Love and Respect in the Face of Male and Female Differences

Based on scripture’s command in Ephesians 5:33 for the husband to love his wife and for the wife to respect her husband, Sarah and I have found two challenges.

One, to follow this command unconditionally means we are to love and respect each other even during our male and female differences.

Two, not only are we to love each other when these male and female differences between us are highlighted, but we are to also love and respect these male and female differences themselves as part of God’s beautiful design. I would like for you to comment on this from your own experience. But let me provide a fuller explanation.

Love and Respect in the Face of Male and Female Differences

As for the first challenge, if you are like Sarah and me, who have been married since 1973, you don’t always recognize the male and female difference at the moment of conflict. For example, according to a wealth of research, generally speaking a wife and mother is more risk-averse than the husband and father. Specifically when it comes to the children, a woman would rather be safe than sorry. Thus, she informs her husband that the dirt-bike ramp he is building for their son isn’t a good idea. Of course, this husband’s first impulse is to feel she is saying, “You are putting our son in harm’s way. You are a bad dad. You are wrong.”

This leads him to become defensive. Because he is not recognizing that his wife’s fear stems not out of disrespect for him but out of a motherly protective love for their son, his first impulse is not, “Oh, how can I be a loving and respectful husband as my wife tells me I don’t care about the safety of my son?”

The Two-Edged Sword of Love and Respect: Virtue And Vice

Have you ever told someone the oft-used phrase that “two wrongs don’t make a right”? If you have kids you no doubt have. When big brother pushes little sister and she charges at him in response, knocking him over backward, both get in trouble with mom and dad because “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

And it’s true: Never in the history of sibling rivalries, sports, war, politics, or any other area have conflicts been appropriately resolved after the initial victim retaliated with his or her own dose of medicine.

Yet in marriage we attempt to right wrongs with additional wrongs all the time.

And it never works. Ever.

In Ephesians 5:33, God’s Word commands husbands that “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Notice the double usage of the word must, and the complete absence of the word if. . . as in “if he loves you first,” or “if he is respectable,” or “if she respects you first,” or “if she is lovable.”

What Does It Mean When a Blue Man Is Feeling Pink?

In my writings and conferences on Love and Respect, I like to use the analogy that men and women are as different as pink is from blue. Women look at the world through pink sunglasses, hear through pink hearing aids, and speak through a pink megaphone; while men do it all with blue.

Which basically means a man and a woman can hear the exact same sentence and interpret it in completely different ways, or even say the exact same thing but mean completely different things with their words.

What Does it Mean When a Blue Man is Feeling Pink?

For example, when a pink woman says she has nothing to wear, she means she has nothing new to wear. But when her husband says he has nothing to wear, he means he has nothing clean to wear. “I have nothing to wear”—the same five words, yet with two completely different meanings. As different as pink is from blue.

And these differences are okay! As I like to also say, they’re not wrong, just different. Because in Genesis, the Scriptures say that God created us “male and female” (5:2), not as one unisex being with little to no differences.

Does Unconditional Respect Equal Becoming a Doormat?

One of the questions I hear the most is some variation of, Are you telling me I have to unconditionally respect my husband’s bad behavior and become a door mat?   Everyone knows respect must be earned!

Interestingly, in our culture we don’t have a problem understanding unconditional love… in fact, we see unconditional love as the right of every human being. Imagine expecting our children to “earn” our love!  We would disapprove of such parenting.  Most of us have no problem separating the person from their behavior when it comes to love.  Love the person, hate the sin.  Right?

Does Unconditional Respect Equal Becoming a Doormat?

But mention unconditional respect and some women go through the roof!  Immediately, visions of weak, dependent women flood their minds – along with the inevitable label – DOOR MAT.  Or, they must enter the room with a cheerleading outfit on, waving their pompoms in worshipful adoration of their husbands who are watching Sports Center.

So is this what Christ had in mind for married women?  Not at all!  Let’s take a look at what the Word of God has to say about unconditional respect.

His Need for Sexual Intimacy—Not Wrong, Just Different

If there were ever an issue that isn’t really the issue, it is sex. But boy can it become an issue, can’t it? And yet, it’s rarely, if ever, the issue. Allow me to explain.

Sex is a shared act, between husband and wife, as an expression of love to each other. God created sex not only as the means for multiplication but as a gift of pleasure to enjoy within the boundaries of marriage. Sex was meant to be a wonderful experience for both husband and wife.

His Need for Sexual Intimacy— Not Wrong, Just Different

And yet, as I explain in Love & Respect, sexuality does not show up in C.O.U.P.L.E., the six ways a husband shows love to his wife: Closeness, Openness, Understanding, Peacemaking, Loyalty, and Esteem. All of those expressions of love certainly can result in sexual intimacy, but for her they do not have to. She most desires from her husband his emotional closeness, his honest openness, his willingness to simply listen and understand her . . . and so forth. But sex isn’t on the list of her deepest needs from her husband. Having said this, when a husband acts on C.O.U.P.L.E. in an authentic way, a wife desires sex with him! To arouse her sexually, his focus must not be sexual, if you get what I mean.

His Responsibility Scale and Her Relationship Scale

A wife emails, “We began to have our usual discussion about his mom when the subject of priorities came up. This time it was linked to how each of us prioritized life. In short, he prioritizes on a scale of several things: task at hand, commitments, immediacy or emergency, etc. I prioritize based on relationships: a pecking order or hierarchy. This seemed odd to him, as his way seemed odd to me. But the more we talked, the more I thought this might be an instance of “pink” versus “blue”—neither one is wrong, just different.

His Responsibility Scale and Her Relationship Scale

She then asks, “How does each one prioritize things/relationships in life, and how do each work within that structure, if you will? And how do those views affect the marriage relationship?”

Stereotypical Gender Differences, or a Ring of Truth?

Let’s say you and your spouse were faced with an unexpected expenditure that needed to be paid, like a $5,000 car expense due to a major problem with the engine.

This expense overwhelmed and shocked both of you, becoming a problem you had to deal with together, as the two of you decided long ago that decisions on major expenses would best be handled together.

Stereotypical Gender Differences, or a Ring of Truth?

Finding $5,000 to fix the car would mean rearranging some assets, almost like you had to rob Peter to pay Paul. For instance, one obvious possible solution would be to take $5,000 from a savings account that you had established to pay for Christian schooling the following year when your daughter would excitedly enter first grade. But using this money to pay for the unexpected car expenses would put Christian schooling in jeopardy.

As a conscientious and responsible husband and wife with goodwill, how would you initially come at this problem you both had?

Does Galatians 3:28 Do Away with Male and Female Distinctions?

In Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Does this word from the apostle do away with male and female differences, such as those that for years I have distinguished as “pink and blue” and “not wrong, just different”? After all, Paul said there is neither male nor female.

What else could he have meant, some have asked, if not that there are no distinctions between male and female?

Does Galatians 3:28 Do Away with Male and Female Distinctions?

Well, first, Paul also said in that verse, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man.” Did he mean that a Jew was no longer a Jew, and if this Jew wished to be a Greek, he could become a Gentile? Could a slave cease being a slave and become a free man simply from wishing it to be true? Of course not. Paul isn’t even hinting at that, nor have even the most liberal scholars suggested that.

A Wife Finally Understands Why Her Husband Kept Misinterpreting Her

I was once talking with another man about his marriage, and he shared with me that whenever he and his wife would get into a fight, she would get “historical.” Curious at his choice of words, I asked him if he meant “hysterical.” He replied, “No, historical. She keeps dredging everything up from the past.”

A Wife Finally Understands Why Her Husband Kept Misinterpreting Her

The truth is, when upset, a wife can get both historical and hysterical. At that moment the husband does not hear what is no doubt his wife’s heart message, “I am feeling unloved and need reassurance of your love.” Instead, he hears, “I do not respect you.” He misinterprets why she is giving him a history lesson of what he did wrong that hurt her. In response, instead of soliciting empathy and an “I’m sorry,” he goes on the defensive because he feels she is saying, “Here is proof again that you are an inadequate husband and human being, and I could never respect you.”

Love and Respect Is a Daily Practice, Not a One-Time Fix

One day I received the following message from a husband that encouraged me greatly, as do so many letters I receive from people who have discovered the Love and respect message:

The reason we came to the conference was because my pastor found out that I had filed for divorce. And he asked if I would go see you. I was so bitter at this point, I told my pastor that I would apply it in my next marriage. He said, “Okay, I’ll pay for the weekend. Just go!” And I really thought nothing you would say could change my mind. It was the most eye-opening weekend of my life. [My wife] and I both wanted the divorce but we really had no good reason, just unhappy. Your conference turned on all kinds of light bulbs for both of us. And it saved our marriage. Emerson, God is using you in a big way. I just wanted to say thank you.

If only this couple had taken to heart Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12, which says, “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Love and Respect is a Daily Practice, Not a One-Time Fix

Because quite sadly, several weeks later this couple got in a major conflict and divorced. After the divorce, he admitted how wrong and foolish he had been. Like this couple, people can receive the insights from the Love and Respect conference, and experience an incredible healing, but just that quickly, re-enter their destructive paths.

That is why I try to warn people that though optimism can surge when you apply the Love and Respect message, they should get ready for a period where things go flat.

How to Solve Disagreements about Spending Money

Have you heard the joke that says, “A man will pay two dollars for an item he needs that is only worth a dollar, whereas a woman will pay a dollar for an item she doesn’t need that is worth two dollars but is on sale”?  

Is that always true? Of course not.

But people laugh at this because they have heard many women in their lives justifying a purchase because “it was on sale!”

On the other hand, while men tend not to do as much shopping as women (though there are exceptions), when they feel they have to have something, they will typically pay more to get it right then and there.

How to Solve Disagreements about Spending Money

Naturally, between husbands and wives, disagreements arise when each finds out what the other did. He asks with emotion, “You did what? You bought something that you didn’t need?” And she firmly states, “What a rip-off! I can’t believe you paid what you did for that thing!”

But each has a reasonable explanation for spending what they did, when they did it, on what they spent it on.

How Do You Define “Healthy” When It Comes to Relationships?

Have you ever noticed how people seem to have different interpretations of or responses to the word “healthy” as they apply it to different things? Every parent loves to hear the news of their “healthy” baby just born and laid in their arms. But they are certainly under no illusion that their child will never be sick. Yes, their “healthy” child will more than likely even end back up in a hospital again one day from being so sick.

Or a “healthy” savings account or 401(k) always lights up the eyes of a hard worker longing for the days of vacation, home renovation, or retirement. But as most people have learned in today’s roller coaster market, there is no guarantee that tomorrow’s balance will be quite as “healthy.” But does that mean we pull all our money out and stash it under our mattress? No, we leave it alone, with faith that the days ahead will once again be “healthy.” And of course they usually are.

How Do You Define “Healthy” When It Comes to Relationships?

But in marriage, we tend to too often define a “healthy” relationship as one that is very lovey-dovey and romantically giddy. We hold hands while walking around the neighborhood—we’re in a healthy relationship. She is filling well his need for sexual intimacy; he is fulfilling just as well her need for emotional intimacy—they’re clearly in a healthy relationship. He brings her home flowers; she stays up watching Monday Night Football with him—life couldn’t be better; they must be in a healthy relationship.

Who Is He Married to Today—Wonder Woman or Cinderella?

Much has been written and discussed about the “Proverbs 31 woman.” This oracle taught by the king’s mother describes quite the strong woman.

  •      She “works with willing hands” (v. 13).
  •      She “considers a field and buys it” (v. 16).
  •      She “dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (v. 17).
  •      She “opens her mouth with wisdom” (v. 26).

Two books later is the Song of Solomon, which reflects on the more intimate aspects of a woman.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. . . . Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. . . . You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. (Song of Solomon 4)

Who Is He Married to Today—Wonder Woman or Cinderella?

What these beautiful passages tell us is that women are more than capable of being Wonder Woman—strong, wise, independent, a skilled entrepreneur—and yet they also desire to be adored like Cinderella for the feminine beauty God created her as. And I would venture to guess that most husbands agree. They view their wives as strong and beautiful. Wise and precious. Fully capable and incredibly sexy. Wonder Woman and Cinderella.

He’s a Problem-Solver, She’s an Empathy-Giver—Neither Wrong, Just Different

Have you noticed that everyday problems and burdens cannot typically be shared, discussed, and dealt with between you and your spouse in the same way that you have handled similar situations all your life with your same-sex friends or siblings?

For example, a wife comes to her husband with a problem she faces. His first instinct is to try and solve her problem, just as he would with another man who comes to him with a problem. He kicks into solution mode. Most men operate analytically. This is the way he helps his guy friends, who probably say something to him in response like, “I should have come to you weeks ago. Thanks.” They truly appreciate his recommended solution.

However, when he tries to solve his wife’s problem, she will say to him, “I just need you to listen to me and stop trying to fix me.” He is taken back. He is trying to help. Can’t she see that? Instead of words of appreciation such as those he hears from his buddies, he hears her words to mean, “You are an insensitive, unloving jerk.” He feels disrespected, so he pulls back and disengages. He no longer has any interest in understanding and empathizing.

He’s a Problem-Solver, She’s an Empathy-Giver—Neither Wrong, Just Different

She can tell he has turned cold and leaves the room crying. Later, she tells him not to touch her. He withdraws in anger. They are now on the Crazy Cycle: without respect he reacts without love and without love she reacts without respect.

Why does the Crazy Cycle Happen? Speculation versus Facts

Why does the Crazy Cycle happen? Oftentimes, it is because either one or both marriage partners are letting speculation drive their responses instead of facts.

I recall a commercial wherein a wife is informed that her husband is flirting with a woman at the jewelry store. The scene moves forward with the wife coming down the street toward the jewelry store with a rolling pin in hand and a growing crowd marching behind to watch her catch him red-handed. As she enters the store, she observes her smiling husband purchasing a diamond for her. The other female is the clerk behind the counter. This husband was innocent, but the warring wife did not have the facts. Sketchy or misconstrued information is dangerous.

Why does the Crazy Cycle Happen? Speculation versus Facts

We must be careful not to react based on sketchy or misconstrued information. The Bible is very clear that facts must be the basis of evaluation. All of the facts. 

In marriage it is too easy to negatively react based on inadequate or misinterpreted information.

All of us know firsthand how upsetting it is when our spouse jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts. This pains us immensely. We feel disrespected. Unloved. Not trusted. We end up walking on egg shells so as to try avoiding further misunderstandings.