Good morning, Friends! September is always a busy month! I hope you are getting ready for all that Autumn brings. Today’s question is short but one that I think deserves attention and discussion. I know I am not the only one who has contemplated the practical application and meaning of the word respect. Join in a discussion if you have done your own deep dive.
Today’s Question: What are your thoughts on a spouse keeping divorce on the table if he feels disrespected?
Susan’s Response: Thank you for asking this question as I believe it brings up a tricky topic. R.E.S.P.E.C.T; Aretha sang about it. Books have been written about it. What does it mean?
I have done some deep exploration to collect my thoughts about the word respect and I challenge you to do the same. I believe God will meet you when you seek Him and His desires for your life.
You have not provided details to your question, which leaves me wondering what is happening in the relationship to cause your husband to feel disrespected. I have many years of experience with couples and individuals who are dealing with relationship conflict, and therefore I have some guesses.
I have witnessed relationship interactions in which men believe the wife is to serve his desires as her primary focus and she should revolve her life around his wishes. If she voices a contradictory viewpoint or challenges his thinking in any way, she threatens his sense of authority and need for respect. Or if she doesn't anticipate his needs or appreciate him in the way he wants, he becomes angry and she gets labeled disrespectful. Unfortunately, some church teachings and Christian authors feed into this mindset.
I have also witnessed situations where women become harsh and bitter to the point of being disrespectful in a desperate effort to change the state of the marital relationship. This may come across as or sound like contemptuous statements, snide comments, character attacks, or sarcastic jabs. I implore you to do some soul-searching to examine your own behaviors and heart attitudes.
Scripture does talk about respect quite a bit. How we define respect can make a big difference in how we will carry it out. 1 Peter 2:17 in the NIV says “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” The ESV translated it this way, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” The Message says it in a way that may bring light to the present age, “Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.”
Words like honor and dignity are often used as synonyms for respect. The dictionary defines the verb respect in these ways, 1. To hold in esteem or honor 2. To show regard or consideration 3. To refrain from interfering with. We can look to scripture to see if there is biblical alignment in these definitions.
Since Genesis 1:26 and 27 tell us that humans are made in the image and likeness of God, doesn’t it make sense that each person is worthy of honor and dignity? Paul teaches us in Philippians 2:3 to consider the needs of others in addition to our own; Considering others appears to be an important biblical value. Additionally, God allows us our freedom to love Him and He invites us to be free from what keeps us from loving Him fully, as Jesus did with the rich young man in Matthew 19; allowing freedom seems important as well.
Ephesians 5:33 has been used as a command to women that they must give unconditional respect toward their husbands whether or not they are loved in the marriage. It appears, in this context, that respect is defined similarly to admiration. The verse reads, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Greek scholar Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall teaches that in this verse there is a command toward husbands but states, in the original language, there is not a command toward the wife. ‘And’ is used to connect the two statements in the English translations but she believes the more accurate translation is as follows …”let each of you love his wife as himself in order that the wife may respect her husband.” She argues that it was already part of the cultural norm for women to submit; therefore it was a call for reciprocity in marriage by putting the obligation on the husband to behave in a way that provokes respect not fear.
Using fear as a manipulative tactic to gain control of others is despicable and not in alignment with the heart of God.
God is calling believers to treat others with unconditional dignity but even Jesus did not give unconditional admiration to those who demanded their own way by threatening and causing fear in others. Read about how Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. God is for the oppressed and warns against wickedness. (Psalm 146:7-9)
In a healthy relationship, there is mutual caring, mutual honesty, and mutual respect. Each partner can safely share ideas, feelings, and thoughts and each person is treated with dignity and value. There is also the freedom to challenge, confront, and strengthen one another with loving-kindness.
As we all know, the effects of sin are great. From the first human relationship, sin created ongoing damaging conflict between husband and wife. God addressed this with Eve in Genesis 3:16b, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” In the original text, the Hebrew word translated to ‘desire’ is ‘teshuqah’. The only other place the word teshuqah is used in original scripture is in Genesis 4:7 when God talks to Cain just before he kills his brother Abel. God tells him, “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire (teshuqah) is for you, but you must rule over it.” There are many opinions on how to interpret the word teshuqah. A popular translation is the ‘turning towards in single-minded devotion’. This is not a command of God but a consequence of sin.
A wife turning toward her husband with single-minded devotion does not sound harmful on the surface. Let’s talk about how that type of desire could be problematic.
Being single-mindedly devoted to a fallible human being can create all sorts of anxieties because no imperfect person can fully meet every need or love wholeheartedly. Only God deserves our single-minded devotion and only He provides life fulfillment. Therefore we are urged in Matthew 6:33 not to be anxious about life but to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
Now to get back to the original question. Find out specifically how your husband defines disrespect. Once you are clear on his expectations, you can decide if you are willing to respect him in the ways he wants. As long as the definitions of respect and disrespect are vague, the rules can always change. He can claim that you have disrespected him just because you voiced your opinion or said no to something he wanted from you.
The reality is, divorce is something that any married person can keep on the table if they choose to; in most states, divorce can be sought for any reason. As believers, we are called to honor the covenant of marriage but not above the safety and sanity of the individuals in the marriage. Your husband may be using the threat of divorce to get what he wants from you. As long as divorce is on the table due to your so-called disrespect, he may feel he has some leverage to keep you in line as he chooses. The real question is, do you believe you are being disrespectful and have you sought counsel from godly people in your life to gain feedback? Are you in alignment with what you believe God is telling you?
Friends, we must take the time to know the heart of God. Explore the Bible as a whole and learn how God views women, not just how tradition and certain cultures have viewed them. God values you and wants you to live your life to the fullest for His glory.
Beloved reader, how do you define and show respect in your most significant relationships?
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