpful, but Katie has had other women tell her, “I can’t imagine doing that to my husband when he’s talking.” And I have had men ask me, “Doesn’t it bother you when your wife does that?”
At the same time, there are things other men might find helpful that Katie knows I find disrespectful. This is why it is so important for wives to get to know their husbands well; this is how a wife adapts. She learns what’s important to her husband and makes it important to her. Consider the following examples:
- Is your husband punctual? Work hard to be on time.
- Does he have to be up early and thus wants to be in bed by a certain time? Strive to be in bed with him by that time.
- Does it bother him when certain things are messy? Try to make sure these areas are tidy.
As my wife has shared with women: “Ladies, work hard to make your husband’s priorities your own and to put your priorities second. And when you adapt to him, do not make him feel stupid for the way he desires for things to be done.”
EMBRACING YOUR HUSBAND’S VISION
Scripture calls husbands to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. With that in mind, one of the best ways a wife can respect her husband is by embracing his vision for the family and doing what she can to see it fulfilled. You can do this by passing along his ideas and desires to the children. A wife who does this will have a husband who feels respected. A wife who mocks her husband about his wishes or desires will feel disrespected.
An interesting parallel to this in the military is the relationship between a platoon leader and platoon sergeant. Typically, a platoon leader is a brand-new junior officer. In contrast, the platoon sergeant may be a career soldier who is far more knowledgeable in many areas. Regardless, the platoon leader is the commanding officer responsible for developing the orders and vision for the platoon. The sergeant’s responsibility is to embrace the platoon leader’s plans and see that they are carried out. The relationship between leader and sergeant is not based on who is wiser or more experienced but on the chain of command. Still, a smart platoon leader will recognize his platoon sergeant’s experience and wisdom and seek his thoughts and counsel.
Similarly, a wife may have more experience and wisdom in some areas than her husband, but God has still appointed the husband to be the head of the family and He expects the wife to embrace his leadership. At the same time, a husband should recognize his wife’s wisdom and experience and seek her thoughts as he makes decisions and establishes the vision for the family.
A PORTRAIT OF LOVE WITHOUT RESPECT
There are plenty of men who feel 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 in the Bible from a wife toward a husband, Michal is also the only woman Scripture specifically mentioned 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— many of them did, but that’s not emphasized. Why is that? I admit I’m being a little speculative here, but I suspect it’s because—as we already discussed— the priority is for women to respect their husbands rather than love them. As a result, Scripture emphasizes a wife’s respect instead of her love. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is a case in point. We will read more about her in chapter 17, but for now, it’s worth noting that she is held up in the New Testament as an example for wives not because of her love, but 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 for her to serve as a positive example for women.
How was it that Michal showed disrespect to her husband? Soon after David became king of the nation of Israel, one of his top priorities was transporting the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the 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” (verse 16).
Michal thought David’s behavior was terribly unbecoming. Her father, Saul, was all about appearances, and he would never have acted this way. Perhaps this rubbed off on Michal so that she found David’s conduct to be below the dignity of a king. Plus, she was probably jealous of the maids who were watching David with admiration as he danced. Second Samuel 6:20 records her reaction:
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!”
Her words dripped with ridicule. King David arrived home eager to share his joy with his family, but Michal was so disgusted with him that she immediately belittled him. Picture a mother reprimanding a child. You can hear the scorn and disrespect in Michal’s words. Wives will want to ask themselves, “Am I like this? Do I pounce on my husband and ridicule him over something inconsequential? Do I make him feel like a little boy who is in trouble?”
Note that Michal was not the only one who handled this situation wrongly. David did not respond lovingly to his wife:
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” (verses 21-22).
David harshly pointed out that God chose him over Michal’s father. How do you think this made her feel? Then he added, “You think this is bad? I’ll act even worse than this!” The phrase “held in honor” in verse 22 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.” For David to point out other women’s feelings about him was prideful and insensitive. While I’m not at all defending the sinful actions of men who do this, how many husbands have been disrespected by their wives only to look to other women they believe will respect them?
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” (verse 23). I take this to mean that David no longer had sexual relations with Michal. I am not defending David’s actions. God clearly commands husbands to love their wives unconditionally, and David disobeyed. As is the case in most marriage conflicts, both spouses were at fault:
- It is sinful for wives to disrespect their husbands as Michal disrespected David.
- It is sinful for husbands to punish their wives as David punished Michal.
With that said, it is important to notice how dramatically this one event changed David’s relationship with Michal.
Consider what occurred only a few chapters earlier. When Saul became jealous of David, he took Michal and gave her to another man. Saul’s general, Abner, defected from Saul and wanted to join David: “Abner sent messengers on his behalf to David, saying, ‘Whose is the land?’ saying also, ‘Make your covenant with me, and indeed my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel to you’” (2 Samuel 3:12). David wasn’t king over all of Israel yet, but Abner said he would help fix that. That was a wonderful offer, considering all the years David had waited to become king. Of course David would respond in the positive, but David told Abner he could join him under only one condition: “David said, ‘Good, I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you: you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face’” (verse 13).
David wanted nothing to do with Michal at the end of 2 Samuel 6, but only a few chapters earlier, he made every effort to be reunited with her. Once Michal disrespected David so drastically, his attitude toward her changed just as drastically. He now resented her. His 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. That is not a right response, 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 biblical account of what happened between them is 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 had disrespected him.
A Husband’s Love and a Wife’s Respect Are Not Optional
In the previous chapter, we discussed how a 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 about being the supreme relationship in her husband’s life is her reality, so, too, is a husband’s perception about being respected his reality.
We also looked at how husbands are commanded to love their wives even when they don’t feel like it. A husband’s love should not be conditional. The same is true about a wife’s respect. It should not be conditional. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband” without including the word if. Just as husbands are commanded to love their wives when they don’t feel like it, wives are commanded to respect their husbands when they don’t 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. You have the recipe for a miserable marriage when each spouse’s obedience is not conditional on his or her love for Christ, but rather, on the other spouse’s behavior. Only when two people are equally committed to obeying God’s commands unconditionally because of their commitments to Christ will a marriage experience the health and joy God desires for it.
MAKE LOVING AND RESPECTING EASIER
Even though a husband is commanded to love his wife, a wife can make it easier for him to love her. Some wives are more lovable than others. Consider the following passages:
- “Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Proverbs 21:9; see also 25:24).
- “Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman” (Proverbs 21:19).
These verses describe women whom even the godliest man would have trouble loving. They act in ways that a man would rather sit on the corner of a rooftop and experience terrible weather, or be in the wilderness surrounded by wild animals. Some husbands say, “I want to love my wife, but she makes it so difficult. If only you had any idea of how she acts!” Wife, make it easier for your husband to obey God’s command to love you by being lovable.
Similarly, even though a wife is commanded to respect her husband, a husband ought to do what he can to make it easier to respect him. Earlier I shared about how difficult it was for Katie to respect me when I got caught up with playing World of Warcraft. I don’t intend to pry into your home when I say this, but if you are doing something that causes your wife to lose respect for you, you should determine whether you need to remove it from your life or do it in greater moderation. What could be worth more than your wife’s respect?
Some wives say, “I want to look up to my husband and respect him, but he makes it so difficult for me. If only you knew how he acts!” A wife finds it difficult to respect her husband when he doesn’t work hard to take care of his family, mistreats their children, or looks at things he should rip his eyes away from. Part of being a loving husband is being a man who is pure, holy, and seeks to earn his wife’s respect. Husband, make it easier for your wife to obey God’s command to respect you by being respectable.
To make loving your wife and respecting your husband easier, keep in mind that God is for you. He wants your marriage to be a joy and blessing. After all, not only has He given you commands for your good, He also helps you to obey them. As you strive to love your spouse, you can be encouraged that “[God’s] divine power has given to [you] all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Because your marriage is such a big part of life and godliness, how confident and encouraged can you be that God will empower you to obey these commands!