An Interview with Emerson Eggerichs, the author of Love and Respect
Love & Respect — a simple concept, and it’s so effective. Emerson, what makes this book different?
The book is Love & Respect: the love she most desires and the respect he desperately needs. The essence of that comes from Ephesians 5:33 which is the most significant treatise in the New Testament, most would conclude, on marriage. We might say, Jim, it’s God’s last word to the church.
It’s as if my grandfather was dying and he was on his deathbed, cognizant, but ailing. And he said, “Emerson, come close I have something I need to tell you; come close please. As he looks around, I lean forward and he whispers something into my ears.
Well you know Jim, whatever my grandfather has to say at that moment is going to be the most important words he’ll ever say to me. The words come deep from his soul and he intends for them to go deep into my soul. Well, it’s as if God has spoken his last word to the church.
Love and Respect: the essence of what God intends marriage to be.
Most would conclude that the climax to marriage is Ephesians 5:33. It is as though the Lord is saying, “Lean close church, listen to me. And if you listen everything will be okay.”
There, the apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives and wives respect your husbands.” And that in my view is the essence of what God intends marriage to be.
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In some ways that resonates with you as you read the title, and it resonates with a lot of people; you know, that seems to capture it. It seems to communicate the foundational dynamic between all people, but in this case, definitely between men and women.
Emerson, how was the Love & Respect concept revealed to you?
I was a senior pastor for twenty years at a church in East Lansing. I had a teaching-preaching ministry there, and while meditating on Ephesians 5:33 one day I realized a husband is commanded to love his wife. Now we knew that and preached that in the church, but I thought, why is it that God commands the husband to love? Well, duh, she needs love like she needs air to breathe.
And so, the message became more relevant to you.
Exactly. I liken that to her wearing an air tank connected to an air hose, and she needs to breathe in that love as she does air. If he walks in and stands on her air hose, she will flat line on the emotional heart monitor. She’ll scream, “Get off my air hose!” If he doesn’t get her message she’ll scream harder and hit him upside the head. Now he’s standing there bleeding with a headache thinking, what in the world just hit me? [laughs]
There was this need she had to feel loved for who she is apart from her performance. But as I got into the second part of the verse I realized, wives are commanded to respect their husbands. Apparently, he needs to feel respected for who he is, and maybe even apart from his performance. Maybe as she needs to be loved unconditionally, he needs to be respected unconditionally.
And I cross-referenced to Peter who precisely says that (in 1Peter 3:1-2) about wives who were married to disobedient husbands. He says you can win this disobedient husband through your respectful behavior. And there it was again, that same Greek word. I thought whoa, that’s unconditional respect because the guy doesn’t deserve respect —
Unconditional Love, Unconditional Respect
I suddenly saw, unconditional love and unconditional respect and I realized apparently this husband needs something from his wife that only she can give him. In fact what I realized is this: No husband feels fond feelings of love and affection in his heart toward a wife he thinks despises him. That’s important.
Here’s what is so exciting Jim. When a wife feels unloved she tends to negatively react in a way that’s hugely disrespectful to her husband — and she doesn’t see that part of it.
And when a husband feels disrespected, he negatively reacts in a way that seems hugely unloving to his wife — and he doesn’t see it. She’s crying out for love, but comes across disrespectfully. He’s crying out for respect, but he comes across unloving. And thus was born what I call the Crazy Cycle: without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love.
Practically speaking, how should a husband love his wife?
We made it easy in the book with the simple acronym C.O.U.P. L. E.
For example, a husband is to be Close to his wife, seeking to be face-to-face with her, to talk with her. It’s in a woman’s nature to look eye-to-eye. That will never be natural to a man; we look away during conflict because we don’t want to be more provoked. It takes real guts to look at her and say, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”, and when we do she softens and the rage stops. We talk more about this in the book.
Someone has to Break the Cycle
What would be some first steps in implementing these concepts?
People say, well who’s going to move first? And we say the one who sees himself or herself as the most mature [laughs]. So it’s a matter of us trusting that this is God’s word and trusting as I act on this information, the Lord will honor me.
If a wife says, “Well I’m not showing him respect because he doesn’t deserve it, he hasn’t earned it; he’s not superior to me…” I understand those sentiments, but the question becomes, what’s the alternative? Do you actually think if you show him disrespect it will motivate him to be loving?
That’s comparable to him saying, “I’m not loving that woman until she shows me more respect!”
Someone has to break that cycle, and it’s the mature one who can do that. We’re finding across America, hundreds of couples on the edge of divorce — even filing for divorce — have torn up papers. There was rapid forgiveness because once they understood this, they changed.
Emerson, you claim to have the secret to marriage communication. What is it?
Many of us experience that like a bad cell phone call: Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? [laughs] We are forever it seems to have conflict in communication. That is not unlike meeting someone who doesn’t speak English and you’re trying to get directions, and the more you engage them, the more you realize they have no idea what they’re saying. So you get louder. The same thing in marriage, we tend to get louder with our spouse.
I take the position that communication is not the key to marriage. Instead, I take the position that mutual understanding is the key. I speak Spanish perfectly, but if you don’t speak Spanish I can be conveying to you everything exactly correctly about what I think, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you won’t understand it. The same thing in marriage: I believe women speak primarily through the love language and I believe men speak primarily through a respect talk or respect language. This is based on Ephesians 5:33 which is the summary to the greatest treatise in the New Testament, Jim, on marriage. We might say these are God’s last words to the church.
Imagine if my dad is dying and on his deathbed he said, Emerson, I have something to say. Come close. Jim, you know whatever my dad is about to tell me is the most important thing he’s ever spoken. The words come from deep within his soul and he intends for the words to go deep within my soul. Well, Aba Father is not dying, but he has spoken his last word — I believe — on marriage to the church, and it’s simple: It’s Ephesians 5:33, Husbands must love and wives must respect. If we don’t learn how to listen in their language, we will not understand one another and when there isn’t understand, we’ll get louder with each other and not communicate.
The Language of Love for Her and the Language of Respect for Him
I believe the secret to communication is discovering each language: the language of love for her and the language of respect for him.
Emerson, you use color metaphors to describe the differences between men and women…
I believe God made us male and female and created us pink and blue, so to speak. The woman looks at the world through pink sunglasses, she listens through a pink hearing aid, and she speaks through a pink megaphone. And men have blue sunglasses, a blue hearing aid, and speak through a blue megaphone. Not wrong, just different.
If an art teacher got up in front of the class and said, I have two paintings, a blue painting and a pink painting. Now, let me begin with the pink painting. The pink painting is perfect — the hue, the texture, the color — this painting and all pink paintings are perfect. But this blue painting — blue is always wrong because it’s blue. Now, you might say, wait a minute art teacher, that’s ridiculous. Blue isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
Romans 14 teaches there’s a ton of gray areas: areas of preference; areas of personal opinion; areas of interest. We can have conflicting preferences, conflicting opinions, and conflicting interests. Romans 14 is clearly teaching that neither of us are in sin; each must remain true to their own conscience and conviction. Much of marriage is involved in preference issues. Men lean toward certain areas and women lean toward others.
One of the points we’re challenging couples with is that much of what goes on in marriage is not an immoral or biblical issue — it’s a grey area issue. But we tend to pass judgment on the other in severe ways. We’re making the point in the book: come and appreciate this difference between pink and blue. Get to a place where you can say, my spouse isn’t wrong, he is just different. That might not solve the argument, but it removes that critical, judgmental spirit of saying, what matters to me doesn’t matter to you, therefore there’s something seriously wrong with you and I’m offended that you disagree with me.
This pink and blue perspective removes that negativity and I find that to be encouraging to many couples.
What is ‘Talking the Jesus Way’?
The person who wants to have that loving and respectful relationship needs to realize that you must talk the Jesus way. The reason I say the Jesus way is because Paul said, you did not learn Christ this way — you learned him this way. In other words, Paul had taught them how Jesus had taught. There we see truthful speech, uplifting speech, forgiving speech, thankful speech, and scriptural speech. In the book, Cracking the Communication Code, we encourage the follower of Christ that there is a Jesus way of talking.
What’s beautiful about that is: I can talk the way Jesus wants me to talk in my marriage even if my spouse doesn’t positively respond. We’re not talking about perfection; we’re talking about a guideline.