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.”

Though it is one verse, Ephesians 5:33 contains two separate, independent commands: 1) The husband must love his wife. 2) The wife must respect her husband. They are not conditional on the other.

And yet we try to make them that way sometimes, don’t we?

A wife’s virtue is that she has love in her heart for her husband already. This is why nowhere in Scripture do we find a command for a wife to love (agape) her husband—she does it naturally. And God is not in the business of commanding things that we need no conditioning in. So she loves her husband unconditionally already and needs his love in return.

However, he does not love his wife as naturally as she does him. That’s why God’s Word takes the time to command it of him. And oftentimes he will fail to show love to her in a way that she correctly interprets it as love. This is where his blue megaphone and her pink hearing aids clash in communication. So at these times, she is tempted to use disrespect toward her husband to both defend her love for him and demand love from him. We might say her virtue turns into a vice.

Put another way, she feels he is in the wrong because she is not feeling his love for her in the moment. Therefore, though she cannot turn off her love for him—because it’s inside her naturally—she chooses to correct his “wrong” with her own “wrong”—that of withholding respect.

A husband’s virtue is that he has honor in his heart as a man. Respect is the language he speaks and places the most emphasis on. Therefore at all times he needs his wife’s respect. He does not doubt she loves him, even in conflict, but he questions at times whether she likes him or respects him as the husband, father, and leader he strives to be.

However, she does not view respect in the same way he does. That is why God’s Word is purposeful about commanding her to respect him. And oftentimes she will fail to show respect to him in a way that he interprets as such. This is where her pink megaphone and his blue hearing aids clash in communication. In these times of questioning her respect for him, he is tempted to be unloving toward his wife in order to both defend his honor and demand respect from her. His virtue becomes a vice.

Put another way, he feels she is in the wrong because he is not feeling respected by her in the moment. Therefore, though he has honor in his heart for her at all times, he chooses to correct her “wrong” with his own “wrong”—that of withholding love.

The truth is, Love and Respect is a two-edged sword—and we don’t typically need training in learning how to wield it for our own selfish purposes. Though he may not naturally show his love to her in ways she wishes he would, he indeed knows how to withhold love in hopes that doing so will produce her respect. Though she may come up short in efforts to respect him, she certainly knows how to show disrespect in an effort to demand love from him.

But do these efforts ever work? Do two wrongs ever make a right? Can withholding love and respect actually produce love and respect?

Take a few moments to honestly answer the following questions and consider how you have wielded the two-edged sword of Love and Respect.

The Two Edge Sword of Love and Respect:

  1. When was a time that you felt your spouse was withholding love and respect from you in an effort to motivate you to love and respect better? Did it work? How did their actions make you feel? How did it actually motivate you?
  2. When was a time that you, feeling unloved or disrespected, intentionally withheld the love and respect you knew fueled your spouse in an effort to motivate them to love and respect you better? How did that work out? How was the conflict eventually resolved?
  3. How do we justify to ourselves, in the moment, our actions to withhold respect from someone who is not acting respectable or withhold love from someone who is behaving completely unlovable? Why do we tell ourselves doing so is the right choice in trying to motivate them to love and respect us?
  4. Can you recall a time when your spouse chose to obey Ephesians 5:33 unconditionally during a conflict, despite how unloving or disrespectful you were being at the time? How did his or her obedience to God’s command help remedy the conflict faster than it would have had they instead opted to try withholding love and respect? Would you share that with your spouse and thank him or her for choosing to love and respect unconditionally in that moment?

Dr. E


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