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A Husband's Greatest Need: Respect

  • Mark Gungor Author, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage
  • Published Nov 03, 2008
A Husband's Greatest Need: Respect

Men and women want different things. No surprises here. Those who take the time to find out what their spouse wants or needs, and do something to see those needs are met, have the stuff of a happy marriage. This is a little tricky, because it’s easy to assume that the wants and needs you feel are the same as those of your spouse. It is the assumption that our needs are the same that drives us to treat our spouses the way we want to be loved. However, when someone is trying to love you in a way you don’t really want to be loved, or they try to meet needs that are not felt by you, it will mean little to you, and may even seem annoying. Scratching feels good only if you scratch where it itches.

Find the itchy places—the places where there are wants and felt needs—and decide to “scratch” (meet) those wants and needs. No one pushes to go to divorce court because their spouse is meeting too many of their needs. Met needs always produce the feeling of being loved, valued, and appreciated. Contrariwise, unmet needs make relationships unbearable and precipitate all kinds of inappropriate activities.

What Men Want

Before we discuss what it is men want, let’s point out a few things they do not want. For instance, men don’t want to become women. If you ask women to describe their ideal man, many will describe a man who loves to converse and open up. They want someone who enjoys the little details of life, someone who remembers all the things that are important to them, and someone who would rather share with them about the day than stare at the TV all night.  In short, women describe their favorite girlfriend.

Sorry, ladies, but we men make terrible girlfriends. We don’t like to talk and open up. We generally forget the little things. And sadly, staring at the flashing boob tube is often more appealing than sharing minor details of the day with you. But don’t take it personally—we don’t really want to share with anyone. Men do not share, we conquer, we protect, we compete, we work, we insult, we make disgusting noises, we leave the toilet seat up, but we generally do not share. You can train us to share (more on that later), but sharing doesn’t come naturally. And at the end of the day, we will never be women.

Work-Free Zone

Here’s another thing men don’t want; Men don’t want to “work” on their marriages. Why?

Because most often, men like their marriages the way they are. A survey taken by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that of 2,301 men, 1,788 said they would remarry their wives. In another survey by Women’s Day magazine, women were asked how they felt about their husbands. Only half of the women who wrote in to the magazine said they would marry their current husbands if given the chance to do it over again. David Roadhouse, a Chicago psychotherapist, suggested the reason for the disparity might be that “on the whole, men experience fulfillment more easily than women do. Women are filled with all these romantic yearnings and romance is finite, limited, difficult to sustain.”

For years, I believed men were primarily responsible for the rise in the divorce rate and for marital problems. When it comes to relationships, men in our culture are generally referred to as clueless, insensitive, heartless, cruel, et cetera.  Every man is the hapless nitwit portrayed by Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond.

Not long ago I attended a play called The Male Intellect—An Oxymoron, in which men were mocked for their relational incompetence. (It was a one-man play performed by—yep—a guy.)  In my early presentations I confidently asserted, “The biggest problem in marriage is that there is a man involved.”  

Now, after countless hours of working with troubled marriages and after speaking to tens of thousands of couples, I no longer believe that is the case. When it comes to relationships, men are not stupid, clueless, twisted, broken, perverts, or sickos. We’re men. And the truth is, we are not much different today than men have been for thousands of years. It is not the men who have dramatically changed; it is the women.

In most cases, it is women who are upset with the whole marriage enterprise. Eighty percent of all divorces are filed by women. It is usually the woman who seeks out marriage counseling. Women of our day are the ones frustrated to the hilt. It is the woman who always seems to have her heart broken. It is the woman who is the most disappointed. I now believe women of the twenty-first century have completely unrealistic expectations when it comes to living with and dealing with men. And I am convinced divorce rates will continue to rise if women do not bring their expectations about marriage back to reality. Unrealistic expectations are often the culprits responsible for misery women feel—not their husbands. The unsustainable, unreasonable romantic longings of women are ripping marriages apart.

At one of my Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminars, a woman came up to me and admitted that she had spent the first eight years of her marriage in a constant state of disappointment. Her husband (poor fellow) could never live up to all the expectations she had. Finally she decided to sit down and write down all the expectations she had brought with her into the marriage. She said she filled out one page after another with all the ways she wanted to be treated by a man. After writing out every expectation she could think of, she put all of the pages in a shoebox, grabbed her husband’s hand, and went into the backyard. She dug a hole with her husband and, together, they had a funeral for all those unfulfilled expectations. That night she changed her perspective on marriage. Her eyes lit up as she told me the funeral took place over twenty-five years ago and that she had been happy ever since.

Sadly, millions of women seem completely clueless about this. So pervasive is their “drug-like” romantic thinking that many women enter marriage with the expectation that a man will meet all the emotional needs of her heart. But God never designed a man to meet all the emotional needs of a woman.  He is supposed to meet some of them, but there is not a man on planet Earth who is wired to meet all the emotional needs of a woman.

“”But isn’t he supposed to complete me?” you may ask

No, he’s not. And while we are on that subject, let me say this: A successful marriage is not the result of two empty souls finding each other in an attempt to “complete” each other. Two empty, unfulfilled souls who get married will just be a marriage of two empty, unfulfilled souls. A successful marriage is possible only when two complete and happy people get together for the purpose of building a life together. They do not need the other to be truly happy, complete, or emotionally whole. They are already whole people who are joining together to enjoy the benefits of marriage. The Bible says that “two are better than one.” But that is only true if they are two healthy, emotionally stable, and complete human beings.  If you are a single, miserable, lonely, incomplete, and hollow soul, for the love of God, do everyone a favor and get yourself whole before you get yourself married. 

Who’s to Blame?

For most of human history, multiple generations of a family lived within close proximity to each other. Chores such as cooking, planting fields, washing clothes, caring for children, and harvesting crops were often shared by the family clan. Women grew up their entire lives with the same women around them. They had a network they could trust and garner support from. Sadly, today those kinds of networks no longer exist for most married women.

A shift in Western culture has resulted in young brides being separated from their mothers, sisters, and friends as their new husbands drag them away to distant lands while seeking their own fame and fortune. The result is that these emotionally isolated women then try to get all of their needs met by their husbands, when no man was ever designed to meet all the emotional needs of a woman.

I believe this rarely acknowledged issue is one of the main contributors to so many women being unhappy in their marriages today. My best advice to young would-be grooms is this: Don’t take the girl away from her support structure of friends and family. If you want to live in L.A., then marry a girl from L.A. Any man who marries a woman and then moves her a thousand miles away from her friends and family may feel like she is sucking the emotional life out of him while she tries to get all of her emotional needs met by him alone. The Scriptures say, ”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” I find it interesting that it doesn’t say a woman should leave her father and mother. Is it possible that keeping a woman near her emotional support structure has always been an essential key to a happy marriage?

Practically speaking, however, staying close to family and friends is just not an option for many couples. This makes it absolutely critical for couples to develop safe relationships outside of marriage. If they don’t, their marriages will go bankrupt, and they will end up lonely, frustrated, and angry.  Men need to find a band of brothers they can connect with, and women need to find good girlfriends who can fill the void that was once filled by their mothers, sisters, and childhood friends. Unfortunately, many women do not make friends as easily as men do, which is why I strongly suggest making sure the wife remains near her original support structure if at all possible.

I Can’t Get No Respect

So what is it that men want? In a word, men want respect. That means a man wants to be held in esteem and to be shown consideration and appreciation—even when he makes mistakes. He wants to be seen as a hero, especially in the eyes of his bride. He needs someone to believe in him when the odds are stacked against him. If a man doesn’t feel respected, he’s destined to act in a way reminiscent of the obnoxious, “I-can’t-get-no-respect,” Rodney Dangerfield. He becomes insulting, bug-eyed, and generally gross.

What women don’t understand is that men don’t believe they need to earn respect; they feel it is owed to them because they are men.That may sound sexist, but it really isn’t. What I’m saying is, men need to be respected for who they are, not for what they do. If they don’t feel respected, they can’t survive. It gets harder and harder for them to breathe (emotionally). That is why it is so important for a woman to learn to give her man unconditional respect.

Most women are willing to show respect, but they want their men to be worthy of it. If he is not, a woman feels that showing respect is disingenuous and she moves into “I-had-better-correct-the-situation” mode. She believes she can respect her man only if she can get him to act respectable. But that is not how it works. Respect is too great a need for a man to have it come and go based on performance. If a woman will learn to risk respecting her man when he is not perfect, he will open his heart to her and will become pliable to change. A man needs respect to feel safe enough to open up. When he feels he is being looked up to as the ‘head” in a relationship, he will automatically allow his wife to become the “neck”—she will be able to point her man in the right direction. Women generally have no idea how much sway they have over a man. The book of Proverbs says, “The wise woman builds her house,” but “a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones”.  A wife is either building up or tearing down her husband.

Most women are not aware of this, but the majority of men feel very unsure of themselves. In a recent survey, 75 percent of men admitted that they feel like an imposter. Many spend their entire lives fighting the voices in their head that constantly shout, You really know what you are doing!  It’s just a matter of time before everyone discovers you’re a fake! You are a fraud!

A man’s home should be the one place in his life where those voices of criticism are silenced; where he is assured he is wonderful and competent.  The ultimate ego boost of a man’s life is when his wife willingly and enthusiastically makes love to him (as opposed to lying there counting ceiling tiles and asking, "Are you done yet?").

Sadly, for millions of men, their home is a place where the voices of criticism are amplified, not silenced.  I heard one women say to her husband who had just received a special plaque at an award banquet, “Everyone thinks you’re so great, but I know what an idiot you are!”

Women frequently make the mistake of insulting their husbands in an attempt to motivate them to change. “What’s the matter with you?” they’ll quip. “Can’t you do anything around here? Can’t you pick up your dirty clothes? What kind of loser are you anyway!” Women who do this assume that if their “criticisms” and “rejections” are properly received, they will correct the faults and character flows of their husbands and make them better men.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Those criticisms and rejections create only anger and frustration inside the man.  The result will be a man who is disconnected, bitter, and unemotional.

The reason so many women use insult as a tool to try to motivate men is that insults generally work on women.  If you insult or embarrass a woman, she tries to do something about it; she tries to change.  But this thinking does not work on a man.  The insult of insults for a man occurs when he tries to make love to his bride and she rejects him and pushes him aside as she would set aside a pile of dirty laundry.  Insulting a man will only end up robbing you of his heart, and you will not see the changes you want in the relationship.

Ladies, don’t ignore your man’s need for respect. When you disrespect your man by being unappreciative, corrective, demeaning, ridiculing, ignoring, or discounting, it will hurt him.  But don’t misunderstand me:  Respecting a man doesn’t mean you can’t work on him. You just need to be smart about it. If you are not careful, your attempts to change him will communicate to him disrespect. If you want a man to act differently in your relationship, you are going to have to put insults aside and learn to be unconditionally respectful.

Even God Deals with Men Through Respect

If there ever was a person who had the right to disrespect men based on their performance, it would be God. God is intimately aware of every flaw and defect in a man’s character.  Yet look at how God dealt with men throughout the bible. 

Abram was so cowardly that he denied Sarah was his wife so that a king would not kill him in order to get her.  Yet God did not respond to the obvious coward, He looked deep within and saw a man of great faith.  Even though Abram was not able to have a child at the time, God called Abram “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude.”  God gave Abraham the respect due a father and a patriarch long before he became one.

The Lord called Gideon a Mighty Man of Valor” despite the fact that, at the time, Gideon was a chicken and was hiding so no one could hurt him.  But God looked deep inside Gideon, saw what he was capable of, and treated him with the respect due a great warrior long before he was worthy of such honor. Gideon went on to achieve one of the most lopsided military victories in history.

Look at Simon.  The guy was flip-flopping, not-sure-of-himself, run-when-the-heat-is-on kind of a guy.  This is the one who told Jesus he would willingly die with him, yet fled when Jesus was arrested and three times denied that he even knew Jesus.  But when Jesus first met him He said, “Simon, from now on you will be called Peter—the rock!” And sure enough, Peter went on to be a bold and compelling witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God knows that the key to unlocking the potential in a man is to treat that man with unconditional respect, long before he deserves it.

Excerpted from Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage by Mark Gungor (Atria Books, 2008).

Mark Gungor is a pastor, motivational speaker, author, musician, and the CEO of Laugh Your Way America. He and his wife, Debbie, have two grown children and three grandchildren. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he is the Senior Pastor of Celebration Church. Visit his website at