I can’t tell you where I was or who was there or when it happened. I don’t want to add to this guy’s humiliation, so I am keeping this vague and generic. I can simply tell you that, some time ago, I found myself in the same vicinity as another married couple.
I certainly can’t read their minds, and I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, all I know is that the husband couldn’t seem to utter a single phrase that wouldn’t provoke exaggerated eye-rolling from his wife.
She disagreed with everything he said.
She contradicted nearly every statement.
She even nagged him.
She brought up a “funny” story that made him out to be incompetent and foolish. He laughed, but he was embarrassed.
She was gutting him right in front of us. Emasculating him. Neutering him. Damaging him.
It was excruciating.
It was tragic.
It also was, or is becoming, pretty par-for-the-course.
The respect deficiency in our culture has reached crisis levels.
I’ve discussed at length how men should treat women. I’ve written about the lessons I plan to teach my son; lessons about how he should love, honor, respect, serve, and protect the women in his life. Indeed, men need to respect women, and we, as men, are far from perfect in that regard.
Those posts — the ones where I call on us men to improve the way we treat women — tend to be very popular. They’re popular when I write them or when anyone writes them. Proclaim that women, mothers, and wives should be respected, and a chorus will shout ‘amen.’ Every day on Facebook brings us another viral post excoriating men and supporting women. I’ve written a few of them myself.
But I’ve noticed that the corollary — a message about the respect women must give men, a message challenging wives and encouraging husbands — isn’t quite so palatable for many people. Disrespect for men has become standard practice. That scene I witnessed was sad but unremarkable; we’ve all watched that kind of thing play out a thousand times over. Men are disrespected by their wives — they’re disrespected publicly, they’re disrespected privately, they’re disrespected and then told that they have no right to be upset about it because they aren’t worthy of respect in the first place.
Disrespect for men is a joke to us now. A little while ago I stopped on the way home from work to buy my wife some flowers. As she rang me up, the cashier quipped: “Uh-oh, what’d you do?” I wasn’t particularly amused, but I chuckled. She continued. “I don’t know if this will be enough to get you off the couch tonight!”
Ah, yes, the old “husband is punished by his wife and sent to the couch” meme. I’m not sure if this actually happens in real life, or if it’s an invention of 90’s “all men are fat, witless, oafs” sitcoms, but the popularity of the stereotype is telling. Is this how we see husbands now? A man gets “in trouble” with his wife, she scolds him and puts him in time-out on the couch. Now he has to placate his alpha-bride by showering her with flowers and jewelry.
Men are painted like children or dogs. They can be shooed off of their own beds by their wives and sent to cower in the living room until she permits him to return. This is only slightly less offensive than the cliché of the sadistic wife who punitively withholds sex from her husband. “You didn’t clean the garage like I told you. No sex for you, mister! Next time, follow my instructions!”
Did you ever see this Samsung ad from several months ago?
A worthless, grunting, Neanderthal of a husband instantly “evolves” when his wife plugs a contraption into his back. The ad caused a slight dust up when they released it, but nothing — NOTHING — like it would have if the husband and wife had switched roles in this charming piece of viral marketing.
But with men on the receiving end, a few people complained, some angry Youtube comments were posted, Samsung sales were unscathed, and everyone quickly moved on with their lives.
That’s because disrespect for men isn’t exactly a trendy outrage.
These cultural messages aren’t harmful because they hurt my manly feelings; they’re harmful because of what they do to young girls. Society tells our daughters that men are boorish dolts who need to be herded like goats and lectured like school boys. Then they grow up and enter into marriage wholly unprepared and unwilling to accept the Biblical notion that “wives should submit to their husbands” because “the husband is the head of the wife.” [Ephesians 5]
It is a fatal problem, because the one thing that is consistently withheld from men and husbands — respect — is the one thing we need the most.
Yes, need. We need respect, and that need is so deeply ingrained that a marriage cannot possibly survive if the man is deprived of it.
Often, people will say that a husband should only be respected if he “earns” it. This attitude is precisely the problem. A wife ought to respect her husband because he is her husband, just as he ought to love and honor her because she is his wife. Your husband might “deserve” it when you mock him, berate him, belittle him, and nag him, but you don’t marry someone in order to give them what they deserve. In marriage, you give them what you’ve promised them, even when they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
This doesn’t mean that a man has a license to be lazy, or abusive, or uncaring. He is challenged to live up to the respect his wife affords him. If his wife parcels out her respect on some sort of reward system basis, the husband has nothing for which to strive. As the respect diminishes, so too does his motivation to behave respectably. Respect is wielded like a ransom against him, and he grows more isolated and distant all the while.
They both swirl in circles around the drain. He fails, so she gives him no respect, and then he continues to fail because he feels disrespected, and she continues to give him no respect because he continues to fail. And so on, and so on, and so on, all the way to the divorce attorney.
The same thing happens with love. If love is unconditional, then the light of love always shines in your marriage, even in its darkest times. But if your love is given in direct proportion to your spouse’s ability to “earn” it, then it will inevitably diminish and fade over time.
Love in a marriage is, as people often point out, a choice. But it’s also a duty. So is respect. I love my wife because I choose to love her. I choose to love her because that is the vow I made; it is my charge, my warrant. Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to love my wife because she’s kind, warmhearted, and beautiful. But if she becomes less kind, and I withdraw my love because of it, then my love was never love to begin with. It was just a pleasant feeling; a natural response to her nicer tendencies.
This is not to say that women should tolerate a man who fails in his duties, but that her intolerance for his failures can only be constructive if it is rooted in respect. Sadly, many women will approach their husbands and say: “You need to stop doing such and such or start doing such and such, because you’re a failure and I don’t respect you.”
She might not explicitly state this, but it is the message she implicitly sends. There is zero chance that this message will help to heal the damage; it only plunges another dagger into the already gaping wound.
A few months ago I wrote a post about pornography. I stand by every word I typed, but I feel like I could add another couple thousand sentences to the end of it. Ever since I published that piece, I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of men and women on both sides of the porn problem.
Men emailed to tell me that they developed a porn habit and it did great damage to their marriage. But they told me that they resorted to porn after years of being disrespected, shunned and belittled by their wives. They weren’t making an excuse — only offering some perspective and context.
And hundreds of women told me that their husbands developed a porn habit and it caused them to lose all respect for them. This inability to respect their husbands nearly, or in some cases completely, wrecked their marriage.
A vicious cycle. The men didn’t want to fight for a marriage if they weren’t respected, and the women didn’t want to respect men who wouldn’t fight for their marriage. He withholds his love, she withholds her respect. They’ve both set fire to the thing that needs to be fixed.
Respect is our language. If it isn’t said with respect, we can’t hear it. This is why nagging is ineffective and self defeating. This is why statements made in sarcastic tones, or with rolling eyes, will never be received well. We have a filter in our brains, and a statement made in disrespect will be filtered out like the poison it is.
Men are notoriously reluctant to share feelings or display vulnerability. Many times, we keep those inner thoughts locked away — our feelings guarded and hidden — because we know we are not respected. A man will never be vulnerable to someone who doesn’t respect him. Never.
A man isn’t satisfied or content if he isn’t respected. If he can’t find respect where he is, he will seek it somewhere else. This can have disastrous implications for a relationship, but it applies in other areas of life as well. A man is much more likely to stay in a low paying job, a physically demanding job, a dangerous job, or a tedious job, than a job where he isn’t respected.
I’m only emphasizing this because I think it might actually be news to some people. Society does not permit men to be vocal about their need for respect, so the need is often ignored.
I could sit here all day adding “yes, but husbands also need to…” disclaimers. I won’t, because I’ve probably written a dozen or more times on that subject. Every once in a while, I think we should talk about what wives need to do. And here it is. This, above all else. Respect your husbands. Even when he doesn’t deserve it.
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