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March 19, 2009

Men, Women, Love, Respect

In one of those fascinating blogs I never would have run across any other way, I found my review of Emerson Eggerichs' book Love & Respect reprinted last week.

The author of Suzanne's Bookshelf, Suzanne McCarthy, wrote a six-party series on the book, especially the author's claims to a basis in the Bible for the idea that women seek love and men seek respect.

I think Suzanne and I, were we to meet, could have a grand time debunking phony gender differences. I went to MIT, after all, back when male students outnumbered female students fifteen to one. Did any of the faculty back then imagine the class of 2012 could have more women than men in it if we stopped believing women don't have the same capacity as men for math and science?

As a marriage educator, though, I think this claimed difference, that men need respect from their mates as fiercely as women need love, is one worth paying attention to. And it doesn't matter whether it is true of all men and all women. What matters is that it may be true in your marriage and, if it is, the difference matters.

My take on Love & Respect when I read the book was similar to Suzanne's. I want respect, too. Who doesn't? And I know my husband wants love. So where's the difference?

Shortly after, though, I heard the author speak at a Smart Marriages conference to a couple thousand pastors, marriage educators, pre-Cana teachers, relationship therapists, social workers, and married folks whose careers or part-time volunteer work involve teaching marriage skills. Just about half of them were men.

It was the sheer volume of the response when Eggerichs asked these people about what mattered in their own marriages that brought his message home.

None there would contend women do not seek or should not get respect, or that men don't need love. But when asked how different acts made them feel, the men as a group made it abundantly clear how critical respect is to their sense of the relationship with their wife.

The sort of respect Eggerichs spoke of might be better understood by us women as trust. Not compliance with a husband's wishes or kowtowing to his goals or methods but showing trust as a way of showing our love, because men value it at a different level from us.

It means spotting the difference between our real fears and the ones that come from our what-if thinking and comparisons to other men with different strengths. A wife's lack of trust cuts to the very core of the relationship. We ought to save it for those real fears.

Fearing a husband's alcohol-fueled rage is quite appropriate. Let him know it's not acceptable and get yourself out of harm's way. Fearing and refusing a directive to do something against your best interests is also definitely legit.

But, for a very common example, fearing how he's driving when he's had a decade or two of accident-free driving and most likely cares deeply about your safety is going to come across as a serious lack of trust (or respect for his driving skills and his intentions). Calm yourself instead of criticizing him, and you strengthen the bond between you.

Rolling your eyes when he tells you of his plan to earn money to support his family may get him to think about another approach, but it will also chip away at the bond between you.

Yes, the same is true in reverse. Yet the volume of the men's and women's responses at that talk to marriage educators tells me there's a definite gender difference in the degree of harm done.

Eggerichs' air hose analogy really fits. Respect matters to us women, too, but we can only understand the degree of panic a lack of respect causes for most men by recalling how we feel when we believe we are no longer loved.

We women need to know that if we decide we cannot respect a man who no longer appears to loves us, it's all over but the divorce papers. If we are married to a man like the large majority of the 1,000 or so men in that audience, none of that other love stuff we do to preserve the marriage -- the talks, the dates, the sex, the gifts, the special meals, the concessions -- is likely to matter while we're stepping on the respect air hose.

Of course, this is the same as when a man refuses to show love because he's not getting respect. He's not going to win us back just by trusting our judgment or praising our contribution to the kids' wellbeing. For most women, this sort of respect is very nice, but we need love. If you are one of these women, consider the possibility you are married to one of those men. Give respect a try. See what happens.

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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