Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Speak the Language of Love and Respect

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2009 22 Oct
Speak the Language of Love and Respect

 Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke's book, I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage, (Fleming H. Revell, 2009).

Is your wife disrespectful?  She needs love from you.  Is your husband unloving?  He needs respect from you.

The more you and your spouse start giving each other what you need, the more your efforts will motivate each other to keep giving, creating a cycle that constantly energizes your marriage.  But to get the cycle going, you've each got to learn how to speak the language of love and respect to each other.  Here's how:

Approach your differences as assets, not liabilities.  Just because you and your spouse are different doesn't mean that either one of you is wrong.  Ask God to help you accept and appreciate the differences between you, while also learning how to use them to complement each other well.  Remember that, in God's eyes, you're both equal and valuable. 

See your spouse as a person of good will.  Like all human beings in our fallen world, your spouse will have moments of nasty or selfish behavior.  However, it's crucial to trust that your spouse still has good intentions toward you despite those times of failing to love and respect you.  Remember that, deep down, your spouse cares for you and isn't trying to hurt you.  Ask God to help you view your spouse from His perspective.

Watch your words.  Your words reveal what's inside your heart.  So pray for God to fill your heart with love and respect each day, and ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind so your thoughts will be good ones that will lead you to speak good words.  Be aware of what you're each saying to each other and how you're each reacting to what is said.  Then avoid using hot-button words that you know irritate or anger your spouse.  Pray for the strength you need to speak carefully and peacefully. Listen before you answer, and think before you speak.  Also make sure you're communicating with the right tone of voice and facial expression.  Aim to speak words that are truthful, uplifting, forgiving, thankful, and scriptural.

Decode each other's messages.  Men and women have such different styles of communicating that it's like they speak to each other in code.  Learn how to crack the code of your messages to each other.  Resist making assumptions about your spouse's meanings and expectations.  Instead, clarify by listening attentively and asking questions to make sure you truly understand.  Remember that the misunderstandings between you and your spouse don't mean that your marriage isn't working.  Misunderstandings are normal in every marriage due to male/female communication differences; they just need to be overcome.

Don't step on each other's air hoses.  When your spouse starts to act upset in response to something you've said, it's a sign that you've stepped on his or her air hose, deflating your spouse's inner spirit.  Try to find out what's wrong.  Rather than getting defensive, ask your spouse to explain why he or she is upset.  When your spouse asks you why you're upset, share your feelings honestly, humbly, and non-defensively.  In the future, think before you speak to try to avoid stepping on your spouse's air hose.  Ask: "Is what I'm about to do or say going to feel unloving to her or disrespectful to him?".

Forgive.  Rely on God's help to forgive your spouse every time he or she offends you.  Sympathize with your spouse, relinquish the offense to God, and anticipate God's help to heal and reconcile.  Listen for the basic need your spouse was trying to communicate in the wrong way through the offense, and give him or her some grace.  Let your gratitude for how God has forgiven you motivate you to answer His call to forgive your spouse.

Help meet each other's top needs.  Do what you can to help meet your wife's important needs for closeness, openness, understanding, peacemaking, loyalty, and esteem.  She wants you to be close, and not just when you want sex; open up to her, sharing your thoughts and feelings fully; listen to her without trying to fix her; resolve conflicts in mutually beneficial ways; always assure her of your love and commitment; and honor and cherish her.  Do what you can to help meet your husband's important needs for conquest, hierarchy, authority, insight, relationship, and sexuality.  He wants you to recognize and thank him for his desire to work, thank him for his motivation to protect and provide for you, acknowledge his desire to lead and don't subvert his leadership, listen appreciatively to his ideas and advice, value his desire for you to be his friend and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, and respond to his need for you sexually without depriving him.  But keep in mind that God alone has the power to ultimately meet every person's needs.  So when your spouse fails to help meet some of your needs, don't get upset.  Turn to God instead.

Check your motives.  Never use loving or respectful words or actions to try to manipulate your spouse.  Ask God to purify your motives so you'll speak and act in the right ways for right reasons only - to please God and bless your spouse.  Give love and respect to your spouse unconditionally.

Choose what's right regardless of your spouse's response.  Even when your spouse doesn't respond well to your efforts to give love and respect, God will reward your efforts by blessing you.  Keep in mind that by giving your spouse love and respect, you're actually serving and honoring God in the process.  So keep doing what's right, regardless of how your spouse responds, and know that God notices and will bless you for your efforts.

Adapted from The Language of Love & Respect: Cracking the Communication Code with Your Mate, copyright 2009 by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.  Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn.,

Emerson Eggerichs and his wife Sarah travel the country conducting the Love and Respect marriage conferences. Before launching Love and Respect Ministries, Emerson was senior pastor of Trinity Church in East Lansing, Michigan for nearly 20 years. Emerson received his B.A. in Biblical Studies and M.A. in Communications from Wheaton College and Graduate School. He was later awarded a Master of Divinity degree from Dubuque Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Child and Family Ecology from Michigan State University. Married since 1973, he and Sarah have three adult children. He is the president of Love and Respect Ministries and author of the best-selling book Love and Respect