Unconditional Love vs. Unconditional Respect

FAQ: 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!

Dr. E says: When I talk about unconditional respect being equal to unconditional love in Ephesians 5:33, that’s one of the first things people say. Although the Bible treats respect the same as love – both are unconditional – most people have a hard time seeing it that way. So let’s look at what unconditional really means.

Unconditional Love vs. Unconditional Respect

Photo Credit: Daniel C. White

Unconditional Love

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.

And imagine if I were to say that a wife must earn her husband’s love. I’m quite sure I would be tarred and feathered by every woman around!

Well, I’m NOT saying that…and I think you get my point. Most of us have no problem separating the person from their behavior when it comes to love.

Love the person, hate the sin. Right?

Unconditional Respect

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.

So is this what Christ had in mind for married women?

Not at all!

When the Bible reveals that a wife is to respect her husband, it is shown in the same way a husband is to show love to his wife (Eph. 5:33). Both are unconditional.

Furthermore, in 1 Peter 3:1,2, Peter is clearly talking about unconditional respect towards a disobedient husband. He does not deserve respect. He has not earned respect. This isn’t about a wife feeling respect but showing respect. This isn’t about a wife being a doormat but being magnificently empowered to win a rebellious man. This disobedient husband was either a carnal Christian or an unbeliever.

Unconditional respect means we respectfully confront bad behavior.

When we choose to be disrespectful towards a disobedient person, we are choosing to go to their level. But disrespect never motivates anyone long term. That is as ineffective as a husband yelling, “No way am I going to love that woman until she starts respecting me!”

This is basically what we mean when we say “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” According to the Bible, it’s also “Respect the sinner. Hate the sin.”

What unconditional does not mean.

In a marriage, this is what unconditional does not mean:

  • Unconditional does not mean you remove all the healthy conditions that make a marriage succeed.
  • Unconditional does not mean you go along with bad behavior, giving another person license to do whatever he or she feels like doing.
  • Unconditional does not mean superficial praise.

Unconditional does mean that you give the person the gift of love and respect as you confront the issues. In other words, you recognize that a hostile and contemptuous attitude is ineffective in helping resolve the issues.

A husband may not deserve respect because he has not earned respect, but a wife’s disrespect for him is ineffective long-term—and not biblical.

A wife may not deserve love because she hasn’t earned love, but a husband’s harshness towards her is ineffective long-term – and not biblical.

Neither husband nor wife responds to a disrespectful and unloving attitude!

This is not about our worthiness.

Put it this way: this is about how we come across when addressing issues. This is not about our spouse’s worthiness.

Let me repeat that! This is not about our spouse’s worthiness.

Unconditional means NO CONDITION can arise that stops you from dealing with the situation in a loving or respectful manner. We might say your love or respect is UN-situational or UN-circumstantial. No situation, circumstance or condition in your marriage can CAUSE you to react in hostility or contempt.

  • No matter the conditions, God calls you to show love and respect to your spouse.
  • No matter the conditions, you have the freedom to choose a loving and respectful demeanor.
  • No matter the conditions, your spouse cannot stop you from loving and respecting.

In a strange way, this becomes incredibly freeing! My response is my responsibility…and not dependent on my spouse’s behavior.

Are you showing unconditional love and respect towards your spouse? This isn’t easy, but God never gives us a command He doesn’t equip us to obey! Humbly ask Him to help…and He will.


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9 thoughts on “Unconditional Love vs. Unconditional Respect

  1. Thanks for the wonderful teaching on marital relationships. As I read your comments I saw a metaphor in our rellationship with God. He loves us unconditionally. We can’t earn salvation. He gives it freely through His grace not because He is obligated. He wants a relationship with us so much because He loves us.

  2. Dr. Eggerich – thank you so much for your ministry. I only wish I had understood this principle a lot earlier in our 35 year marriage. I also am one of those wives who didn’t understand my husband’s feelings of disrespect. I was naturally showing ways I loved him but not ways I repsected him. I am so appreciative and thankful to have received your book from our precious daughter. It was a turning point in our marriage and in my life in general. I love that you write in easy to understand terms and language. This is the real stuff! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. Love is Respect.. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & ideas, much appreciated!!! Love is beautiful… Unconditional Love is absolutely amazing!!

  4. Accept all your partner has past and future, accept his or her background wether good or bad…..love him or her for what they become in life either poor or rich…..

  5. Dr. E, I really appreciate your ministry and both my husband and I have gone through several of the conferences with other couples and we own one of the conference series on DVD. I’ve also read the book so I feel like I am at least somewhat familiar with the ideas and they’ve helped me a great deal to understand my husband better and to know exactly what respect is and is not. More than anything my desire is to be a Godly wife and mom and to bring God glory in my relationships. I feel like I understand what you are telling me to do as far as confronting respectfully and I honestly watch my words, facial expressions, how I say things, but my husband still responds either defensively or angrily. I “accidently” walked in on him late last night drinking (not the first time). I obviously surprised him and he acted like a busted child with his hand in the cookie jar. Now this may not be a problem for some, but before we were married he would drink heavily and I suspect he is an alcoholic, although I’ve never seen him drunk because he said stopped drinking when he got saved. He’s since been lying and sneaking it even though he promised me he would not do that. I didn’t say anything to him the night I walked in on him. I waited and prayed and struggled with God because I just did not want to confront him. It is not a pleasant. Our marriage has been really difficult. I just kept feeling the holy spirit guiding me to confront him, which I have had to do on other occasions. I was gentle, respectful and loving, but also honest about how it makes me feel that he is still lying to me and that he is being deceptive by hiding it, he goes to great lengths to hide it. I told him when that happens it is hard to trust him. He told me that me telling him I don’t trust him is being disrespectful. I know I am being manipulated to some degree and he knows my desire is to be pleasing to God so I feel like he uses the love and respect language against me. He sees confronting him at all as disrespectful, even if done respectfully and even if he is in sin. My desire is not to make him feel disrespected, but to help hold him accountable because I love him and what he is doing is not right. I guess I just need some encouragement to stay the course, to be prayerfully persistant because when it is not showing any signs of changing I start feeling like I must be doing it wrong. How do you determine the line between respectfully confronting and enabling? I know there is some point where there should be consequences, but I’m not sure what point that is and so far he says sorry and tells me he will not do it again. I know that at this point he thinks I am making a big deal about the alcohol, but most people that are alcoholics don’t agree that they have a problem initially. He’s hiding it, drinking late at night after he thinks I am in bed and using cash to buy it so there is no record. I have no idea how often or how much, but this isn’t the first time. What consequence would be respectful and reasonable?

  6. I am understanding this more and more. I would never want my husband to not love me because of something I said or did. So the same with respect. Knowing this opens my mind and especially my heart.
    Thank you,

  7. I really feel sorry for my earlier behavior with my wife, I feel ashamed kindly forgive me God. Give me one last chance to prove my self in front of my wife I love her a lot. Please give ur blessings to live happily with my wife.