This is an article I’ve prepared with no small amount of trepidation. In the past I’ve written frequently and confidently about the role of a husband within his marriage, and especially about how it is tersely and perfectly summarized in Ephesians 5:33: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself.” But the last time I wrote about this, a woman replied with a request: “I’ve read many female perspectives on the second half of that verse, but never a male one. Could you provide your perspective on this part of it: ‘Let the wife see that she respects her husband?’” I decided to take the challenge.
First, though, a word about respect. The Bible is clear that God has ordained a pattern of leadership and submission within the home—the husband is to lead and the wife is to willingly submit to his leadership. The “respect” we encounter in this verse is the respect given to one in a position of authority. It is respect that is owed, not earned and is inexorably connected to patterns of leading and following. We probably don’t have an exact English equivalent which is why different translations render it in different ways: “fear,” “reverence,” or “respect.” Thus a citizen is to fear (or reverence or respect) his president, a church member is to reverence (or fear or respect) his pastor, and a wife is to respect (or fear or reverence) her husband. Where there is authority on the one hand, there is to be respect on the other.
As it pertains to marriage, then, this kind of respect is not merely a wife’s admiring response to her husband’s abilities or accomplishments. It is not simply her positive reaction to the good things he does or the various ways he pleases her. It is not simply going along with decisions he makes on behalf of the family. Rather, it is one means through which she proactively fulfills her role in the marriage dynamic. It is a response to her understanding of her God-given role relative to that of her husband. As P.T. O’Brien says, “Hers is the answer of a free and responsible person, which is neither conditional nor due to her husband’s merits or performance. Her response reflects not only what she does but also her attitude in doing it.”
With this crucial distinction in mind, allow me to suggest a few ways a wife can provide this respect to her husband.
Respect his leadership. In the family, husbands are called to lead their wives and wives are called to willingly, joyfully follow that leadership. This is not a passive or mindless kind of following, but following that is active and engaged, that provides input, feedback, and encouragement. You can serve your husband by respecting the fact that God has called him to be the leader in your home. You can also serve him by respecting the kind of leadership he provides. Every leader at times makes poor decisions and your husband will be no exception. He will at times make boneheaded moves or, even worse, self-serving moves. He will at times lead in ways that are difficult to follow. Let me assure you that your husband feels the weight of this leadership, that he feels inadequate to the task, that he regrets his mistakes, and that he craves your participation and affirmation. Encourage him to take on his leadership role and encourage him as he fulfills it.
Respect his masculinity. Part of the condition of every sinful human being is a desire for other people to be like us. After all, we have a deep self-love and are convinced others would be more lovable if they simply had a greater resemblance to us. When applied to marriage, this can leave a husband wanting his wife to behave in what are essentially masculine ways and a wife resenting her husband for failing to behave in feminine ways. We have trouble respecting, enjoying, and celebrating the God-ordained differences between the sexes. One way you can respect your husband is to respect his maleness, to embrace rather than begrudge the distinctive features of his masculinity. He is unlikely to communicate in the ways and perhaps to the extent you and your female friends do. He is likely to want to experience sexual intimacy in order to feel relational closeness rather than to want to experience relational closeness in order to enjoy sexual intimacy. He is likely to be quick to spring into action to fix the problems you encounter. These are markers of masculinity to be celebrated rather than resented.
Respect his provision. In most cases, the husband will take on the principle role of provider. In every case, it is he who is primarily responsible before God to ensure the needs of the family have been met (see 1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is tempting to compare the traditional roles assigned to husband and wife and to postulate on which is more important or difficult. Such comparison achieves little good. It is far better to praise and honor one another for faithfully taking on the roles you’ve agreed on. A way to respect your husband is to respect his provision, to express gratitude that he provides and admiration for how he provides. It is easy to resent the long hours he dedicates to his vocation and to begrudge him the energy he commits to it. It is better to be grateful and to encourage him to maximize the deployment of his gifts and talents in service to others. Have you thanked your husband for his provision? It will mean a lot to him if you do.
Respect his name. The woman of Proverbs 31 serves as a kind of model for any wife and mother. Her commitment, her creativity, her industriousness, and her sheer godliness are admirable not only because they earned her a good reputation but also because they contributed to her husband’s. “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23). Little wonder, then, that he praises her with these words: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (29). The good name of the husband was inseparable from the excellence of the wife. You can respect your husband by respecting and improving his reputation. To do this you will need to commit to speak well of him rather than speak poorly of him. You will need to speak proudly about his accomplishments rather than to grumble about his failures. To respect your husband’s reputation is to respect who and what he is.
Respect his parenting. Many women are surprised and perhaps perturbed by the way their husbands relate to their children. Yet it is important to realize that a father will not parent like a mother. Neither is he meant to. The reason a child thrives under the care of both a father and mother is not simply that he has double the eyes upon him, but that he experiences discipline and instruction in both its maternal and paternal forms. A child does best with the distinctly feminine love of a mother and the distinctly masculine love of a father. You can respect your husband by respecting the distinct ways in which he will relate to the children as a father rather than a second mother.
Respect his accomplishments. Few men go through life with a confident sense of accomplishment. So much of what we do seems fleeting and unimportant, especially if we pause to compare ourselves to others. Another way you can respect your husband is to respect his accomplishments, to take pride in what he has done, and to affirm his efforts. You cannot underestimate the insecurity at the heart of just about every man. In fact, you can assume that his masculine demeanor is, at least in part, overcompensating for his lack of confidence. Let me assure you that men want to hear “well done.” We want to hear it from parents and mentors and authority figures and other people we love and respect. But we can do without all of that if only we can hear it from our wives. Your husband craves your affirmation. He wants you to delight in his accomplishments, to soothe him in his failures, to rejoice with him in his successes. No accolade is more important to him than yours.
In these ways and so many more you can take on that proactive role of respecting your husband. I can identify with the way Bryan Chapell speaks of this in his marriage: “There have been moments in my life when I felt the only significant things I could claim as my own were the respect and love of my wife.” That may not have been much, but it was enough. He could face disrepute in the eyes of others if he only had the respect of his wife. He could endure the scorn of everyone else if he held the love and respect of his bride. I suspect your husband is just the same.