“. . . let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
Do you want a joyful and unified marriage that glorifies God? In order to obtain oneness and worship our Lord with our marriages, as women and wives we need to correctly understand the need for respect. Respect is to notice, regard, honor, prefer, defer to, encourage, love, and admire. Men and women were created with equal worth but different roles. Though men are not exempt from respecting their wives, God created the woman to help (Genesis 2:18) and respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33).
The Bible provides principles for how to respectfully help our husbands, but it does not give us many methods. Women are prone to ask other women what methods they use as respectful helpers, or to read books such as Real Marriage seeking to be told what to do. What follows are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made over the years. My prayer is that it encourages you to be the respectful wife that God has created you to be.
Heads of Respect
Respect starts in our heads, and includes our mind and thoughts. Disrespect also starts in our heads and can over time affect our hearts and hands. James 1:14–15 describes this perfectly: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Disrespect starts when we think things like: That was a dumb decision he made, I can do better than that. I wish he were more like _____, or, I’ll just fix all the things he does wrong. I hope the kids don’t grow up to be like him. When he is out of town life is easier. I won’t ask him because he won’t understand. If you are thinking this way toward your husband and let it continue, it will seep into your heart and eventually come out in your words and actions toward your husband.
For some of you this is new. For others you understand that you need to respect your husband, but are having a difficult time doing so. Regardless of where you find yourself today, the following is what I recommend for you to start.
Confess your sin of disrespecting authority to God and your husband, and be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction for change.
Begin developing new habits of biblical thinking by being thankful for your husband’s gifts and strengths, rather than being bitter about his weaknesses and shortcomings. I encourage you to take time to observe your husband closely and even start a journal or make a list of things you appreciate about him.
Hearts of Respect
If our hearts are working toward respect, our mouths will follow, because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). If our hearts abound with disrespect, our mouths will spew disrespectful words. As women, our words are often motivated or withheld, because of our emotions. Do you tend to respond to your husband with criticism or with silence?
When you talk about him in public or with others do you tear him down or build him up? Are you careful not to gossip about him, or do you freely share your issues with others? This includes prayer requests, women’s Bible studies, and female accountability relationships that degenerate into gossip, busy bodying, and disrespecting our husbands in the name of ministry. Are you a wife who criticizes, contradicts, or sneers at your husband? Do you do this in front of other people? Do you “joke” about his lack of abilities or his way of doing things? Do you cut him down in front of the kids?
Our battle with words goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve used her words to ask her husband to sin with her. Her intention was not to bless him, but to excuse her sin and have him join her in it. We continue to fight the same war with our mouths today, but God gives us the Holy Spirit for wisdom and strength to continue being redeemed.
Also, it’s important to remember that we don’t change our husbands—the Holy Spirit does! Use your words to pray for and help him instead of belittling him. Use your words to pray for yourself that you would practice self-control (Ephesians 4:29).
Sometimes we don’t even hear ourselves, because our words can be subtle disrespect, so we might need others whom we trust to help us assess our hearts and mouths. Ask your husband or a godly woman, or both, if your words are respectful, and be willing to listen without blame shifting or excusing your sin. We cannot grow in respect if we disregard those who point out our disrespect.
Hands of Respect
God created women to be helpers, which is a reflection of his character. God said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” so he created a helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18). It’s important to note that the word “helper” does not denigrate the wife; in fact, God is also referred to as our helper (Psalm 10:14; 118:6-7; Hebrews 13:6).
As a helper, a wife is called to become a companion in her husband’s God-given calling. This is what 1 Corinthians 11:7–9 means. Upon marriage, a woman’s life changes as she joins her husband in his life’s course. That looks different for me than it does for your marriage because each of our husbands is unique.
For starters, prayerfully consider the following ways to have respectful hands:
Hands That Pray
Prayer softens our hearts and our husband’s hearts. If you only pray for him to change, then you won’t see your own sin too. Prayer reminds us of our total dependence upon God.
When I pray for Mark, he feels respected and loved. I look at his calendar for the day and pray for teaching sessions, meetings, appointments, safety, wisdom, and other things God brings to mind. We also enjoy prayers of thankfulness together when we see God’s grace in our lives. When Mark is sad, upset, stressed, or discouraged, I offer to pray out loud with him.
Hands That Touch
Physical affection is key to intimacy. If your husband enjoys touch, you probably can’t go overboard on this one. If your husband is more reserved, you can still express comfort through holding hands, neck rubs, and meaningful kisses.
Sex for the purpose of oneness usually doesn’t just “happen” at the end of a long day without working toward it throughout the day. Don’t get into a habit of only touching him when he is leaving the house once a day. Rather, learn to enjoy playfulness that leads to deeper intimacy and sex. Try meeting him for lunch appointments when possible. Instead of demands when he arrives home from work, greet him at the door with a hug or kiss. Text him during the day to let him know you are thinking about him.
Hands That Feed
Take time to plan a menu for the week (or month) so you aren’t throwing unhealthy things together for dinner or tempted to always eat out. There are many recipe and cooking websites that offer healthy meal ideas. Your husband will have more mental, physical, and emotional energy if he is not eating simple carbs and sugar all day. I’m not saying he can’t cook if he likes to, but be attentive to nutrition. Sitting down to regularly enjoy good meals together is also a welcoming way to nurture your friendship with your husband.
Hands That Hunt and Fish
Be unselfish. Mark loves baseball, so I have attended many games and learned how baseball works. I often watched him play in high school. Our three boys also love baseball, so I spend countless hours at the field for all their games. In return, Mark knows I don’t like to shop alone, so he takes me to my favorite stores every so often and helps pick out what looks nice. He also loves to study the culture by watching some of the popular TV shows, so I watch shows with him that wouldn’t be my first choice. The point is to do activities that your husband likes to do and have fun with it, not be disgruntled.
Hands That Open the Bible
Grow your relationship with Jesus. If you aren’t getting fed through Bible reading, prayer, and personal repentance, then it will be impossible to know how to serve and respect your husband.
Since respect is a command, God doesn’t leave us clueless and unable: he will give us the wisdom and strength to carry it out. We have to stay connected to Jesus in order to keep our husbands a priority over tasks, kids, other people, and the pull of culture. I tried respecting Mark without keeping Jesus first, and it was a disaster no matter how hard I tried. I used to think I didn’t have time for daily Bible and book reading, but we just need to use the time that God already gives us. Anytime the order of godly (1) woman, (2) wife, (3) mother, and (4) friends gets switched, we commit idolatry and end up in misery. As a mother of five, I learned to pray for God to show me moments throughout the day to use for reading, and the Holy Spirit is faithful to remind me of those times if I am willing to listen.