Understanding your spouse's greatest needWritten by Carol Heffernan
What's inside this article
It often starts with something small. Maybe she arrives home from shopping to find that the kids aren’t in bed yet. She thought her husband would have realized that the family needed to get up early, so the kids needed to go to bed early.
He didn’t think it was a big deal. Besides, he was playing with them and they could take a nap the following day.
She is upset and communicates this to him, but before too long, she can tell that he is upset with her for being upset with him!
When she speaks up, he rolls his eyes. He thinks she’s about to nag, and she thinks he’s very insensitive. And so it goes . . .
Like many couples, they never saw it coming. But such seemingly minor conflicts are like termites, silently eating away beneath the surface, until one day the foundation crumbles.
Trouble is, this disagreement isn’t only about the children’s bedtime. It goes deeper than that.
The crazy cycle
According to author and marriage expert Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, the wife isn’t just looking for a resolution on bedtime. At a certain point, she begins to feel unloved and thinks, "If I mattered to him, he’d be more attentive and would definitely talk to me."
The husband, meanwhile, interprets his wife’s "need to talk" as another situation that will result in him feeling disrespected as a person and thinks, "I can never be good enough."
"A husband needs respect like he needs air to breathe," Eggerichs explains, "while love is by far a wife’s greatest need."
Eggerichs, who co-wrote Motivating Your Man God’s Way with his wife, Sarah, says this concept is the secret to a better marriage. Without it, couples can easily get caught up in the constant back-and-forth of complaining and stonewalling, action and reaction. Eggerichs calls it the "crazy cycle."
The Bible states in Ephesians 5:33 that husbands are to love their wives, and wives are to respect their husbands. Seems easy enough, right? But this commonly cited verse makes a point that’s often overlooked, a point that is central to the crazy cycle: Men and women differ when it comes to their deepest relational needs.
If a husband’s deepest need (respect) and a wife’s deepest need (love) are fulfilled, their relationship is able to flourish. But when these needs are unmet, the cycle begins.
So, why this craziness? When a woman feels unloved, Eggerichs explains, she reacts in a way that may seem disrespectful to her husband. He then reacts to this disrespect in ways that feel unloving to his wife. The more she complains and criticizes, the more he shuts down and stonewalls.
"The message she’s trying to send is that she feels unloved at that moment," Eggerichs says. "But she will react in very negative ways that, in the male arena, feel disrespectful. She isn’t trying to be disrespectful, but is feeling unloved. Sadly, he may not decode that."
So, how do you stop the "crazy cycle" once it’s started? Eggerichs says it’s as obvious as it seems: Mutual understanding begins when wives respect their husbands and husbands love their wives. His goal is to help couples better understand how to do that, putting an end to their crazy cycles.
As any married couple eventually discovers, romantic feelings don’t exist every day. It takes effort to keep a marriage strong, to keep minor disagreements from becoming major ones, to favour sweet words and tender glances over harsh comments and contemptuous glares.
"In Ephesians 5:33," Eggerichs says, "God invites every married couple to make a conscious decision about how they appear to the other. A wife can feel unloved but appear disrespectful; a husband can feel disrespected but appear unloving. This is why things get crazy! Our negative appearances work against us. God’s Word protects us from that mistake."
He continues, "Really, all you have to do is learn this crazy cycle, and when you see the spirit of your spouse deflate, trust . . . that you’ve said something that appears unloving or disrespectful. Then, go back and say, ‘Did I come across as unloving/disrespectful? I’m sorry, will you forgive me?’ That works almost every time."
A transformed marriage
Eggerichs has seen first-hand how marriages are transformed when husbands and wives put this fundamental concept into practice. To that end, he and his wife started the Love and Respect Marriage Conference, and the testimonials from those who have attended have been very encouraging.
At the conference, they illustrate in detail how to spell "love" to a wife and "respect" to a husband.
The conferences promote the same message as the Eggerichs’ book: When unconditional respect and love are demonstrated through tone, facial expression and word choice, the spirit of our spouse re-opens.
"We’re going to have conflicts over bedtime-type issues. We’re going to get upset," Eggerichs says. "By dealing with marital conflict God’s way, we can stop the crazy cycle before it starts. If things get out of control, we can halt the craziness. God’s Word works."
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