Even as I begin writing this, I am debating with myself whether I should. Both as a reminder to myself and anyone reading: these are just my thoughts. These particular thoughts are weighing heavy within me at the moment. It feels very vulnerable to share. Please read it through that context. I am not on a soap box. I am processing. I am in process; as we all are.
Ephesians 5:33 "Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
A well known verse within the modern Christian church. I grew up being more than familiar with the idea that women needed to be loved and men needed to be respected. Or more personally, I needed to respect my husband, and I should expect that he should love me.
Have you ever repeated a word so often that it loses all sense? Try it. Say the word “gum” in your head a dozen times. It gets weird. A horrible analogy, but that is similar to how it feels to have the idea that woman need love and men need respect as the staple verse of Christian Marriage. Or to change the syntax slightly to reflect the message – undecidedly perceived or actual – “women need love and need to respect their husbands”. The reverse is never discussed. Maybe in passing. But not in depth. So, what if I was a woman who deeply craved respect in a future spouse? What if the idea of someone loving me – showing me affection and care – without creating space for my voice and opinion to be heard was profoundly terrifying?
I see examples of amazing marriages within the church (for which I am so grateful), and I know it does not actually play out so simple. I see couples give each other mutual love and respect. I am confident I could walk up to anyone in the church, and they would tell me it is absolutely okay to want to be respected by a future husband. I know in my head all the reasons not to be hung up on this idea. But I am. Why? Because I feel wrong for craving respect so much. I feel like I am a threat to my future marriage to expect or desire that my husband would want to listen to my input and take it seriously even if he does not agree. Ultimately, I feel conflicted about wanting to say my opinions and input.
When I think about it more, I am terrified that men who are raised up with this idea will think it would be sufficient to love me and not respect me. I understand that at this moment, I may be warping the idea of love and respect. I don’t actually believe it is possible to have love without respect or respect without love. That’s not my point…if I am making a point. I guess my point is that the church drove home this distinction so much that it created a separation of these two ideas. And maybe the root of the message was lost. But I am not about to write out a sermon.
I want to share honest thoughts that it hurts. It is painful to feel wrong for wanting respect from my husband. I would rather my husband engage in a difficult conversation with me and validate my thoughts on a subject matter then tell me I am beautiful or the most amazing thing that has happened to him. I would rather he listen to my input about how to parent children well, because I care so much about that, then make me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but because I personally value the former more, I feel like I have failed even before I have begun. Somewhere deep down, I fear being a massive disappointment as a wife. Again, I have plenty of thoughts to reason this away, but I am describing the raw feelings surrounding it.
I am not exaggerating when I say that even by sharing this, I feel like I would have a black mark on me that would make me ineligible within the Church or to Christian men. I am scared that it will be perceived as harsh or unfair. That it sounds dramatic. That it sounds likes like too much to deal with. It feels like I am branding myself as the un-ideal woman.
I also know I have to own my doubt and cynicism. Some of my own thinking and beliefs need to change. Luckily, I have an amazingly patient and loving Heavenly Father to walk me through that. But I also wonder and would ask others to wonder with me if it might be a disservice to focus so much attention on that verse and the distinction between love and respect. What would it look like to acknowledge that we all crave love, and as a man, it is okay to want to be deeply cherished and loved? To acknowledge that respect is important in every healthy relationship, and it is okay as a woman to expect your husband should respect you AND love you? Not rhetorical. I pray I’m not being heretical by asking those questions.
What if the intent of the verse was not to point out the key to every woman’s heart and the key to every man’s heart, but perhaps to address what we naturally have a harder time providing. Maybe it is difficult for women to show their husbands respect, and maybe sometimes it is easy for men to overlook their wife’s desire for affection and care. I don’t know. Just a shift in perspective that makes a difference in my own understanding, if not anyone else’s.
I would be remiss if my parting words did not emphasize that I would never want to take away the Truth of Scripture. I believe it is the inerrant Word of God, and I submit to that. I believe there was purpose and intention behind that verse. That it needed to be said and received.
What I don’t know is if God is asking me to expect that my husband will love me more than respect me. But what I do know is that God loves me unconditionally and created me with specific gifts. Gifts that sometimes feel at war with a pre-conceived idea of who I am supposed to be. If I see injustice, I want to point it out and act and get other people to act on it. And if a partner dismissed that; I would be heartbroken. But sometimes that looks like having opinions on how things should be done or not be done which is not so easily received at times. Because after all, shouldn’t it be the husband making those decisions? Should the husband direct the spiritual trajectory of a family? Shouldn’t the wife submit to the husband? Don’t misunderstand me; I am not speaking satirically.
These are questions that provoke confusion and even anguish. And to be honest, I don’t know if I would be receptive to answers on this from anyone but God right now. I trust him, but I have a much harder time trusting people. Generally, I value feedback, and anyone is still welcome to give it. I am just honest about where I am at with this. It is so personal to me. And yes, my mind knows that I need to trust the Holy Spirit at work in a partner (something I need more work on), but it still doesn’t address my question of when it is okay to boldly speak out – even in contrast to my husband’s beliefs, actions, or opinions? Will I be chastised by him and those around me telling me that’s not my role? Are they justified if they did say that?
I wrote this about a month ago. The last couple paragraphs are new. But I sat on it for a while wondering whether I should post it. I still don’t know the answer.
I’ll conclude with another verse in Scripture, one that brings me both comfort and frustration:
1 Peter 3:1-2 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.