If you ask my husband how things started between the two of us, he will be quick to tell you that it all started with a pity date. Yep, you read that right. A pity date. And . . . if I’m being honest, it’s true.
It was the fall of my freshman year at college. Just a few weeks into the semester, I found myself running late to a study skills course I was taking. I rushed into the classroom and stopped short when I saw the room was full. Every seat was taken except for those . . . in the front row. In desperation, I scanned the room once again and found a solo chair available smack dab in the middle. As the professor prepared to begin, I climbed over backpacks and people to secure that seat, stepping on many toes in the process. Feeling flustered, I sat down, quickly pulled out my notebook, and focused my attention on the lesson at hand. It wasn’t until our break that evening that I took notice as to who I sat beside and whose toes I’m sure I squashed. I turned to my left and found myself locking eyes with a young man. Little did I know that my entire life was about to change.
It was a couple of weeks after this, that I found myself walking back to my dorm with this man at my side. As we walked, he gathered the courage to ask me if I’d like to go out some time. My response came quickly. No. My answer was no because I was in a relationship with someone else. I will never forget the look that crossed his face. He looked completely . . . crushed. Later that evening, I was unable to get his face from my mind. I looked his number up, called him, and asked him to join me for dinner one evening in the cafeteria. He accepted my date, asked out of pity, and the rest, as they would say, has been history.
This summer will be 18 years of marriage. 18 years of tackling life together and dealing with the chaos that comes with raising three kids. 18 years. It sounds like such a long time, but it has gone by so quickly. And, these past 18 years have taught me a lot about my husband and the role he plays in our family. These past 18 years, God has been teaching me how to love him better, how to support him, and how to help him move toward those Best Yes assignments that God has for him. And that’s what I want to share with you. I want to share what God has been teaching me about what the men in our lives truly need. And . . . it might be different from what you expect.
If I were to ask you what is the one thing that husbands need most from their wives, what would you say? I think most of us would agree that sex has to be number one on his list, right? Guess what? It isn’t.
A number of years ago, a dear friend recommended that I read a book called, “For Women Only” by Shaunti Feldhahn. Shaunti, is a social researcher and author who, along with her husband, has interviewed thousands of people and written several books about the differences in how men and women think. Her goal in writing this particular book was to share the very foundations that our men’s thinking is based upon so that we are better able to understand and support them. In her research, she found that it isn’t sex that our husbands need most from us. It’s our respect and affirmation.
Respect and affirmation. What is meant by those words? To show respect is to consider someone with high regard. It’s to have a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in a dignified manner. To affirm is to declare support for, defend, or to encourage someone. Both respect and affirmation go hand and hand and are foundational for the well being of the men in our lives. Both are needed as our men walk the paths God has for them. But, how important are they really? How important is it that our men feel respected and affirmed?
Through her research, Shanti discovered that three out of four men said that they would rather feel unloved than disrespected. Three out of four. I find that statistic astonishing. Astonishing because as a woman, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around it. For me personally, I would rather feel loved than respected. Every . . . single . . . time. But, our men, they are different. They thrive under the respect and affirmation we give them. And, it is God’s desire that we do this for our men. In Ephesians, we find these words,
“Nevertheless, each husband is to love and protect his own wife as if she were his very heart, and each wife is to respect her own husband.”
Ephesians 5:33 (VOICE)
What does God say that wives are to do? Respect their husbands. The Greek word for “respect” in this verse is “phobeo” which means to be in awe of or revere, and it’s used in the present subjunctive mood in the context of this verse. What does that mean? It means that this word “respect” is to be done now, in the present, and continuously. It’s not to be done only once or twice. It’s not to be considered done if you did it last week or last month. God asks us to do it now and to continue to do it.
How do we do this? How do we show our men respect and affirm them? It starts by making the choice. It starts by making the choice to respect them even when it is hard to do. And sometimes . . . it’s hard to do.
I recently read a blog about a woman who has a hard time respecting her husband. She says, “Maybe you are married to a man who talks down to you, criticizes you or makes you feel inferior. Maybe he gets angry more often than he should, goes out with his friends more often than you’d like or simply doesn’t pay attention to you like he should. Maybe he checked out emotionally years ago. Maybe he’s rude, forgetful, or you don’t feel like you can trust him with even the simplest of tasks, much less your heart. Maybe you’re in an unequally yoked marriage where he isn’t a believer, and he’s making it very difficult for you to grow in faith with the rude things he says about Christianity and about you for believing in it.” How can we make the choice to do as God instructs and respect a man like this?
First, reread the definition of “respect”. To respect your husband is to consider him with high regard. But, it also means that you understand that your husband has worth for one simple reason and one simple reason only. God loves him. God loves him. God created him and in His eyes, your husband is worthy. He is worthy of your respect.
Now, this does not mean that you falsely praise your husband, that you let him treat you like a door mat, or that you can never express your opinion on any given matter. It doesn’t mean that you are insignificant, unimportant, or that you should completely dismiss his behavior when he wrongs you. It also doesn’t mean that you have the right to treat him like a child or act as though his opinions don’t matter. It means that you recognize that God is after his heart as much as He is after yours. Respect your husband for the simple reason that by doing so brings honor to God.
Secondly, when God asks us to respect our husbands in Ephesians, it is a command. It is not a suggestion or something you just need to think about. It is something God instructs us to do. It doesn’t come with clarifiers such as: respect your husband only if he deserves it, respect your husband only if he earns it, respect your husband when you feel like it, respect your husband if he treats you well. It says to do it. It says that as a wife, I am to respect my husband. That is my responsibility.
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. There is more to that verse than wives respecting their husbands. It also says that husbands are to love their wives and love them well. Mine doesn’t do that!” You are right; it does say that. But, let me remind you of something. You can’t fix him. You cannot fix your husband. You cannot change him into the picture of what you expect a perfect husband to look like. Only God can change hearts, sweet friend. Only God can do the fixing. Scripture reminds us that,
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)
The Street Bible says it this way,
“In their hearts, they’ve got it all mapped out, but it’s God who’s in the driving seat.” God is the one in control. He is the only one that can bring about change in your husband’s heart.”
Proverbs 16:9 (STREET)
How does He do this? In Ezekiel, God shares how He plans to restore the hearts of the Israelites, His people whom He loves. The Street Bible puts it this way,
“God outlines how he’s going to bring them (the Israelites) back, clean them up and give them a heart transplant. ‘I’m going to operate on you; bin (literally put in a bin) your stone heart and replace it with one with feeling, one with a new attitude. I’ll infuse you with my Holy Spirit and motivate you to want to choose life by keeping the Contract. You’ll live in the land I handed to your ancestors. You’ll be my people. I’ll be your God.’”
Ezekiel 36:26 (STREET)
He gives them a “heart transplant”. I think He has the same plans for His people today. He desires to bring us back to Him and give us a heart transplant. He desires it for us, and He desires it for your husband. Friend, we cannot change human hearts. That’s God’s job. What’s our job? Our job is to invite God into our hearts and let Him transplant away within us. Let Him work on your heart.
As you step back and allow God to do the heart changing work only He can do, it’s important to begin taking action. Make the choice to follow what God has commanded and show your husband respect. How do we do this?
To begin, it’s important to understand the areas where our husbands need our respect and affirmation. The first is in his judgement. His judgement is his ability to make wise and sensible decisions. To respect his judgement is to respect his knowledge, his opinions, and his decisions. Now, you may not always agree with him. I don’t also agree with my husband. But, you can still respect his judgement.
How do we do this? Ask for his knowledge on a given subject or affirm for him that you trust his decision-making abilities. I struggle with this sometimes. The perfect example of this happened last year. We were planning a family vacation and looking at two different cabins to rent. Both were within our price range and both would meets our family’s needs on our trip. I just couldn’t decide which one was the best option. I asked my husband to make the decision which he did. But, after the decision was made, I still struggled. I was unsure if the cabin he chose was the one that I really wanted. I wasn’t sure if his choice was the best for our family. So . . . what do you think I did? Did I sit back and respect his judgment? No, I didn’t! I began to verbally question his decision. Besides driving him absolutely crazy, I think he was hurt that I didn’t trust the decision he made. I encourage you that if you know that your husband has your family’s best interest at heart, trust his decision making ability. Trust the decisions he makes and respect his judgment.
Next, our men need to feel respected for and affirmed in their abilities. Men have this deep need within them to figure things out for themselves. They find immense joy in using their skills and solving a problem on their own. Doing so gives them a sense of accomplishment and a sense that they conquered something. I can think of two examples that illustrate this. First, how many of you know a man who prefers not to use the instructions provided when assembling something? Why might he not want to use the instructions provided? He enjoys the challenge of figuring the assembly out on his own. Or, you may know a man who prefers not to use the GPS when traveling. Why? He enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to get from point A to point B on his own.
Now, let me ask you something. What do we, as women, do, if our men are struggling to find a solution to a problem? We want to help right? We offer to take a look at the instructions or we offer to plug the address we are heading to into our maps app. In our minds, we are offering our help. But, in his mind, what are we suggesting? We are suggesting that we don’t believe he is capable or that we don’t trust him. And, if he feels we don’t trust his capabilities in the small things, how can he feel that we trust his capabilities with the big things? Unless your life is in danger, give your man the time and space to solve a problem on his own. By doing so, it shows that your trust him and believe that he is capable.
Another area where men need our respect and affirmation is in their accomplishments. In her book, Shaunti Feldhann shares that even though men may appear extremely confident on the outside, many of them feel that they don’t quite measure up. It is powerful for a man to feel that he has tried something, accomplished it, accomplished it well, and that someone noticed. Pay attention to what your husband is doing. Take note of those times he tries. Take note of those things he accomplishes. Then, make sure he knows that you noticed. Make sure he knows that you appreciate his efforts. Make sure he knows that you think he’s done something well. Respecting and affirming our men’s accomplishments helps them feel worthy.
Now, let me caution you with one other point about our men and their accomplishments. Just as your words of affirmation concerning his accomplishments can build him up immensely, your words criticizing his accomplishments or lack thereof can completely tear him down. Several years ago, we were selling our home and doing some cleaning prior to a showing. My husband folded our bathroom towels and put them away for me. When I walked into the closet, not all of the towels were pointed the same way. It sounds crazy, but in that moment, it really bothered me. So . . . I proceeded to refold all of the towels. To say that he was hurt was an understatement. He had tried to be helpful. But as I refolded those towels, my actions told him that what he had accomplished (folding those towels) wasn’t good enough. It was a long time before he would fold towels for me again. Friend, sometimes God prompts us to talk with the men we love about areas they can improve on. But, folding towels, is not one of them. Carefully choose your battles and remember that your words and actions can build him up or they can tear him down.
And that ties into the next area where we need to respect and affirm our men: in our communication. As I said before, we have the incredible power to build up our men or tear them down. With just our words, we have the power to encourage or discourage. With our words, we have the power to help or wound. Proverbs tells us,
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.”
Proverbs 15:4 (MSG)
Don’t underestimate the power of your words. They can affirm and build up our men, and let our men know that we believe in them. Our words however, when used to criticize or nag, tell our men that we don’t respect them or that they have disappointed us. When it comes to the words you use with your man, choose them carefully. Use your words wisely to respect and affirm him. Ephesians tells us,
“Watch the way you talk . . . Say only what helps, each word a gift.”
Ephesians 4:29 (MSG)
Remember . . . each word is a gift.
This idea of choosing your words carefully applies to another area where men need our respect and affirmation. Our men need our respect and affirmation in the presence of others. Now, if you are like me, you love to tease your husband. Teasing is one of the ways that my husband and I show love for one another. But, what I’ve been learning is that it is important to not tease my husband in front of others. What I view as teasing, he may very well see as criticism. What I see as good-natured fun, he may see as a put down. What I see as a good way to get a laugh, he may see as though I am questioning his judgement. When Shaunti Feldhahn conducted her research in this area, one theme came up repeatedly. What women often saw as teasing in public, the men saw as . . . torture. It was painful for them when their wives criticize them, put them down, or even question their judgment in front of others. The public “teasing” caused men to very much doubt their adequacy as men. Use caution before you choose to tease your man in front of others.
Now, this applies to conversations held in the presence of your man, but it also applies to conversations you may have about him behind his back. I understand that sometimes as women we like to gather in our little circles with other women and vent our frustrations. And . . . sometimes those venting sessions turn towards the struggles within our marriages. I get it. I’ve been there. But, here’s the thing . . . there is real danger in venting our frustrations with our men behind their backs. Why? There is a verse in Matthew that says this,
“For the mouth simply shapes the heart’s impulses into words.”
Matthew 12:34 (VOICE)
From our mouths, comes the truth held in our hearts. If we make a habit of sharing our frustrations or dissatisfactions with other women, those frustrations and dissatisfactions we are feeling are going to lodge even more deeply within our hearts. If we’re not careful, what we see as harmless venting can begin to deeply root itself within us. I understand that sometimes you are frustrated with your husband. I understand that sometimes he makes you mad. I’ve been there. But, do not get in the habit of voicing your frustration to others. Get in the habit of voicing it to God. Share with Him what you are struggling with, and ask Him to fill your heart truth. Ask Him to help you show your husband the respect he needs and deserves. Ask Him. The more we choose to show our men respect, the more our respect for them will grow. Be intentional about making the choice to respect him even when it is difficult. Make that choice.
The last area our men need our respect in is in our assumptions. We make assumptions every day. If I find graham cracker crumbs on the floor, I assume one of my kids has been in the pantry. If someone is tailgating me, I assume that they are a jerk in all areas of life. We assume things. As wives, we do this with our husbands as well. If we ask our husband to complete a task and it is not completed in the timeframe we expected, we assume that he needs to be reminded to complete the task. Now, sometimes he honestly may need to be reminded. But, sometimes we ask our husbands to do things at a time when they are completely focused on another task. When this is the case, they honestly may not have heard us and need reminded. Often though, he does remember and intends to do it. It just may not be as close to the top of his priority list as it is yours. When we assume he needs reminded, it can sometimes be interpreted as he is incapable of remembering on his own, or we don’t trust that he will get the job done. Another area that we sometimes make poor assumptions is in the caring for our homes. We may assume that our men don’t help around the house because the don’t care about us and are choosing not to help. That is rarely the case. Often, if he doesn’t help with something we think he should, it’s simply because he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t always see the laundry that needs carried upstairs. When our kids were little, my husband honestly didn’t always hear them cry in the middle of the night. I’ve learned that rather than making poor assumptions, I need to assume the best of him and clearly communicate my needs. If I ask him to take the laundry upstairs, he almost always does it. If I need to wake him to take a turn with a fussy baby, he almost always would. Always assume the best when it comes to your husband.
One man is quoted in Shaunti’s book as saying, “It is so true that behind every great man is a great woman. There are a lot of men out there who are mediocre simply because their wives will not support them and bring them to greatness. And there are a lot of mediocre men who are destined to become great men-who are becoming great men-because their wives love and support them. My wife expects great things from me, even though I’m a pretty ordinary guy, really. She looks at me like I’m a genius in my field. She respects me in public and affirms me in private. I love her. And like all men, I want to live up to her expectations.” – Unknown.
The greatest gift we can give the men in our lives is to show them respect and to affirm them. Your love and support, can help them move toward those Best Yes assignments that God has for them. Encourage them to be the men God has called them to be.
Feldhahn, Shaunti. For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. Colorado Springs, Multnomah, 2013.