There is no more powerful phrase in the English language than the coveted, “I love you.” Movies are full of men rushing through traffic, risking life and limb to find their beloved (who is angry with them for some reason), and declare those three words all women long to hear.
I love you! I loved you the first time I laid eyes on you. From our first date, I knew you were the one for me; and, ever since our first kiss, I knew that I would do anything – be anything – you ever needed. You are my heart, my soul, and my everything. I will always love you.
Growing up on a diet of romantic comedies, Disney movies, and Christian romance novels (yes, there is such a thing; and, yes, they are incredibly sappy), I was prepared to shower my future husband with more “I love you”s than he could digest. Then, Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love and Respect, shattered my plan…. What do you mean men desperately need respect and that the majority of men would choose respect over love if forced to make a choice?
This revelation sank into my brain and, in no time, I was raring to go again – this time prepared to shower my husband with more “I respect you”s than he could digest. So, I did! “Eric, I respect you,” I would say with great admiration. And, how do you think he responded? With tear-filled eyes? No. With a thank you and a hug? No. With a gleeful, exuberant face? Not exactly. He responded very simply – “Why do you respect me?”
Hearing “I respect you” did not do for Eric what “I love you” did (and does) for me. As a woman, one of my biggest questions and insecurities is, “Am I lovable?” To hear my husband say, “I love you” reassures my heart. He loves me. I must be lovable. But, respect typically comes as a result of an admirable action. To say “I respect you” without offering any reason why your sweetheart is worthy of that respect does not encourage the heart of a man. It took me some time to grasp this concept, but I finally realized that Eric needs me to say “I respect you,” needs me to give reasons why I respect him, and needs me to show him that I respect him.
Ladies, if your boyfriend told you he loved you every day, but also insulted you, criticized you, laughed at you, and rolled his eyes at you frequently, would you feel loved? My guess is probably not. We can blurt out a million “I respect you”s to our men; but, if our actions do not line up, they will not feel respected.
A man whose wife or girlfriend admires him can accomplish amazing feats. Years ago, I attended a boyfriend’s basketball game. As a girl, I was just happy to cheer him on and watch him play; but, I found out later that my presence meant the world to him. I will never forget him saying, “Having you there watching me – I felt like I could jump through the basket!” Something as simple as silently supporting your honey in the stands goes can go a long way toward reassuring that inner-boy whose core question is, “Do I measure up?”
Maybe you are like me… practiced at saying “I love you” and struggling to rewire your tongue to say what your man desperately needs to hear instead (especially with Western culture encouraging you to not respect your male counterpart). If that describes you, consider the following ways to tell your man, “I respect you!”
- “I am proud of you.” Be sure not to overdo this phrase (or any of these phrases) so it will remain potent, but be sure to give your man reasons why you are proud of him. If you are worried about inflating his ego, put that concern out of your mind. Men need – need – to know that their women admire and appreciate them. Imagine your boyfriend or husband refraining from telling you he loves you because he is afraid you might get a “swollen heart.” It does not make sense, does it? Neither does it make sense to withhold admiration from your boyfriend or husband for fear of swelling his ego.
- “I trust you.” Though I cannot remember the circumstance, I do remember telling Eric I did not trust him once. It had nothing to do with trusting his fidelity. It had nothing to do with trusting him financially. The issue over which I lacked trust in him was small in the scheme of life, but hearing, “I don’t trust you,” broke Eric’s heart, and I was baffled. Had I realized the depth of pain that phrase would cause him, I certainly would have kept my trap shut; but, his reaction provided me with a quick and powerful education. Not only do men need to feel revered by their women, but they need to believe their wives and girlfriends trust them. To say “I trust you” is, in essence, saying, “You are intelligent, competent, and you measure up. You can handle this. You are strong.” What man does not desperately want to hear those words from the woman he loves?
- “Can you help me…?” Men are fixers, and because we ladies tend to process our problems differently (i.e., verbally), we often reject their offers of help. When we need to talk an issue through, we resent their attempts to fix our problems because we interpret their solutions as “just get over it, already!” or “You need fixing.” Though there are certainly moments when we ladies need to talk out our problems with other women, there are also times when we can benefit greatly from our boyfriends’ or husbands’ ideas and guidance. Instead of running to your friends next time you have a problem, take it to your man. Take his insights into consideration, and act on at least part of his advice – if not all of it. Not only will this help you trust his judgment more, but it will make him feel like a valuable asset to your life. Asking for his help, and accepting it, is another way of affirming his competence.
- “You are my hero… and here is why…” Again, men need to know why their women admire them.
- “Thank you.” Notice the chores he does for you, and the thoughtful ways he serves you and provides for you, and sincerely thank him.
- “How can I help you achieve…?” Men not only need a cheerleader in life, but a partner. They desire to spend their lives with someone who is interested in their passions and dreams – and someone who is willing, able, and excited to help propel them towards those dreams. Asking your man how you can help him accomplish his goals is, in essence, saying, “Your dreams are worthwhile to me” and “I believe in you.”
- “Your opinion matters to me.” It drives Eric crazy when I ask for his opinion and then immediately ask someone else for his or her opinion. “Why do you do that? Do you not trust me?!” Seeking out your man’s opinion, and often taking it, shows that you trust his ideas and believe he is capable of leading you in the right direction. When applicable, ask him for his opinion and make sure he knows you value it!
- “What would you do if you were me?” Posing this question is another way of saying “Your opinion matters to me.” It shows you have confidence in his guidance. Even if he does not respond to your question in a flattering way, rest assured he appreciates your faith in his point of view.
- “You are a good man.” You are not a slacker. You are someone I esteem. You are strong. You are a man – and a fine one at that.
- Listen to him without interrupting. Men are task-focused and often have a one-track mind. God made them this way. It is not a defect! ~smile~ Because they are single-task focused, it is highly frustrating for them to be repeatedly interrupted while trying to complete a thought. Let him finish what he has to say and show him respect by avoiding the urge to jump in with advice and clarifying questions. After too many interruptions, he might lose the will or desire to speak to you. If you wish to have open communication with your man, make sure you are not domineering so that he is also getting in the amount of talking which he desires. ~smile~
- Stop what you are doing and take an interest in the words he is speaking. Sweetheart, the words coming out of your face have value. Women tend to be excellent multi-taskers, but men feel like just another noisy appliance when talking to busy women. You will do his heart well if you stop what you are doing, turn your body towards him, and listen intently to what he is trying to say.
- Affirm his ideas. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. When you do have concerns, bring them up later. Do not shoot them down as he is sharing them.
- Praise him in private. This is the delicious cake.
- Praise him in public. And, this is the icing! Men love to be encouraged and praised by their wives. It is like salve to their dry souls. But, having their ladies admire them in front of others – especially other men – is better than any dessert ever created.
- Resist the urge to criticize him – especially in front of other men. Just as receiving praise in front of other men blesses the heart of a man, criticism in front of other men breaks the heart of a man. Take your anger, frustrations, and criticisms to the Lord in prayer until you are calm enough to address them respectfully in private.
- Treat him like an adult. Someday, when you are a parent, it may become second-nature to communicate with your husband as you do with the children. Your husband will pick up on this and so will your children. Make sure you speak to him as an adult – an adult to be respected – so that your children see Daddy as an authority and not as a peer (or worse, one of your children). Sometimes excellent Dads back away from being the dad they could be simply to avoid their wives’ criticisms. He will not do everything to your standards – and that is okay.
- Pray for and with him. It is comforting for a man to know his woman is lifting him up in prayer, but it is extra special when he hears her pray for him. If you are newly dating, avoiding spending a lot of intimate prayer time together as it can bond you too quickly; but, once you are engaged (and, later, married), make praying for him and with him a regular part of your schedule. Allow him the pleasure of hearing you thank God for him and what he brings to your life.
- Put away your red pen. Stop correcting your man. Does it really matter if he pronounces that word incorrectly or if he dusts differently than you do? Disparaging corrections add up over time and can discourage a man greatly. There are men everywhere whose mantra is, “I do not want to hear her fuss, so I just keep my mouth shut.” Sad… very, very sad.
- Watch your tone of voice. The same comment can have polar opposite meanings based on how you say it. You can communicate something with attitude or the same something with admiration. “Would you please answer the door?” can be said with annoyance and disgust, or with sweetness and adoration. We communicate respect and disrespect through our tone of voice.
- Even in your anger, speak softly. Proverbs 15:1 is one of my favorite Scripture passages. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (ESV). To a man, a raised voice very often equals disrespect. It is an attempt to overpower. You can get your point across without verbally beating (or berating) him. If the spoken word does not work, try the written word; but, whatever means of communication you use, remain composed and gentle. You will draw far more favor with respect than with contempt.
Ladies, you wield more power than you realize in your man’s life. You have the power to build him up or tear him down – to propel him towards greatness or slam the brakes on his plans. Let us strive to use our power for good and God’s glory rather than for evil – even when our male counterparts make us madder than fire (and there will be times… oh, yes… there will be times…).
There are so many ways to communicate respect. Pick one right now and encourage your man!
How do you show your boyfriend or husband respect?