PODCAST: Why Unconditional Respect Isn’t a Thing

by | Dec 10, 2020 | Uncategorized | 19 comments

Unconditional Respect in Marriage Podcast
Merchandise is Here!

Are wives called to unconditionally respect their husbands? Is unconditional respect a thing in marriage?

This week’s podcast is a little bit explosive–sort of like last week’s on stumbling blocks and causing men to sin!

We’re going to look at why the logical argument that unconditional respect and unconditional love are analagous fails; how the original Greek in Ephesians 5:33 does not point to unconditional respect; and how the original studies that said that “men need respect and women need love” are actually very flawed.

Are you ready? This podcast’s explosive! And actually kind of logical and common sense at the same time! 

And you can watch on YouTube as well!


Timeline of the Podcast:

0:40 An introduction to our discussion today
6:03 All about what that Ephesians passage ACTUALLY says: An interview with Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall
17:53 Keith unpacks grammar for all us regular people
20:48 Wait, there isn’t a command to women in the Ephesians passage?
24:50 One woman’s experience with the unconditional respect message in her marriage
32:04 What does the research say?: How do these books get their findings?
35:03 Rebecca makes psychometrics cool
38:58 Why the ‘validity’ in survey questions MATTERS
48:01 The HUGE problem in Christian Research

Main Segment: Is Unconditional Respect a Thing?

I started by reading out an update I did on Instagram about this:

Unconditional respect is not a thing.

Can we please stop talking about it?

Lately I have seen so many social media shares, podcasts, and pins about wives giving husbands unconditional respect. 

But respect is EARNED. Now, we can always treat one another respectfully regardless of what they do–and we SHOULD do that. We should speak kindly but firmly. We shouldn’t be highly critical or mean. 

But speaking respectfully is not the same as actually respecting someone–admiring them and looking up to them. You do not respect someone who is a child molester; who plays video games 12 hours a day and refuses to get a job; who gambles away a paycheck. Jesus did not respect the money changers or the Pharisees. He treated them, instead, as their actions warranted.

Love, on the other hand, is NOT earned by correct actions. Love is simply wanting the best for someone else, and thus love is not dependent on how someone else acts. And if someone acts badly? Then we can exercise Tough Love. We don’t lend the drug-addicted sister $500, if we know she will use it to buy drugs. We don’t let our 25-year-old continue to live in the basement if he won’t get a job. 

But there is no equivalent for Tough Respect.

And THAT’S why unconditional respect is not a thing, while unconditional love is. Unconditional respect just ends up being a way to tell women that they cannot speak up if a husband is acting badly. This is not safe. This is not true. This is not biblical (see Abigail & Nabal or Ananias & Sapphira or Moses & Zipporah or Pilate & Pilate’s wife).

How about this? Let’s love each other, and let’s treat each other with respect. Let’s endeavour to be people who can be respected. Let’s spur one another on to love and good deeds. But let’s stop telling women they must unconditionally respect their husbands, even if their husbands act badly.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

On Instagram

Interview: Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, Professor of Biblical Studies at McMaster Divinity College

Cynthia Westfall is a professor who maintains a special interest in Bible translation and serves as a member of the editorial board for the Common English Bible. She came on to talk about the translation of Ephesians 5:33, which we usually read like this:

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:33

In English, it looks like those are two parallel commands: Husbands love, and wives respect.

But in Greek, it’s not that simple. The conjunction “and” is not there. Instead there’s a word we’d pronounce “hina” which is a joining word that usually means something like, “in order to”. And the verb to wives is not a command; it’s a subjunctive.

It’s more like; Husbands love your wives, in order that wives may respect their husbands.

The very verse that is used to support unconditional respect for husbands is actually conditional!

So listen in as we talk about the implications for this, and what other things we might miss from the Ephesians 5 passage when we don’t know the Greek behind it.

Reader Comment; Unconditional Respect Didn’t Fix My Marriage

After I ran that instagram update, a woman wrote in saying,

Tonight I saw your post about unconditional respect because of your words about not respecting someone that plays video games 12 hours a day. That was my marriage. From the very beginning.

Needless to say, our marriage suffered greatly because I neglected and felt completely unloved. I was basically told I needed to respect his way of relaxing. Even though I carried the full financial burden and most of the housework (well all of it until I made him do things). When our marriage crumbled completely, I had a conversation with his mother who listed several things from the Love and Respect books (my ex’s parents were big fans of the book). Saying that I didn’t respect him, didn’t give him enough sex, nagged him, Etc.

This article just made it so clear that the way I felt wasnt wrong and that his actions were. Our relationship would have been so different if he could have put away the games and actually showed our relationship the respect it deserved. I think that’s the key- the relationship should be given respect. He didn’t respect our relationship and he didnt respect or love me so needless to say, he had an emotional affair and walked away. It just feels good to hear someone say that the hurtful stuff said to was wrong and that it wasn’t just me.

Keith and I answered her question, and then Rebecca joined me for:

What Does Research Say: Where Did “Men Need Respect and Women Need Love” Come From?

The idea that we need to give men unconditional respect entered the evangelical lexicon largely because of the book Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, which I have talked about at length (here’s the beginning of my Love & Respect series; here’s the Open Letter about Love & Respect that I wrote to Focus on the Family).

That book was based on two things:

  • Ephesians 5:33 (which we have already shown is far more nuanced than that)
  • And a survey of 400 men, conducted by Shaunti Feldhahn, and reported in her book For Women Only.

That’s really it.

In Love & Respect, Eggerichs leaves a long footnote crediting Shaunti Feldhahn’s survey for his stat that 74% of men prefer respect to love. So in the podcast we looked at what Feldhahn wrote about her survey in her book (and I’ll summarize):

She asked 400 men this question:

Think about what these two negative experiences would be like: to feel alone and unloved in the world OR to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone. If you were forced to choose one, which would you prefer? Would you rather feel….? [Choose One Answer]

  • Alone and Unloved
  • Inadequate and Disrespected

74% of men chose alone and unloved; 26% chose inadequate and disrespected

What is important to know about this study on unconditional respect?

  • It included only 400 men
  • We can find no evidence that women were ever asked the same question. They used only the men’s answer to draw the conclusion that men need respect while women need love.
  • When other researchers have asked the same question of women, women overwhelmingly choose respect as well (in this study of 1200 women, a cohort three times as large as the initial survey, 65% chose respect)
  • The professional firm hired to help with the survey warned that this question was not measuring what she thought it was measuring
  • The pilot study conducted warned that this was not a good question

Feldhahn herself admits the last two things in her book.

This is actually quite devastating, and we go into why in the podcast. Please listen!

Let that sink in:

The evangelical world has jumped wholeheartedly onto the “men need unconditional respect just as women need unconditional love” bandwagon, based on one ambiguous question in a small survey asked only of men; and based on a plain reading of the English translation of a Bible verse, and not on the original Greek.

Church, we need to do better.

What would happen if, instead of creating doctrines about marriage based on sand, we simply taught what Jesus did:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

A new command I give you: love one another, as I have loved you.

Spur one another on to love and good deeds!

Philippians 2:3-7; John 13:34; Hebrews 10:24

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

Unconditional Respect Isn't a Thing in Marriage: A look at the Greek and the studies

What do you think? What can we do to change the conversation in the evangelical church about this? Let’s talk in the comments!

This is an important podcast that more people need to hear. Please share it by clicking the share buttons below, or by emailing it to three friends that you think would appreciate it!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. AJ

    As a man, I value unconditional love from my wife much greater than respect. If I know she truly loves and accepts me (even with all of my faults) of course she will respect me. Love and respect are very different. In order for there to be respect there is some action required that warrants the respect. Love is a decision that occurs before there is action. I do things for and with my wife to make her feel loved because I decided 20 plus years ago that I loved her and would dedicate my entire life to loving her.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, AJ! They are very different. Respect is conditional on what people do. Thank you!

  2. Bethany#2

    Wow, this might have been your most hard hitting, powerful podcast yet. And ironically I’ve been learning about how to research basic things for myself. So this was a very interesting thing to listen to! Thanks Rebecca!

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m so glad you found it helpful and informative! Never be afraid to question and do research for yourself, it’s such an empowering skill!

  3. Ben Tebbens

    Great, great job as usual and for breaking all of this down. It certainly is so embarrassing the books and untruths apparently so much of the church has been digesting and espousing, it truly is heartbreaking. Thank you and God continue to keep all of your hearts towards him and the restoration of the body of Christ until we all see perfectly on that great day. Thank you all 👍👍

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Ben! We appreciate the encouragement, because seriously, this is really REALLY depressing. It really is.

  4. Andrea

    Wow, I love that you addressed this from both a theological and a psychological perspective. But I have a sad (though true) comment about about both. In terms of the theological, the Bible writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the translators certainly were not! You probably already know about the English versions of the Bible where the Greek word for “deacon” is translated as “deacon” when referring to men in the early church, but “servant” when referring to women. In terms of psychology, I wouldn’t put much stock into “people with academic backgrounds in the church,” as Rebecca wished they would have said something about the faulty research. Let’s remember that James Dobson has a PhD in Psychology and advises dads to stop hugging their boys after the age of 3 so they don’t become gay. Kevin Lehman also has a PhD in Psychology. Secular scientists can get pretty arrogant, but only the Christian ones will make it sound like questioning them (on gender especially) means you’re questioning God. To end on a positive note, though, thank God for theologically and psychologically informed women who are changing the conversation!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Andrea! What I find so sad is that the secular world has higher standards than the church (in so many areas). That should not be so. And yet here we are.
      But we don’t have to stay here, and I feel like part of my calling is empowering people to start speaking up and questioning things. If we did that–and if we left churches where we weren’t allowed to question–those churches would lose influence, and healthy ones would grow. Because there ARE healthy churches out there.

  5. Jane Eyre

    I have long thought that love and respect are not symmetrical, for many of the reasons you explained.
    My jaw hit the floor when I saw that the conjunction is ina (rough breathing over the iota). Not exactly Ms. Hellenic Scholar here, but four semesters of Attic Greek taught me enough to know that translating that as “and” is wrong.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep! I should have written it “ina” but then people wouldn’t have pronounced it correctly. Keith knows this stuff really well; but I don’t. Connor (Rebecca’s husband) is learning Greek with Keith right now!

  6. EOF

    First, thank you Sheila for all you do.
    I can’t believe how badly Ephesians 5:33 has been translated, and that it has continued to not be fixed, even with all these new updated translations.
    The last two decades of my life would have been drastically better if that verse was worded correctly. I’m just in shock at this. The typical translation always makes me feel belittled, this one makes me feel cared for by God. (Something that is a huge struggle for me.) I can’t help but wonder how many other verses have similar issues! How much more does God love me, but men have chosen to incorrectly translate the Bible?
    I’ve been told by church leaders to put up with verbal abuse, things that make me uncomfortable in the bedroom, his refusal to get a job, and so much more. All because he is the man and I’m just the woman.
    I really hope your book and podcasts get out there widely. That they wake people up. These teachings NEED to stop. I was really looking forward to spreading the word about your book after its release, but now I worry that with all the other issues going on in the world, people won’t even pay attention to this. I hope I’m wrong, but the pulse of the church is not on anything like this right now. Especially since it’s been almost a year since most have seen each other in person.
    These horrible teachers (Eggerichs, Feldhahn, Dobson, etc.) make me think of parts of Jesus’s speech in Matthew 23:
    4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
    13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
    33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      EOF, I’m so sorry for what church leaders told you. So very sorry. You should never have to put up with verbal abuse. You are not an object in the bedroom. And someone should have told your husband to get a job!
      I’m so sorry. I hope our book gets widely read, too. We’re going to do our best. And the more people share our podcast, the better! Thank you for your support.

  7. Heidi

    Excellent podcast. I remember Shaunti’s book was given to me at a youth event as a teenager, and when I read the passage about that survey question, I remember relating to the confusion the men felt. I figured I must be one of the “minority” of women who felt that “alone and unloved” and “inadequate and disrespected” were difficult to separate.
    Sheila, your blog and podcast has opened my eyes to see things so much better. I thank God for you and your hard work.

  8. Em

    I grew up in a healthy church that encouraged you to be Berean. I also grew up on the peripheral of a pretty conservative homeschool group. Even without being “in” groups that supported these negative messages, I still got the impression of them. I remember being a young teenager and finding through the Holy Spirit that my IDENTITY was in Christ alone and wondered why that wasn’t the focus of any typical teaching in church/ homeschool culture. It just makes so much sense that we should be learning about the Bible and following Jesus, instead of these incredibly focused “how to be a godly wife/husband/marriage/mother/father.”
    All that to say you’re the only people I’ve heard publicly say these things that I’ve thought most my life.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      At first I was reading this comment and thinking, “Rebecca, is that you?!?”
      Seriously, your life story is exactly like my daughters’. I’m glad you were taught to be a Berean! My prayer is that the homeschool community will embrace that in the future as more Generation Z parents and Millennial parents start to homeschool. That it won’t be a conservative, gender stereotype enclave anymore.

  9. Dara

    Thank you for this! And i’m excited for your book to come out. I appreciate the approach you take on your book and that you put in effort to not have blind spots with your questions.

  10. Uvilma

    As always, you have a point. Misunderstanding Scripture always lead us astray. And I thank you for give us some light about the hard passages.
    I only want to ask for a favor. Specially your daughter. Whenever she talks about another author she always seems mad, rebuking, giving the idea every other author is a stupid person who does everything wrong. I know there are a lot of book bad teachings but she seems to have all the truth and her tone of voice let us know how smart she is while how dumb other authors and researchers are.
    Please don’t tarnish a great ministry with arrogance.
    (Sorry for my broken English, I’m from another country).


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