The Simple Secret to a Better Marriage
How can I get my husband to love me as much as I love him?" This was the
basic question I heard from wife after wife who came to me for
counseling during the almost twenty years I pastored a growing
congregation. My heart broke for wives as they wept and told me their
stories. Women are so tender. On many occasions I sat there with tears
rolling down my cheeks. At the same time I became irked with husbands.
Why couldn't they see what they were doing to their wives? Was there
some way I could help wives motivate these husbands to love them more?
I felt all this deeply because I had been a child in an unhappy home. My
parents divorced when I was one. Later they remarried each other, but
when I was five, they separated again. They came back together when I
was in third grade, and my childhood years were filled with memories of
yelling and unsettling tension. I saw and heard things that are
permanently etched in my soul, and I would cry myself to sleep at times.
I remember feeling a deep sadness. I wet the bed until age eleven and
was sent off to military school at age thirteen, where I stayed until I
As I look back on how my parents lived a life of almost constant
conflict, I can see the root issue of their unhappiness. It wasn't hard
to see that my mom was crying out for love and my dad desperately wanted
Mom taught acrobatics, tap dance, and swimming, which gave her a good
income and enabled her to live independently of Dad's resources. Dad was
left feeling that Mom could get along fine without him, and she would
often send him that message. She made financial decisions without
consulting him, which made him feel insignificant, as if he didn't
matter. Because he was offended, he would react to her in unloving ways.
He was sure Mom did not respect him. Dad would get angry over certain
things, none of which I am able to recall. Mom's spirit would be
crushed, and she would just exit the room. This dynamic between the two
of them was my way of life in childhood and into my teenage years.
As a teenager I heard the gospel-that God loved me, He had a plan for my
life, and I needed to ask forgiveness for my sins to receive Christ into
my heart and experience eternal life. I did just that, and my whole
world changed when I became a follower of Jesus.
After graduation from military school, I applied to Wheaton College
because I believed God was calling me into the ministry. When I was a
freshman at Wheaton, my mother, father, sister, and brother-in-law
received Christ as Savior. A change began in our family, but the scars
didn't go away. Mom and Dad are now in heaven, and I thank God for their
eternal salvation. There is no bitterness in my heart, but only much
hurt and sadness. I sensed during my childhood, and I can clearly see
now, that both of my parents were reacting to each other defensively.
Their problem was they could offend each other most easily, but they had
no tools to make a few minor adjustments that could turn off their
While at Wheaton, I met a sanguine gal who brought light into every room
she entered. Sarah was the most positive, loving, and others-focused
person I had ever met. She had been Miss Congeniality of Boone County,
Indiana. She was whole and holy. She loved the Lord and desired to serve
Him only. She should have had a ton of baggage from the divorce that had
torn her family, but she did not let it defile her spirit. Instead, she
had chosen to move on. Not only was she attractive, but I knew I could
wake up every day next to a friend.
The Jean Jacket "Disagreement"
I proposed to Sarah when we were both still in college, and she said
yes. While still engaged we got a hint of how husbands and wives can get
into arguments over practically nothing. That first Christmas Sarah made
me a jean jacket. I opened the box, held up the jacket, and thanked her.
"You don't like it," she said.
I looked at her with great perplexity and answered, "I do too like it."
Adamant, she said, "No, you don't. You aren't excited."
Taken aback, I sternly repeated, "I do too like it."
She shot back. "No, you don't. If you liked it, you would be excited and
thanking me a lot. In my family we say, 'Oh my, just what I wanted!'
There is enthusiasm. Christmas is a huge time, and we show it."
That was our introduction to how Sarah and Emerson respond to gifts.
Sarah will thank people a dozen times when something touches her deeply.
Because I did not profusely thank her, she assumed I was being polite
but could hardly wait to drop off the jacket at a Salvation Army
collection center. She was sure I did not value what she had done and
did not appreciate her. As for me, I felt judged for failing to be and
act in a certain way. I felt as if I were unacceptable. The whole jacket
scenario took me by complete surprise.
During the jean jacket episode, though neither of us clearly discerned
it at the time, Sarah was feeling unloved and I was feeling
disrespected. I knew Sarah loved me, but she, on the other hand, had
begun wondering if I felt about her as she felt about me. At the same
time, when she reacted to my "unenthusiastic" response to receiving the
jacket, I felt as if she didn't really like who I was. While we didn't
express this, nonetheless, these feelings of being unloved and
disrespected had already begun to crop up inside.
We were married in 1973 while I was completing my master's degree in
communication from Wheaton Graduate School. From there we went to Iowa
to do ministry, and I completed a master's of divinity from Dubuque
Seminary. In Iowa, another pastor and I started a Christian counseling
center. During this time, I began a serious study of male and female
differences. I could feel empathy for my counseling clients because
Sarah and I, too, experienced the tension of being male and female.
You Can Be Right but Wrong at the Top of Your Voice
For example, Sarah and I are very different regarding social
interaction. Sarah is nurturing, very interpersonal, and loves to talk
to people about many things. After Sarah is with people, she is
energized. I tend to be analytical and process things more or less
unemotionally. I get energized by studying alone for several hours. When
I am with people socially, I interact cordially but am much less
relational than Sarah.
One night as we were driving home from a small group Bible study, Sarah
expressed some strong feelings that had been building up in her over
"You were boring in our Bible study tonight," she said, almost angrily.
"You intimidate people with your silence. And when you do talk, you
sometimes say something insensitive. What you said to the new couple
came across poorly."
I was taken aback but tried to defend myself. "what are you talking
about? I was trying to listen to people and understand what they were
Sarah's answer went up several more decibels. "You need to make people
feel more relaxed and comfortable." (The decibels rose some more.) "You
need to draw them out." (Now Sarah was almost shouting.) "Don't be so
I didn't respond for a few seconds because I was feeling put down, not
only by what she said but by her demeanor and her tone. I replied,
"Sarah, you can be right but wrong at the top of your voice."
Sarah recalls that our conversation that night in the car was
life-changing for her. She may have been accurate in her assessment of
how I was acting around people, but her delivery was overkill. We both
dealt with things in our lives due to that conversation. (We still
sometimes remind one another, "You know, you can be right but wrong at
the top of your voice.") Overall, I think Sarah has improved more from
that conversation than I have. Just this past week she coached me on
being more sensitive to someone. (And this is after more than thirty
years in the ministry!)
That early episode in our marriage planted more seeds of what I would
later be able to describe and articulate. I knew Sarah loved me and her
outburst was caused by her desire to help me. She wanted me to
appreciate her concern and understand that she was only doing it out of
love, but the bottom line was I felt disrespected, attacked, and
defensive. Over the years, we continued to grapple with this same
problem. She would voice her concern about something I was not focusing
on as I should. ("Did you return so-and-so's phone call? Did you jot a
note to so-and-so?") I would do my best to improve, but occasionally I
would slip back, making her feel that I did not value her input.
And Then I Forgot Her Birthday
A few more years went by, and Sarah's birthday was coming up. She was
thinking about how I would respond-would I even remember? She always
remembered birthdays, but birthdays weren't big on my radar screen. She
knew she would never forget my birthday, because she loved me
dearly. She wondered, however, if I would celebrate her birthday. She
was thinking, Does he hold me in his heart the way I hold him in
So what she did was not done in a mean spirit. She was simply trying to
discover things about me and men in general. She knew that forgetfulness
was a common problem, and she was just being curious. As an experiment,
she hid all the birthday cards that had arrived before her birthday. No
hints of her birthday existed anywhere, and I was going along in my
usual fog, studying and thinking. On her birthday I had lunch with a
friend. That evening as Sarah and I had dinner, she softly asked, "So,
did you and Ray celebrate my birthday today?"
I can't describe exactly what goes on inside the human body at a moment
like that. But it felt as if my blood went out of my heart, down to my
feet, and then shot full force into my face. How would I ever explain
I hemmed and I hawed, but I couldn't explain forgetting Sarah's
birthday. My forgetfulness had been unloving, and I could see that she
was hurt. But at the same time, I had these strange feelings. Yes, I had
been wrong to forget, but I hadn't ignored her birthday intentionally. I
felt judged, put down-and rightly so. At the time, I couldn't describe
my feelings with a word like disrespected. During those years,
when the feminists were going full blast, men didn't talk about being
disrespected by women. That would have been arrogant, and in church
circles it would have been considered a terrible lack of humility.
Loving Times and Spats of Ugliness
The years rolled by-a blur of preaching, pastoring, and counseling more
married couples. Sarah and I continued to grow in our marriage as we
learned more and more about one another, and we had a lot of great
times. But along with the loving times were spots (should I say spats?)
of ugliness. Nothing was long term; we would almost always pray together
afterward, asking forgiveness from one another as well as from the Lord.
But what did it all mean? Where was our marriage going? After all, I was
a pastor who was paid to be "good." How could I justify all my little
slip-ups that were "good for nothing"?
As someone has said, the problem with life is that it's so daily. And
Saran and I irritated each other almost daily with bad habits we
couldn't shake. One of mine was leaving wet towels on the bed. At least
once a month Sarah would be angry about my wet towel. And every three
months or so, I would start drifting back into being preoccupied with
other things, neglecting certain duties, and forgetting certain
requests. When she would critique me, tension would arise and I would
come across as blaming her or making excuses.
Sarah periodically coughs and clears her throat, and early on in our
marriage when we would be praying, I would get irritated by her
coughing. How childish could I be? We were praying to the Lord of
heaven, and I was bothered by something she couldn't help. Other times,
she wanted me to praise the Lord when I was frustrated. Frankly, I
didn't always want to praise the Lord, so did that make me less
spiritual? When she was frustrated, I didn't tell her to praise the
Lord! Didn't that make me less judgmental and more spiritual?
Tension has a way of tearing down your self-image. On the heels of
confrontation, I felt I could never be good enough. And on the heels of
family conflict, Sarah felt she was a failure as a mother and wife. As
with all couples, the specifics that prompted these tensions weighed
heavily on us as a couple. Indeed, life can be "so daily."
It is not Sarah's first choice to travel, study, and teach because that
is not her gifting, though she is willing to go for the sake of our
ministry. I can't stand fixing things that break in the home since
that's not my talent. So I usually complain when trying to fix something
which doesn't get fixed anyway (and that's why I didn't want to do it in
the first place!).
I share all these little "secrets" about my wife and me to let you know
that we do not deliver our message on marriage from any pedestal of
perfection. We have struggled on many fronts and will continue to do so,
but now we struggle knowing we can win! Over the years, ever so slowly,
we have discovered the "secret" that has made all the difference for us
(and for many other couples).
The "Secret" Hidden in Ephesians 5:33
For more than twenty years I had the privilege of studying the Bible
thirty hours a week for my pulpit ministry. I also earned a PhD in
family studies, plus a master's in communication. I had a lot of formal
training, but when this illumination from Scripture exploded in my heart
and mind one day in 1998, it simply blew me away. I literally exclaimed,
"Glory to God!" The insight that I finally recognized in Scripture, and
which I later confirmed from reading scientific research, explained why
Sarah and I would get into our arguments. I finally saw very clearly why
Sarah could be crushed by my words and actions, just as my mom had been
crushed by my dad. And Sarah could say things that would send me through
the roof, just as my mom had said things that would send my dad through
What was the secret? Actually, it was not a secret at all. This passage
of Scripture has been there for some two thousand years for all of us to
see. In Ephesians 5:33, Paul writes, "Each one of you also must love his
wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (NIV).
Of course, I had read that verse many times. I had even preached on that
verse when conducting marriage ceremonies. But somehow I had never seen
the connection between love and respect. Paul is clearly saying that
wives need love and husbands need respect. As I started sharing my
secret in messages and later in seminars and conferences, I would often
run into people who would say something like, "This Love and Respect
Connection sounds good, Emerson, but isn't it a little theoretical? We
have real problems-money problems, sex problems, how to raise the kids
As I will show throughout this book, the Love and Respect Connection is
the key to any problem in a marriage. This is not just a nice little
theory to which I added a few Bible verses. How the need for love and
the need for respect play off of one another in a marriage has
everything to do with the kind of marriage you will have.
How God Revealed the Love and Respect Connection
In the beginning, when I was struggling to find help for other marriages
as well as for my own, I was not searching for any "Love and Respect
Connection." But that connection surfaced as I pondered what Ephesians
5:33 is saying. My thought process went something like this: "A husband
is to obey the command to love even if his wife does not obey this
command to respect, and a wife is to obey the command to respect even if
the husband does not obey the command to love."
So far, so good. Then I reasoned further: "A husband is even called to
love a disrespectful wife, and a wife is called to respect an unloving
husband. There is no justification for a husband to say, 'I will love my
wife after she respects me' nor for a wife to say, 'I will
respect my husband after he loves me.'"
Excerpted from "Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs" by Emerson Eggerichs. Copyright © 2004 by Emerson Eggerichs. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.