Show Respect, Not Love (A Rant in Two Chapters)

Chapter One: You Need Both (and Also Manners)

“Men need respect, women need love.”

This is a current marriage-advice fad. It’s very popular in circles where marriage is a strict hierarchy, but oozes over into more mainstream Christian circles as well. It sounds like a cool insight, but it’s really like saying, “In order to survive, men need two hydrogens with their oxygen, women need oxygen with their two hydrogens.”

Can you really separate love and respect in a marriage?

Articles like this say you can. But read through it and ask yourself, How are these points any different from how a man would show “love” to his wife?

My husband, DJ, assures me that it’s incredibly important that he knows I respect him. Granted. And it’s incredibly important for me to know that he loves me. But I’ll go out on a limb here and say that he would be less satisfied if I gave him all due respect, but preferred sex with somebody else. And I’m very confident that even if he lavishes affection on me, but shot down all my statements as “childish,” then we would have problems. Why separate love and respect, as if a spouse can live on one but not the other?

(For the record: DJ never shows disrespect to my opinions, and I never jump into bed with anybody else.)

Another thing about this list is that it isn’t actually showing how a wife relates to her husband. It’s how a decent, civil person relates to people in general. If you have to be told to thank him for what he does for you, or don’t interrupt when he’s talking, your problem isn’t your marriage. It’s your basic social instincts.

So yes. Show respect to your husband. And love. And also use good manners.

*

Chapter Two: The Missing Element

There’s a major aspect of this list, and all other lists like it, that bothers me. They all leave out a small but crucial bit of advice. Without that advice, the list becomes generic and sterile.

Allow me to rewrite the article and include the missing element.

25 Ways to Show Respect (and Love) to Your Husband

1 – 25: Spend time talking to each other. Find out who he is, what he likes, what his passions are, what his fears are, what makes him happy. He’ll do the same for you. Then both of you act on this knowledge.

Talk to each other.

I don’t know the person you married. I can’t write a list that will tell you how to respect (and love) your spouse the way he or she best understands it. That’s your job.

Glancing over this article, I find precious few suggestions that call for a woman to actually interact, on an adult and equal basis, with the man she married.

Instead of “choosing joy” or “not complaining” when you’re upset, communicate about it. If he’s hurt you, tell him in a mature and gentle way. If your bad mood has nothing to do with him, let him know — and release both of you from the responsibility of being happy for the time being. Talk about it.

Instead of “keeping the house tidy” or “prepare his favorite foods,” find out what’s important to your husband. My husband doesn’t much care about a cluttered house, but he loves coming home to a hot supper. Your man might not care a thing about fresh-baked biscuits, but would appreciate having time to work in the yard on weekends. Guess how you find that out? Talk to him.

Instead of “being content,” sit down and talk to each other about what your priorities and goals are. Some couples want lots of children, lots of land, and lots of space. Others want a small family and a quirky apartment in the city. I don’t know what you or your husband wants, and neither will you if you don’t talk about it.

Instead of “respond physically” (that’s the squeamish Christian way of referring to anything sexual), let each other know how you feel. Are you in the mood, too worn out, not feeling well, wanting something different? Do you like hugs or not? What does he like in bed? What do you like in bed? I sure as heck don’t know, and I’m not asking. You should talk to each other about it! It’s important. And also can be really fun.

Go through the article I linked to, and insert the sentence Talk about it for each one. That’s how you build a good marriage.

*

Note #1: If you can’t address important issues with each other, or if you can’t talk without getting into a fight, it has nothing to do with how well you’re following a list, or God, or whatever. It means both of you need to see a good counselor. One who can show you how to talk to each other.

Note #2: For the record, I object to #25 in principle, which reads:
“Follow His Lead
If you want your husband to lead, you must be willing to follow. Neither a body nor a family can function well with two heads. Learn to defer to your husband’s wishes and let final decisions rest with him.”

Alternatively, talk about your decisions together and come to a decision together. Sometimes you defer to him. Sometimes he defers to you. If you consistently hit a gridlock where only one person can ever make the final decision, it’s not a sign of a godly marriage. It’s a sign that you need a good counselor.

Delilah

Poor Delilah. Ever since her tragic romance with Samson, her name has been synonymous with a scheming, treacherous woman.

I think she deserves better.

Full disclosure:  I’m reacting to more than just Delilah’s age-old reputation here. As a teenager, I sat under people who taught us that we women are dangerous to men. Not because we’re smart or competitive or even manipulative, but because we have female-shaped bodies. Men are weak to female-shaped bodies; trying to talk to, reason with, or relate to a man while existing in our female bodies made us dangerous.

And they backed it up with The Bible, as follows:

  • Adam, created perfect in God’s image, fell because of a woman.
  • Samson, the strongest man in history, fell because of a woman.
  • David, the man after God’s own heart, fell because of a woman.
  • Solomon, the wisest man in the world, fell because of lots of women.

Adam ate the fruit that Eve, deceived by Satan, offered him. Samson told Delilah the secret of his strength. David saw Bathsheba and had her brought to his bed. Solomon had thousands of wives for political advantage, and eventually worshiped their gods. These men made conscious decisions against their own moral compass or common sense, often influenced by women.

See? Women! You see who’s at fault here.

You see why I am reacting here.

Still, if you know the story of Samson and Delilah, you’re going to point out that Delilah wasn’t exactly a shrinking little mouse in the drama. Here’s a quick recap:

Samson was a big strong manly Israelite. He had unusual strength; as a child, he was dedicated to God. In acknowledgement of his bond to God, he kept himself ritually clean, didn’t drink alcohol, and never cut his hair.

He was a hero among his people because they lived under the oppression of the Philistines at the time. Samson was invincible, and he wreaked havoc on the Philistine people. Israel loved him.

Which was good of them. Because Samson was dumb. Good heavens, was this man dumb. He had one default approach to any situation:”Can I get sex out of this? No? KILL!”

After various sex-and-violence vacations into Philistine territory, including an ill-fated marriage, he settled in with Delilah.

Who was Delilah, anyway?

The Bible doesn’t really say, but it’s pretty safe to assume she was a prostitute. What she wasn’t was dumb. She knew how to survive in a world where she was good for one thing only. Apparently Samson provided protection and money. Maybe she was lonely and enjoyed him. She knew a good thing when she got it.

But the Philistine leaders persuaded her to find out the secret of Samson’s great strength. She tried several different times, wheedling and manipulating him, while he gave her all the wrong answers. Finally she wore him down and he revealed his secret: if he cut his hair, he would lose his superstrength.

While he slept, Delilah shaved his head.  She called on the Philistine leaders, and watched them drag him away and throw him in prison. That devious, wicked, manipulating jade proved to be a strong man’s fatal weakness.

And how did the Philistine leaders persuade her? Well, they offered her a whole lot of money. 1100 pieces of silver each, in fact.

But hang on. Two chapters back, we find out that Samson married a Philistine woman. At the wedding party, he presented a riddle; if nobody could answer it, they had to pay through the nose. So the men went to his new wife and said, “Find out the answer to the riddle or we’ll burn your father’s house with you in it.” She hounded him and Samson eventually caved, but got mad and went back to Israel — without her. One thing led to another, ending with Samson’s wife and her family burned to death in their house.

So now it’s Delilah’s turn. She wasn’t being threatened by young punks at a wedding party; she was standing before the leaders of the city. I suppose the conversation could have gone like this:

“No. I can’t betray him.”

“Well, okay, we see your point. We’ll find some other way to get him. Oh, and Delilah… say hi to your family for us. We know where they live.”

As my husband says, they held a big carrot and a big stick. Seems to me that her options were: betray Samson, get filthy rich; or refuse to cooperate, and seal her and her family’s doom.

She could have confessed to Samson and asked him to protect her. But he was no Boaz, who watched out for Ruth, made sure she was okay, and finally married her. Samson would have hung around long enough to slaughter a few Philistines because that’s what he did for fun. But this was the man who abandoned his wife just because she made him lose his stupid riddle.

She could have tried to run away. That would have worked! Because just like today, it’s so easy for a woman to escape dangerous men, especially with her children and family in tow. Back then, no problem — she’d just leave the city and die in the wilderness, assuming the Philistine leaders didn’t track her down first.

But who says Delilah was such a great person herself? Maybe she was a poison-tongued, complaining, selfish shrew. Maybe so. I certainly don’t point to her relationship with a violent, selfish man, and her accomplished manipulation, as a good model for the young women in my life.

But that’s not why she’s got such a bad reputation. She’s got a bad reputation because she used her considerable feminine wiles to get around a man’s defenses. Never mind that he knew very well what she was up to. Never mind that she was trying to survive.

She, as a woman, was dangerous to a man.

That’s a generalization that most of us reject nowadays. Possibly it’s time to rethink Delilah as well.

Watch Your Mouth, There Are Men Present!

Once, during the years I was part of my own real-life “Fellowship,” I and several others were being trained to teach a children’s class.

The leader asked if anyone knew a particular story from the Old Testament. I volunteered to tell it, and it was a great moment in my life. I made everyone laugh, then sigh, then grow quiet at the heartbreaking ending. The leader was really impressed, and said so.

The next day, he asked for another story. I volunteered again. The leader gave me a brief smile, then asked, “Any guys want to try?”

Not “anyone else,” but “any guys.”

It was a subtle rebuke to all those guys who didn’t volunteer.

Hang on. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the leader just wanted participation from the guys as well as the girls?

Not in the world of Christian patriarchy.

Everyone there had been schooled in the same teachings. We all knew that the guys were supposed to be taking the lead — in spiritual matters, in teaching, in marriage, and in life. Girls were supposed to submit to their fathers’ or husbands’ authority. In practice, they were taught to defer to men in general as well.

I was once told, “Where women move in, men move out.” The speaker was talking about the real estate business, which in the late 90s was heavily populated by women. That was why you didn’t want to let women move into professions like piloting, politics, and military. Because men would move away to something else, leaving women in charge. And you know what a disaster that would be.

Wait, you don’t know?

We were assured it was the worst thing that could happen to our churches and our nation. God didn’t want women in charge. All kinds of (unspecified) calamities would result as soon as “feminists” got control.

(Nobody addressed the fact that the world was already in pretty rotten shape with men in charge.)

Every female character in the Bible was forced through the grid of “submissive to authority” or not. One day I’ll devote a post to explaining how Abigail was bad, Esther a compromiser, and Deborah a reluctant leader. Ruth generally came out okay if you glossed over the story enough. But for here, I’ll just say that all of us young people understood the same “truth”: that a woman was always second place to a man.

So when a young woman stood up and did a top-notch job telling a Bible story, the young men in the audience couldn’t just say, “Good job!” and let it go. No, she’d laid down a challenge: someone had to get up there and do it too. Preferably better.

And not just “someone,” either. Some guy.

And please, woman, from now on — keep your gifts and your voice in check when men are present.

The Courtship Package

hold-my-hand-1492424-1279x1801

In Chapter 5 of The Fellowship, Bekah’s good friend Ty gives her a ride home to her parents’ for the weekend. He’s begun to suspect that the “weird church” Bekah grew up in affects her thinking more than he realized. Bekah fields his questions about authority, college, a woman’s role in life, and they eventually get around to “courtship.”

“Courting…?” Ty said.

Bekah groaned.

He went on, “That basically means getting engaged, right?”

“No. We’ve had this conversation before too.” 

“I know. I just can’t keep straight… oh, hang on. It means you can’t hold hands till you get married.”

“Exactly. Glad you listened when I explained it.”

“No, no, wait, I remember more now. It means you can’t hold hands until you marry the guy your dad says you can marry.”

“You’re definitely not going to be speaking at any Youth Meetings.”

“How would you explain courtship then?”

“It means not starting a romantic relationship until you’re ready for marriage. And you have to have the blessing of both fathers. And the guy initiates the relationship, not the girl.” Bekah didn’t add the dozens of other rules and expectations that were included in the courtship package.

*

My husband and I courted. We waited until we were ready for marriage before we started a romance (we were already friends). He contacted my mother first (both my dad and stepdad were dead, a situation that the patriarchy movement tends to gloss over). We involved our parents and families in our activities. We set boundaries in our relationship, including saving our first kiss for the wedding. (Full disclosure: we didn’t save everything for the wedding; we felt very free to make out within our boundaries.) For years I was a big fan of courtship… until I figured out why ours went so well. We did it wrong.

DJ and I made all the decisions ourselves. Our parents were available for consultation — I talked for hours with my mom before agreeing to court him — but they didn’t have any final say. It never occurred to them to try to make our decisions for us. We took charge of our relationship, and it’s served us well all these years later.

But we have many friends whose parents very much considered themselves the active authority in the relationship. Those courtships rarely went well. Either the couple was too compliant and didn’t learn how to function as a united force, or one or both parties aggressively asserted independence and everybody suffered from the emotional fallout. As one friend said later, “My courtship was the most miserable time of my life.”

All too often, “courtship” ends up looking a lot like these rather poetic essays from two friends:

Davad:

When I was 14, the homeschool fathers said, “Read your Bible, abstain from sex, and in a few years you’ll be ready for one of our daughters.” And I did.

When I was 18, the fathers said, “Work hard, be creative, and make something of your life, and in a few years you’ll be ready for marriage.” And I did.

When I was 22, the fathers said, “Embrace our theology for yourself, get a career that pays as much as we make now, and you’ll be ready to court.” And I did.

When I was 26, they said, “Why are you so independent from your parents, go to a different church in a different state, and don’t respect their authority? The answer is no.”

Rachel:
When I was 14 I was told, “Promise God you will never date, try with all your energy to turn your crushes into something else, learn how to be content with only your parents and your brother as friends, and one day you’ll catch the attention of a godly man.”

I did.

At 18 I was told, “Focus on ministry, minimize your own dreams and desires, give selflessly at home, learn to submit to your parents at home, and soon a godly man will notice you.”

I did.

At 22 I was told, “The godly man you think is the one isn’t the one, trust us. So submit to your parents’ better judgement and discipline your heart to be quiet while they make it impossible for this man to know you well enough to consider you. Focus on serving. Focus on giving. And soon the right godly man will notice you.”

I did.

At 29 I was told, “The godly man who has seen you, noticed you, and admired you while you’ve been giving and serving and ministering, isn’t committed to courtship, and you promised us when you were 14 that you wouldn’t date. So this is not the right godly man. Just…”

I stopped listening.

I’m married to him.

But the years I wasted are never far from my consciousness.

*

The problem isn’t that parents are involved, or express disapproval, or set high standards. The problem is, as expressed a little later in the novel:

“I don’t resist the idea of authority,” Ty objected. “What I resist is somebody telling me that he speaks for God in my life, and if I don’t listen to him I’m screwed.” 

Looking back, here’s what I see:

  • Some people did everything right and have a beautiful marriage now.
  • Some people did everything right and are picking up the pieces of shattered dreams.
  • Some did everything as stupidly as possible, and suffered from years of misery.
  • Others did the same thing and ended up wiser, a bit storm-tossed, and happily married.

The Courtship Package was sold to us as a way to prevent bad things from happening. But the promise was empty. Formulas don’t guarantee success. Even God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go well. Trusting in a formula leaves us shattered and helpless when things go wrong. Trusting in God gives someone to grab onto when everything is falling apart.

So I’m not really a fan of “courtship” anymore. I’m a fan of two people knowing their own minds and getting to know one another, and standing together before God and the world.

*

Click here to order (print) or pre-order (Kindle) The Fellowship.