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Cracking the Communication Code: The Secret to Speaking Your Mate's Language; Love for Her, Respect for Him

Cracking the Communication Code: The Secret to Speaking Your Mate's Language; Love for Her, Respect for Him

by Emerson Eggerichs

Learn More | Meet Emerson Eggerichs


Is Communication Really the Key to Marriage?

Ever since Love & Respect was published in the fall of 2004, we have received two kinds of responses: (1) Love & Respect hit a marital nerve as thousands of couples experienced significant breakthroughs in their marriages; (2) others still carry burdens as they struggle to get off what I call the Crazy Cycle and have a marriage God blesses.

The breakthrough letters are thrilling to read. Husbands tell us they have learned what can happen when they use loving words to communicate with wives, and wives tell us they have been astounded at the difference it makes when they use respectful words to communicate with their husbands. Here are just two examples from literally thousands of letters and e-mails.

A wife writes to tell us she is amazed at how the Love and Respect message has “healed” her marriage:

     When I converse with my husband, I listen to his heart and filter the words through his “can’t survive and thrive without RESPECT” need. No matter what he is saying, I remind myself that he is a good-willed man....If necessary, I start with an apology for my lack of respect, and then we talk through the issues at hand. He does the same thing with me concerning my need to be loved and—Wow!—have we been having fun!

A husband shares that he and his wife have a new perspective on each other:

     [The Love and Respect message has] opened our eyes to a new way of thinking about how we are to interact and view each other’s roles as designed by God. We understand each other in a new way, and that has led to dramatically improved communications! I already see a difference in myself, how I act and react....This has helped me put my feelings into words that [my wife] can understand, and I am beginning to see how what I say and how I say it can feel hurtful to her.

The letters and e-mails keep pouring in. People hear about the Love and Respect Connection through our conferences, DVDs, and books. Love and Respect is being taught in classes of all kinds—in adult Sunday school, in small groups in homes, and in kitchens by wives who want to share with other wives what they have learned that has turned their marriage around.

Love and Respect Is No Magic Formula

Breakthroughs are happening, but Love and Respect is not some kind of magic formula. We get plenty of letters from couples who have read Love & Respect, attended a conference, or watched a DVD, and, while they get the point, they still struggle to get off their Crazy Cycle.

One wife admitted that she and her husband had attended a Love and Respect Conference and got some help, but she went on to say, “How faithfully are we implementing the principles? Well, we did at first, but how easily we can go back into old patterns . . . I know we are both growing individually. It is just not showing up too well in our marriage yet.”

Another wife confesses:

     I wish I could give you great news about understanding the Crazy Cycle and being able to make changes in my marriage. Unfortunately, my husband hasn’t been on board even though I have tried giving him compliments and respecting him. He isn’t able to receive them because I have criticized him in the past. We are now separated, although living in the same house. I continue to try and pray things will change soon.

One husband who attended a Love and Respect Conference with his wife tried to put what he learned into action, but because she was hurting so deeply, she did not respond to his honest attempts to be more loving. He says:

     When I asked her about things she wants to change in me, she said I was putting words in her mouth....She is bringing up things I have done in the past, so the wounds are probably the driving force here. If I hear you right, I will need to suffer through a time of showing love, humility, and no defensiveness, or we will probably not get out of this mess.

Communication Is the Biggest Challenge

In a survey conducted by Focus on the Family for the Love and Respect Ministries, respondents were asked, “What was (and possibly still is) the biggest problem affecting your marriage?” For men and women the biggest problem by far was lack of communication.1 Focus on the Family’s findings coincide with our own at Love and Respect Ministries. As we study letters and e-mails from thousands of spouses, the common thread that runs through almost all of them is that, in one way or another, the major challenge for the typical couple is communication.

It would be easy enough, then, to deduce that communication is the key to marriage, but I don’t agree. To say that communication is the key to marriage is to assume that both spouses speak the same language.

After more than three decades of pastoring, counseling married couples, and conducting marriage conferences, I have learned that, in fact, the wife speaks a “love language” and the husband speaks a “respect language.” They don’t realize this, of course, but because he is speaking one kind of language (respect) and she is speaking another (love), there is little or no understanding and little or no communication.

As I have shared in Love & Respect, my wife, Sarah, and I learned that we speak different languages through practical personal experience. While we had a good marriage, we still struggled with irritation, anger, and plenty of hurt feelings. Often we just couldn’t communicate, but we didn’t know why. A lot of the time it seemed that indeed we were speaking different languages, but we had no idea what to do about it. It was frustrating—and embarrassing. After all, I was a pastor and should have had the answer to something like this! Fortunately, I finally found the answer—or, more correctly, God revealed it to me—in a single passage of Scripture, Ephesians 5:33: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV).

As I pondered God’s clear command (not suggestion) in Ephesians 5:33, I uncovered what I came to call the “Love and Respect Connection.” I am commanded to love Sarah because she needs love; in fact, she “speaks love.” Love is the language she understands. But when I speak to her in unloving ways, her tendency is to react with disrespectful words. Sarah is commanded to respect me because I need respect; in fact, I “speak respect.” Respect is the language I understand. But when she speaks to me in disrespectful ways, my tendency is to react with unloving words. Round and round we would go in a Crazy Cycle, each saying things that were the exact opposite of what was needed!

Mutual Understanding Became the Key to Our Marriage

In chapter 2, “In Marriage the Mouth Matters,” I will explain in more detail how Ephesians 5:33 gave Sarah and me what we needed to start speaking each other’s language. Basically, I needed to speak more lovingly to her, and she needed to speak more respectfully to me. These changes were not easy or automatic. We took baby steps at first, but soon we were making progress, and eventually we had a major breakthrough.

As I spoke Sarah’s mother tongue of love and Sarah spoke my mother tongue of respect, we became friends who shared mutual understanding. For years we had been like a Russian and an Israeli, speaking our different languages. All we did was get louder as we tried to get our respective points across! But as we began to learn each other’s vocabulary—as I learned some of her love language, and she learned some of my respect language—amazing things happened. Not only did we start understanding each other (in many ways for the first time), but our communication improved dramatically. This is why I say the key to any marriage is a mutual understanding of each other’s language. It is the mutual understanding that leads to good communication. (For more on the language barrier between husband and wife, see chapter 3, “Not Wrong, Just Different.”)

Does this mean our marriage is completely free of stress, disagreement, and tension? Of course not! Sarah and I still argue over some of the same old things; we still get irritated with each other for certain habits and practices. But now we know how to communicate with each other and deal with our problems. We don’t know it all, but we know a great deal more than we did before we started living with Love and Respect.

As Sarah and I have heard and seen the responses to Love & Respect and to our Love and Respect Conferences (which we hold twenty weeks a year), we’ve recognized that there is much more we can share about how husband and wife can communicate with each other and with God, who is the centerpiece of every marriage puzzle. That’s why we have crafted this book—to help you apply the principles of Love and Respect so that you will learn to communicate more effectively by gaining mutual understanding. Basic communication principles from Love & Respect are expanded, and many new ideas and concepts are added. No matter what your issue is—criticism, constant conflict, sex, money, parenting, etc., etc.—we share how learning the vocabulary of Love and Respect can help you experience a richer communion as you begin to understand each other and communicate in the way that God intended.

A lot, of course, depends on you and how open you are to the simple idea that husbands and wives speak in two languages—hers the language of love, his the language of respect. We know Love and Respect does not click with everyone—at least right away. One wife writes to tell us her husband uses the Love and Respect DVDs for target practice; a husband e-mails us to say he thinks the Love and Respect message is great, but his wife thinks we have no clue about women and, to put it bluntly, I am a chauvinist. But extreme reactions like these only tend to prove our case: a marriage can be fertile ground for disagreement and strong feelings. We know, however, that if you are serious (desperate?) about improving your marriage, Love and Respect can help you succeed or get even better, and that’s what Cracking the Communication Code is all about.

So, we are ready to begin, but first, a special note about chapter 1, “A Short Course on Love and Respect.” In this chapter you will find a condensation of our book Love & Respect (Integrity, 2004). If you have read Love & Respect, chapter 1 can serve as a review and reminder of Love and Respect principles. Of course, if you feel you need no review, just skip right to chapter 2 to start the discussion of how to improve your mutual understanding and communication through Love and Respect. Some readers, however, may be totally unfamiliar with how Love and Respect works. For you, chapter 1 is an invaluable introduction that will acquaint you with Love and Respect terminology and concepts. This “Short Course on Love and Respect” can help bring you up to speed and make Cracking the Communication Code all the more helpful and beneficial.

So, choose where you want to begin: chapter 1 to either review Love & Respect or be introduced to the total system; chapter 2 to get started on your journey toward mutual understanding and better communication in your marriage. And may God richly bless that journey.

Emerson Eggerichs
January 2007


A Book Within a Book

The chapter to follow is really a book within a book—a summary of the key points I made in Love & Respect (Integrity, 2004). This chapter offers an overview of the Love and Respect system, which you may have learned at a Love and Respect Conference, from a Love and Respect DVD, or by reading the earlier book. If you are unfamiliar with the Love and Respect system, this overview will teach you its basic principles and show you how applying them can improve your marriage whether you are currently on the Crazy Cycle, the Energizing Cycle, or the Rewarded Cycle.


A Short Course on Love and Respect

The Love and Respect approach to marriage is based on the awareness that any couple is always potentially on one of three cycles: the Crazy Cycle, the Energizing Cycle, or the Rewarded Cycle. None of these cycles is a permanent, static situation. A lot of couples, however, seem to spend most of their time on the Crazy Cycle, which is summed up like this:


Clearly, the Crazy Cycle triggers and fuels itself. When a wife feels unloved, she tends to react in ways that feel disrespectful to her husband. When a husband feels disrespected, he tends to react in ways that feel unloving to his wife. And around and around they go—on the Crazy Cycle.

Love and Respect Must Be Unconditional

Scripture offers the answer to the Crazy Cycle in Ephesians 5:33—“Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV). This verse is the summary statement of the greatest treatise on marriage in the New Testament: Ephesians 5:22–33. In verse 33 Paul pens God’s commands (not suggestions) that husbands must love their wives and that wives must respect their husbands. What is more, the love and respect are to be unconditional.

When a husband chooses to come across lovingly even though he feels disrespected, he can prevent the Crazy Cycle from spinning and possibly getting out of control. When a wife chooses to come across respectfully even though she feels unloved, she can stop or slow the Crazy Cycle as well. On the other hand, life gets insane when a husband says to himself, “I’m not going to love that woman until she starts showing me some respect! I’ll not talk to her!” Likewise, madness reigns when a wife says to herself, “I’m not going to respect that man until he earns my respect and starts loving me the way he should. I’ll teach him!”

The secret to building a happy relationship is to recognize when you are on the Crazy Cycle—when you are not communicating, when you are in some level of conflict, be it mild or severe, or when life together just isn’t going well. The Crazy Cycle can be low-key, with both of you trying to keep the lid on, or it can be intense, with angry remarks, biting sarcasm, shouting, and worse. The point is, whatever the intensity level of your Crazy Cycle, one and often both of you are doing crazy, dumb things that drive the other one nuts. Spouses may be doing these crazy things deliberately or unthinkingly, but always they are reacting to a lack of love (for her) or a lack of respect (for him).

Although the Crazy Cycle is not what God intends for any marriage, all couples get on it at times to one degree or another. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7:28 Paul flatly states that when two people marry they “will face many troubles in this life” (NIV). Such troubles can come in many ways, but one of the most common is that the best of husbands will say or do things that feel unloving to his wife or the best of wives will say or do things that feel disrespectful to her husband. As any married couple knows, life presents all kinds of opportunities for this to happen.

Sex Tonight? Who Decides?

Earlier in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses a common problem in marriage: sexual relations. He makes it clear that “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (v. 4).

Paul’s words seem to describe a standoff. So who decides tonight whether or not there will be sexual intimacy? If he verbally pushes the issue, will she feel used and unloved? If she verbally declines, will he feel disrespected? Most couples know what this situation is like. All too often it turns into a clash. Feeling unloved, she speaks words of contempt: “It’s always all about you. You never think of how I might be feeling.” Smarting from what he perceives as disrespect and frigid unconcern for his needs, he speaks harshly and unlovingly: “You always have a headache. You care more about the kids than me. I’m just a meal ticket to you.”

Obviously, inflammatory remarks like this get the Crazy Cycle shifting into high gear in a hurry. But does either spouse really intend for this to happen? Rarely. Most spouses are full of goodwill: each means the other no harm, but wants only good things to happen between them. Note that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:33–34 the “one who is married is concerned he may please his wife...[or] how she may please her husband.” In the normal flow of marriage, neither gets up in the morning thinking, “How can I displease my mate or show I am not concerned about my spouse’s needs?” Nonetheless, as the day goes by, things happen. Without realizing it, he may sound harsh and unloving, and she reacts with disrespect. Or she may treat him with disrespect in one of a dozen different little ways, and he reacts by not being loving. Conflict occurs, and that is when spouses can get nasty with each other. Both spouses are goodwilled people, but it sure doesn’t seem that way at the moment!

And the problem concerning “sex tonight—yes or no” still remains. How can two goodwilled people deal with this issue so that they both feel loved and respected? Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 7:3–4 offers some excellent clues: “The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality— the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights’ ” (MSG).

Peterson’s phrase “place of mutuality” points to the idea of creating a win-win situation. When the Crazy Cycle is going strong, both spouses are in a win-lose frame of mind. Spouses who seek a Love and Respect kind of marriage have many tools and techniques at their disposal to slow and stop the Crazy Cycle and create a win-win. Couples practicing Love and Respect learn that, because she sees and hears in pink and he sees and hears in blue, they are markedly different. In order to understand these differences, they need to realize that they send each other messages in code and they must learn how to decode each other.

The “Issue” Is Seldom the Real Issue

Just about every couple knows what it is like to get into a conflict that escalates into a full-blown argument and they are not sure why it happened. Spouses tend to write off these kind of arguments, saying, “If only she weren’t so sensitive” or “If only he weren’t so touchy.” But those aren’t the real issues at all. For example, when he hasn’t called and gets home late for dinner and she erupts in criticism and tears, saying he is an unloving human being, the real issue isn’t his lateness or her bitter criticism of his integrity. The real issue is that she feels unloved, and when she angrily attacks his character, he feels disrespected. After all, she knows that he often has to work late. It’s part of his job.

The Crazy Cycle happens when spouses focus on their own needs and overlook the needs of the other. That’s when the issues arise. The wife needs love; she is not trying to be disrespectful. The husband needs respect; he is not trying to be unloving. And once the Love and Respect couple grasps a basic principle—that the apparent issue is not the real issue at all—they are on their way to cracking the communication code.

Stay Off Each Other’s Air Hose

Another key to slowing and stopping the Crazy Cycle is to realize that the wife needs love just as she needs air to breathe. Picture, if you will, that the wife has an air hose leading to a “love tank.” When her husband steps on her air hose or pinches it in some way with unloving behavior, he will see her deflate before his eyes. He is stepping on her air hose, and she is crying out, “I feel unloved by you right now. Why are you doing this to me?”

On the wife’s side of the Love and Respect equation, she should picture her husband with his own air hose leading to his “respect tank.” As long as her respect is flowing through his air hose, he is fine, but if she starts to pinch or cut his air hose with sharp, critical remarks, his supply of respect will leak or be cut off, and he will react negatively because his deepest need is not being met. When either spouse’s air hose is cut off in some way, the other will respond in kind. Both air hoses shut down, and the battle—the Crazy Cycle—is on!

Being aware that men see and hear in blue and women see and hear in pink (very differently) is extremely important. Working at decoding each other’s messages is essential. Being careful not to step on each other’s air hose (hers leads to her love tank; his leads to his respect tank) is vital. But all this information will do a marriage little good unless both spouses commit themselves to the tasks of unconditional love (by the husband toward the wife) and unconditional respect (by the wife toward the husband).

Unconditional Really Means “Unconditional”

Wives have little trouble grasping the meaning of unconditional love. God has wired them to love, but while they tell me they truly do love their husbands, they can’t respect their men because of their unloving behavior. They continue to demand that their husbands earn their respect. Love is all that matters. If their husbands would simply love them as they should, all would be well.

For many wives, the concept of unconditional respect seems to be an oxymoron (a term created by putting together two words that appear to be incongruous or contradictory). But when a wife insists that her husband earn her respect, she puts him in a lose-lose situation. If he must unconditionally love his wife as she demands and he must earn her respect as well, he is likely to just give up, shut down, and say, “I can never be good enough for you.”

A major reason why wives have such a hard time with unconditional respect for their husbands is that they see and hear in pink while their husbands see and hear in blue. One wife described the problem perfectly: “We think so differently. I don’t even relate to what he considers respect— or the lack of it.” I struggled to help marriages for many years before I saw the answer to this problem in Ephesians 5:33. God is saying in so many words, “Yes, the two of you are very different, and I am telling you to love and respect unconditionally anyway.”

Since that discovery of what was there all the time in plain sight, I have tried to convince wives that the best way to motivate their husbands to love them is to show them respect whether they deserve it or not. Women need to learn how to understand and use the word respect because, in truth, respect is what a man most values. By the same token, his wife’s contempt is what a man most fears. And no husband will feel love and affection toward his wife if she seems to despise who he is as a human being.

Does unconditional respect mean a wife must respect evil behavior? Let me qualify what I mean by unconditional respect. Just as a husband is to come across lovingly even though his wife is not lovable, so a wife is to come across respectfully even though her husband is not respectable. This does not mean a wife must say, “I respect the way you get angry and refuse to talk to me.” Such a statement is as silly as a husband saying, “I love the way you nag and criticize me.” This is not about loving or respecting sinful behavior. This is about lovingly or respectfully confronting inappropriate behavior.

Unconditional respect, like unconditional love, is all about how one sounds (tone of voice and word choice) and appears (facial expressions and physical actions). A husband may not deserve respect because he has not earned respect, but a wife’s disrespect for him is ineffective longterm— and not biblical. No husband responds to disrespectful attitudes any more than a wife responds to unloving attitudes. Yes, if a wife is lovable, it makes it easy for her husband to love her, but the command of God to love one’s wife has nothing to do with her being lovable. And if a husband is respectable, it makes it easy for a wife to respect him, but the command of God to respect one’s husband has nothing to do with him being respectable. The Love and Respect message is not about a husband earning his wife’s respect by being more loving any more than it is about a wife earning her husband’s love by being more respectful. Always, Love or Respect is given unconditionally, according to God’s commands.

On the wife’s side, her greatest value is love. One of her greatest fears is that, if she shows her husband respect, he will treat her like a doormat, abuse her, or worse. Feminist voices have trumpeted this idea for years, but I don’t buy it. The man with basic goodwill wants to serve his wife, and he would even die for her. When his wife shows him unconditional respect, in most cases he will feel like a prince and be motivated to show her the kind of unconditional love she desires. She is not a doormat or a slave. She is a princess who is loved and, by the way, respected also. Another key passage full of Love and Respect truth is 1 Peter 3:1–7. Peter teaches wives to show “respectful behavior” (v. 2) even when their husbands are being “disobedient to the word” (v. 1), and he goes on to say that husbands are to “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (v. 7). To honor a wife is to respect her and treat her as an equal.

To carry further the word picture of the prince and princess, I believe the biblical order sees the husband (the prince) as first among equals. This is a responsibility, not a right. The husband and wife are equal in God’s sight, but he is called upon to be the first to provide, to protect, to even die for his wife if necessary. The husband instinctively knows this and wants to fulfill his responsibility. On the other hand, the wife (the princess) instinctively thirsts to be valued as first in importance. Nothing energizes her more. This is not self-centeredness; it is her God-given nature.

When the wife respects the husband as first among equals and he honors her as first in importance, their marriage is balanced, and the Crazy Cycle will not spin. Granted, achieving this balance is not easy, especially if the Crazy Cycle has been spinning for a long time. A wife can slip back into wanting him to earn her respect; a husband can slip back into getting discouraged, thinking, “What’s the use?” Typically, he may go into the familiar male funk known as “stonewalling” (refusing to talk, which drives the typical woman crazy). She may try unconditional respect and then begin to feel like a hypocrite because she really doesn’t feel respectful, or she may remember all those hurts her husband caused with his lack of love and wonder, “Can I ever forgive him?” Naturally enough, the husband will be tempted to pull away. Since she really can’t sustain this respect thing, what’s the use? All he hears is how he’s blown it again. “How could anyone love that woman!” Such a reaction is all too common. And let it be noted that, in describing these interactions, I am not justifying either’s behavior but wishing for each to discover the power of staying the course with their Love and Respect responses.

Love & Respect is full of stories of husbands and wives who struggled to tame the Crazy Cycle yet succeeded. Wives have learned how to respect even when they don’t feel like it, even when feeling rejected by their husbands’ refusal to talk. Husbands have learned to love even in the face of a wife’s criticism and contempt. They have learned to “take” the faultfinding from their wives and rebound in order to prove their unconditional love.

In short, couples can learn that marriage is a two-become-one proposition. Hundreds—and it’s going on thousands—of letters prove this to be true. The Love and Respect Connection is stopping the Crazy Cycle in marriages all over the country. If husband and wife can commit to meeting each other’s primary needs—unconditional love for her and unconditional respect for him—they will take a giant step toward keeping the Crazy Cycle under control.

Remember, you can never completely get off the Crazy Cycle. She will always see and hear in pink, and he in blue, which means the smallest things can cause the Crazy Cycle to start revving its engines. Does this mean you must always live on edge—walking on eggshells to avoid trouble? Not at all. There is another cycle that will help you build a stronger, happier, more biblical marriage as you energize each other with Love and Respect.

The Energizing Cycle Keeps the Crazy Cycle in Its Cage

While there are ways to slow or stop the Crazy Cycle (remember, you never get completely off ), it can always start up again and usually does, even for happy, well-adjusted couples. The way to keep the Crazy Cycle in its cage is to get on the Energizing Cycle, which is summed up like this:


Couples are on the Energizing Cycle when they are practicing Love and Respect principles. To show their love, husbands live out the principles summed up in the acronym C-O-U-P-L-E, which provides six ways to spell love for a wife:

     C — Closeness She wants you to be close—and not just when you want sex.
O — Openness She wants you to open up to her, to talk and not be closed off, acting angry or disinterested.
U — Understanding Don’t try to “fix” her; just listen—and be considerate when she’s really upset.
P — Peacemaking There is power in saying, “Honey, I’m really sorry.”
L — Loyalty Always assure her of your love and commitment.
E — Esteem Your wife wants you to honor and cherish her.

To show their respect, wives live out the principles summed up in the acronym C-H-A-I-R-S, which offers six biblical ways to spell respect for a husband’s deepest desires:

     C — Conquest Recognize and thank him for his desire to work.
H — Hierarchy Thank him for his motivation to protect and provide for you.
A — Authority Acknowledge his desire to lead—and don’t subvert his leadership.
I — Insight Listen appreciatively to his ideas and the advice he wishes to offer.
R — Relationship Value his desire for you to be his friend and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
S — Sexuality Respond to his need for you sexually; don’t deprive him.

The two acronyms listed above are not just magic words or cure-all formulas. The Energizing Cycle will work only if you do. And as you practice C-O-U-P-L-E or C-H-A-I-R-S, your marriage will be happier, stronger, more biblical, and more honoring to God.

C-O-U-P-L-E: A Checkup for Husbands

If a husband applies just one of the C-O-U-P-L-E concepts each day, he takes giant steps toward making his wife feel loved. To check himself on how well he is practicing C-O-U-P-L-E, the husband should ask himself the following biblically based questions on a regular (at least weekly) basis:

Closeness—Because a husband is to “cleave unto his wife” (Genesis 2:24 KJV), my face-to-face time with her causes her to feel emotionally connected and energized.

     Have I been moving toward my wife or away from her? Realizing her deep need to share with me, have I set aside time to talk to her face-to-face? Do I tell her on a regular basis that I love her, admire her, and appreciate her—or do I save those remarks for when I want sex?

Openness—Because a husband is not to be “harsh” (annoyed and resentful) toward his wife (see Colossians 3:19 NIV), I must counter any tendencies to be withdrawn or preoccupied, making her think I have no intentions of being tender and transparent with her.

     Do I share my thoughts and problems with her (a big part of Closeness), or do I keep things to myself to prove I am strong and capable? Do I come across as irritated or angry when she tries to draw me out, or am I open and transparent when she shows concern or curiosity? Do I turn my spirit more toward TV and the newspaper than toward the heart of my wife?

Understanding—Because a husband is to live with his wife “in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7), I need to be attentive to her womanly concerns (even though I may not share her interests) because I want to make her feel understood and cared about.

     When she shares her concerns or problems, do I tend to listen and let her talk, or do I try to “fix” her or what is wrong? Do I see my wife as made of porcelain or other fine china, or do I treat her like she is made of cast iron? Do I increasingly see that “just talking” (a big part of Closeness and Openness) is key to making her feel understood? Do I understand that talking is as important to my wife as sex is to me?

Peacemaking—Because God said, “The two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5), I am always to seek ways to “be at one” with my wife, to always live in peace, which surely includes my apologies for my part in any rift or argument between us.

     Do I tend to talk things through and resolve issues, or do I tend to say, “Let’s just drop it and move on”? When my wife expresses hurt or anger, do I easily say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong”—or do I tend to get defensive, and express hurt and anger myself? Do I really understand how saying “I’m sorry” touches her deeply and makes her feel connected like few things do?

Loyalty—Because Scripture says, “She is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi 2:14), it is a good idea to let her know repeatedly of my devotion to her and to God.

     Do I look for ways to express my loyalty to her alone, or do I tend to think, “She knows I love her. I don’t have to remind her constantly”? In this “swimsuit issue” world, do I openly admire pretty women because I know my wife is secure and can handle it, or do I save my admiration for her alone? My wife is a oneman woman, but is she absolutely sure I am a one-woman man? Do I understand that assurance of my loyalty calms her soul like few things can?

Esteem—Because a husband is to grant his wife “honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), it behooves me to express appreciation for her God-given value as my equal.

     Does my wife feel treasured, like the most loved woman on earth, or is there work for me to do in this area? Do I take my wife’s efforts with the family for granted, or do I often let her know “Thanks for everything you do for me and the kids. I could never, ever do your job!” Do I always remember how important birthdays and anniversaries are to my wife, or do I sometimes get busy and forget? Do I remind myself how energizing it is to her to be referred to as my equal?

Husbands, please note: Every one of the letters in the C-O-U-P-L-E acronym is a key to motivating your wife to do the six things listed in the C-H-A-I-R-S acronym, which is discussed below.

C-H-A-I-R-S: A Checkup for Wives

If a wife uses just one C-H-A-I-R-S principle each day, she takes giant steps toward making her husband feel unconditionally respected. Remember that word unconditional. Husbands don’t need to earn or deserve respect; wives are to extend it graciously and unconditionally.

Simply stated, a wife is to show respect for her husband’s desires related to C-H-A-I-R-S, not for his poor performance in these areas or, for that matter, not for his outstanding performance in each category. For example, a wife should say, “I respect your desire to provide for me.” She should not say, “I respect you for failing to provide all we need this month.” The latter comment is preposterous, yet some think this statement is required of wives! Another example is to say, “I respect your desire to offer me counsel.” She is not to say, “I respect you for this horrible advice.” Again, the latter remark is wacky. On the other side of these harebrained comments, a wife should be cautious about saying, “I respect you for providing everything I want” or “I respect you for your perfect advice.” These expressions are okay, but a husband may think, “What if I fail to provide what you want or to give you perfect advice? Will you respect me then?” This is comparable to a husband saying to his wife, “I love you so much for keeping yourself fit and trim for me.” Will he stop loving her if she puts on a few pounds? Just as a wife is sensitive to performance comments, so is a husband. Therefore, every wife should think about expressing respect for her husband’s desires—not his performance— related to C-H-A-I-R-S.

To check herself on how well she is showing her husband respect for his desires, a wife can ask herself the following questions on a regular (at least weekly) basis:

Conquest—Because “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), I need to grasp why and how all men feel obligated and drawn to work.

     Does my husband know I am behind his desire to work? Do I support him in his field of endeavor? Do I really understand how important my husband’s job is to him—that it is the very warp and woof of his being? Do I realize that my recognition of the significance of my husband’s work energizes him and how fond feelings of affection for me arise in him in response to this recognition?

Hierarchy—Because he is called by God to be “the head of his wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), my husband needs to hear my gratitude for his willingness to protect, to provide, and even die for me.

     Do I express my respect and appreciation for his sense of responsibility for me, or do I either openly or subtly resent the biblical concept of the husband’s headship, feeling that my husband views headship as a right over me, not a responsibility for me? Am I willing to send my husband a card or note to tell him how much I respect him? What would I say to thank him for his desire to take care of me? Do I fully understand how such a statement of respect for his commitment to protect me can touch him deeply?

Authority—Because Scripture tells wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), I need to place myself under his protection and provision, and when stalemates arise, I need to let him know I am willing to defer to his decisions, trusting God to guide him.

     Do I let my husband know that, because he has the responsibility to protect and provide for me, I recognize he also has primary authority in our family, or do I insist on an “egalitarian” marriage where we both have equal authority, yet I contradict “egalitarianism” by expecting him to be primarily responsible? Do I recognize my husband’s desire to be the leader in relationship to me? Do I allow my husband to be the leader, or do I take the lead because, frankly, I am better at a lot of things than he is? Am I on record with my husband that, because he has 51 percent of the responsibility (to die for me!), he has 51 percent of the authority?

Insight—Because the Bible teaches that it was Eve who was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Corinthians 11:3), I should be very aware that there will be moments when I can be misled by my feelings and want to ignore my husband’s counsel.

     Do I tend to turn to him for his opinion and analysis, or do I tend to depend more on my intuition? Do I realize that we are a team—that our marriage needs my intuition and his insight? Do I regularly ask for my husband’s advice? Do I follow it? If my husband offers ideas or opinions that are contrary to mine, am I open to changing, or do I reject out of hand his wish to offer insight? Do I often see my husband as wrong, sinful, and in need of correction and myself as right, good, and correct? Do I sometimes try to be my husband’s Holy Spirit?

Relationship—Because the Bible clearly speaks of how a wife should be her husband’s friend as well as his lover (see especially Song of Solomon 5:16), I should recognize the value of just being with him.

     How much shoulder-to-shoulder time do I spend with my husband? Do we do things together as friends and companions? Do I ever just sit with him—to watch a ball game or a TV program— because I understand his desire for me to be with him? Do I ever just sit and watch him work on something without having to talk?

Sexuality—Because a husband should have eyes only for his wife (Proverbs 5:19), a wife blesses her husband when she understands his vulnerabilities and meets his sexual needs (1 Corinthians 7:5).

     Do I understand that my husband’s need for sex is really an indication of his deeper need for respect? Do I sometimes deprive my husband of sex because I don’t feel he meets my need for intimacy and love? Do I think we need to be close before we can share sexually, or do I see having sex with him is a way to feel close? Am I willing to give my husband the sexual release he needs even when I am not in the mood?

Wives, please note: Every one of the letters in the C-H-A-I-R-S acronym is a key to motivating your husband to do the things in the C-O-U-P-L-E acronym, which was discussed above.

So far we have done a quick review of how to slow and even stop the Crazy Cycle, and we’ve discussed how getting on the Energizing Cycle can keep the Crazy Cycle from starting up again. But there is one more cycle all married couples need to be aware of. It is the most important of all.

The Rewarded Cycle: Reaching Your Ultimate Goal

Knowing how to stop or slow the Crazy Cycle is good. Practicing the Energizing Cycle with C-O-U-P-L-E and C-H-A-I-R-S is better, but there are times when even all of this is not enough. Sometimes a wife will not show unconditional respect for her husband no matter how hard he tries to show her love. Sometimes a husband will not show love for his wife no matter how hard she tries to unconditionally respect him. When this is the case, you are on the Rewarded Cycle, which is summed up like this:


The Rewarded Cycle means that God blesses a husband who loves his wife regardless of her level of respect for him, and God blesses a wife who respects her husband regardless of his level of love for her. These blessings are the rewards God gives to those who love or respect a mate because of their own love and reverence for Christ. Christ is the motivation for such action.

In His parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus teaches us to do what we do as if we are doing it to Him (see Matthew 25:31–40). Ephesians 5:22 tells wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church.” In these two verses, the apostle Paul teaches husbands and wives that, in marriage, the true believer is always conscious of Christ.

When spouses come to me saying the Love and Respect Connection just isn’t working, my advice is always the same: Don’t give up. Keep doing your part because, in God’s economy, no effort to obey Him is wasted. God intends to reward you even if your spouse is unresponsive.

When you love or respect unconditionally regardless of the outcome, you are following God and His will for you. This is the Rewarded Cycle. You aren’t primarily loving your wife or respecting your husband because of what it can do to improve your marriage. Yes, that may be a wonderful by-product, but your real purpose is to love and reverence God by trusting and obeying His commands to you. In fact, the Rewarded Cycle is as relevant to good marriages as it is to poor ones that seem stuck on the Crazy Cycle. In the long run, husbands and wives should be practicing Love and Respect principles first and foremost out of obedience to God and His command in Ephesians 5:33. No matter how well you think the Energizing Cycle is humming, keep your eyes on Christ. Just when you think you have it all solved, the roof can cave in.

To help you in your practice of the Rewarded Cycle, memorize Ephesians 6:7–8: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does” (NIV). Have you ever thought about what Paul means by “the Lord will reward everyone”? This promise of rewards certainly includes husbands and wives who practice Love and Respect regardless of the outcome here on earth. Whatever happens in your marriage, when you get to heaven, the Lord will reward you in ways beyond anything you can possibly imagine if you faithfully practice Love and Respect out of obedience to Him.

I am not simply making a pie-in-the-sky argument. After more than thirty years of doing marriage counseling and conferences, I have concluded we don’t have a marriage crisis in the church; we have a faith crisis. After all, no one can really practice Love and Respect unless he or she does it as unto Jesus Christ. Is this difficult? It can be, and some will fail and feel like bailing out, but—to paraphrase Proverbs 24:16—“a righteous, committed spouse falls seven times, and rises again.” Spouses on the Rewarded Cycle know the secret of success—and maturity. They keep getting up and dealing with the issues. They don’t demand instant solutions; they are in their marriage for the long haul, and they live in obedience to God in order to someday hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 NIV).

The Rewarded Cycle will deepen your love and reverence for Christ as you render Love and Respect to your spouse as unto Him. Remember: in the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ. Whenever you practice Love or Respect, your goal is not simply to slow or halt the Crazy Cycle; nor is it to motivate your spouse to meet your needs. Ultimately, you practice Love or Respect because, beyond your spouse, you picture Jesus Christ, and you envision that time when you will see Him face-toface and realize your marriage was really His way of testing and growing you to have more love and reverence for Him.

The Rewarded Cycle Can Work Right Now

Above I stress that practicing the Rewarded Cycle guarantees you the greatest of rewards when you meet your Lord face-to-face. But be aware that there are also rewards to help you cope here and now. I hear from many, many spouses who say they have gotten the idea about how to slow or stop the Crazy Cycle, but they stay in a sort of limbo, not quite able to get on the Energizing Cycle and stay there. The Crazy Cycle keeps slipping back into first, second, or even high gear, and it is all they can do to slow it down again. I grieve for husbands and wives who continue to struggle with a spouse’s burning rage or withering criticism. But they don’t need my sympathy; they need practical help and sound advice, hard as it may be to accept and follow.

A key to benefiting from the Rewarded Cycle here and now is in one word: unconditional. I often realize I need to heed my own advice. Happy as Sarah and I are, we still go through Rewarded Cycle moments. At those times I must remember that Sarah doesn’t cause me to be the way I am; she reveals the way I am. When I am unloving toward Sarah, it’s because I still have issues; I still have more growing up to do. I have a choice: either admit my failure to be mature or play the victim. As a victim I can blame Sarah, or circumstances, or whatever. But, as a victim, I will not become more mature.

But suppose Sarah is the one at fault. She is being disrespectful, and I have a “right” to feel hurt, angry, depressed. But if I do, I am right back in the victim mind-set again. No matter who is at fault, I can’t expect Sarah to heal my hurts or comfort me. My only real comfort will come from my Lord and trusting Him with my situation. Like anyone else, I must grasp a key Love and Respect principle and never let go: No matter how depressing or irritating my spouse might be, my response is my responsibility.

You Always Have a Choice

In John 8, Jesus is in the middle of a heated discussion with the Pharisees about who He is and why they should follow Him. Explaining to them the secret of true spiritual freedom, Jesus says, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free...if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (vv. 31–32, 36). Jesus’ words are just as relevant for us today. No matter how difficult your spouse may be at the moment, your spouse does not have control over your reaction; you do. You may be experiencing disappointment, frustration, or anger, but you always have a choice. A wife can choose to be disrespectful or respectful. A husband can choose to be unloving or loving.

To realize that you are free in Christ and not a slave to the same old negative reactions that lead straight to the Crazy Cycle is a source of real power. No matter how unloving a husband may be at the moment, when a wife unconditionally respects him out of obedience to Christ, she can win him “without a word”(see 1 Peter 3:1–2), that is, influence him to follow Christ, which also results in him treating her better. And the same principle is true for husbands. No matter how disrespectful a wife may be, when a husband unconditionally loves her out of obedience to Christ, he can win her. Hosea the prophet was called by God to unconditionally love his adulterous wife (Hosea 3:1). The Lord knew that unconditional love is the best way to influence a wife to return to Him and to her husband.

Understand, then, that the Rewarded Cycle assures you that when tests come—and come they will—you always have a choice. Conflict is inevitable; it is simply part of living together. The key to keeping conflict from starting up the Crazy Cycle is to choose to practice love or respect. When a husband speaks with a loving tone during a conflict, which may range from a mild argument to a more serious disagreement, his wife will feel one with him. And when a wife softens her facial expressions and comes across more respectfully during those times of friction, the husband will feel one with her. Will the disagreement be solved? Perhaps, but more than likely it will still be there. Yet husband and wife can feel oneness because nobody has to win and nobody has to lose. Winning or losing during conflict is not the goal. Oneness is, and it is gained when the wife feels loved by her husband and the husband feels respected by his wife. They bond with each other; two, indeed, become one.

Practicing a Love and Respect marriage is a lifelong journey, but you don’t have to travel it alone. In Christ you are free indeed (John 8:36) to make the mature choice to love or respect no matter how your spouse is acting. But you must constantly ask Him for help. Apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). Asking God for help means prayer, lots of prayer. Not the wish-list kind of prayer that says, “Lord, here is what is on my heart. Please fulfill my desires for me.” The Rewarded Cycle kind of prayer says, “Lord, I want to do what is on Your heart. Please fulfill Your desires in me.

Pink and Blue Blend into God’s Purple

One of the most popular illustrations we use in Love and Respect Conferences compares women and men to pink and blue. The audience responds immediately when I talk about how she sees through pink sunglasses and hears with pink hearing aids, while he sees through blue sunglasses and hears with blue hearing aids. In other words, women and men are very different. Yet, when blue blends with pink, it becomes purple, God’s color—the color of royalty. The way for pink and blue to blend is spelled out in Ephesians 5:33: “[Every husband] must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV). Living out Ephesians 5:33 is the key to blending together as one to reflect the very image of God.

But to do this on a daily basis, in the here and now, when disagreements and misunderstandings pop up, takes commitment. Following is a prayer of commitment that we invite husbands and wives to say together as we close a Love and Respect Conference. It sums up the Rewarded Cycle, just as it sums up what it means to have a Love and Respect marriage. Living out Ephesians 5:33 is the key to blending together as one in order to reflect the very image of God.

A Prayer of Commitment
Dear Father,
     I need You. I cannot love or respect perfectly, but I know You hear me when I ask You for help.
     First, please forgive me for the times I’ve been unloving or disrespectful. And help me to forgive my spouse for being unloving or disrespectful toward me.
     I open my heart to You, Father. I will not be fearful or angry at You or my spouse. I’m seeing myself and my spouse in a whole new light, and I will appreciate my spouse as being different, not wrong.
     Lord, I also ask You to fill my heart with love and reverence for You. After all, this marriage is ultimately about You and me. It isn’t about my spouse. Thank You for helping me both understand this truth and realize that my greatest reward will come from being a spouse as unto You.
     Now prepare me this day for those inevitable moments of conflict. I especially ask You to put respect or love in my heart when I feel unloved or disrespected. I know there is no credit for loving or respecting when doing so is easy.
     Finally, I believe that You hear my prayer, and I anticipate Your response. I thank You in advance for helping me take the next loving or respectful step in my marriage. I believe You will empower me, bless me, and even reward me for my effort as I approach marriage as unto You.
     In the name of Jesus Christ,

Reader, please note: In chapter 1 above—“A Short Course on Love and Respect”—you have covered a brief condensation of the book Love & Respect. The rest of this book applies the Love and Respect system to the crucial challenge of learning how to gain mutual understanding and start communicating with each other more clearly, more effectively, and, above all, with more Love and Respect!

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