In much of my research about marriage, a couple of words pop up frequently—love and respect. I recently heard a discussion that gave these concepts some fresh understanding. That is: Men primarily desire respect, and women primarily desire love. If a man doesn’t feel respected, it is difficult for him to provide love. If a woman doesn’t feel loved, it is difficult for her to provide respect.
So, there’s the rub. You’re telling your friends that your husband is not fulfilling your needs for love and affection, but you find yourself exasperated and rolling your eyes when he opens his mouth to speak to you. (Marriage researcher Dr. Gottman talks about that eye rolling stage as a dreadful sign.) Guess, what? He won’t feel respected and will be virtually unable to provide the love you desire.
Honestly, I knew a man who used to yell at his family, “I demand respect!” It’s almost laughable today, but rather sad when you think of it. Of course he didn’t get the respect he wanted. The way to earn respect is to provide for the needs of your family in a loving way. Still, a mature wife goes into marriage not telling her husband to earn her respect, but rather offering it to him because it’s a necessary ingredient in a happy marriage.
Respect is a gift that is given not because the husband deserves it, but because the wife has decided she will provide it unconditionally. She will respect him whether he fails or succeeds, when he is unemployed or at the height of a successful career. The wife does not have to endorse all of his behavior, nor does she have to agree with him on every matter. However, she disagrees in a respectful manner (as does he).
I’ll bet if you found 10 men who felt truly respected at home, you would find 10 men who are bending over backwards to make their wives happy. If you don’t believe me, do your best to make your man feel respected and see what happens. Don’t be subtle; tell him outright that you respect him and why. Compliment him to other people, especially when he is within earshot. (One of my interviewees says she can always tell the unhappy couples when they go out, because they are tearing one another down. She says she and her husband work to build one another up to others, “because if I don’t, who will?”)
Now men, you are not off the hook. Men should make a similar decision upon marrying the woman of their dreams that they will love her and always treat her lovingly as an unconditional gift. Your wife doesn’t earn your love by taking care of your children, cooking a nice meal and making sure the dry cleaning is picked up. If husbands behave faithfully (let’s not look for any positive role models in the news today!) and lovingly, they are sowing the seeds of lasting joy in their relationships. Do you think the men who treat their wives with such care and love benefit from a happier homes and better love lives? Try it out and see.
This is not the time for blame. Start with yourself.
Tell us, how does your wife make you feel respected? How does your husband make you feel loved? When you increase the love and respect you give, what happens to your mate?