Doug Wilson explains the meaning of love and respect

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
Women need love, men need respect… what does it really mean?

So, Dina sent me an audio book called “Reforming Marriage” by that Calvinist weirdbeard Doug Wilson. It actually sat on my ironing board for some time not being listened to, (I don’t iron, I have all wrinkle-free everything). I just finished listening to Bernard Cornwell’s classic on the battle of Waterloo, so I decided to pick this one up next.

I listened to the first CD, and I found something amazing in chapter 2. I want to make two points about what I heard. Fortunately, I was able to find the entire passage at one of Doug’s online haunts.

He writes:

Now the Scripture plainly gives us our duties. Wives are to respect their husbands, and husbands are to love their wives. But there is more. When we consider these requirements and look at how men and women relate to one another, we can see the harmony between what God requires and what we need both to give and to receive.

The commands are given to our respective weaknesses in the performance of our duties. Men need to do their duty with regard to their wives they need to love . Women need to do their duty in the same way they need to respect . But men are generally poor at this kind of loving. C.S. Lewis once commented that women tend to think of love as taking trouble for others (which is much closer to the biblical definition), while men tend to think of love as not giving trouble to others. Men consequently need work in this area, and they are instructed by Scripture to undertake it. In a similar way, women are fully capable of loving a man and sacrificing for him, while believing the entire time that he is a true and unvarnished jerk. Women are good at this kind of love, but the central requirement given to wives is that they respect their husbands. As Christian women gather together (for prayer? Bible study?), they frequently speak about their husbands in the most disrespectful way. They then hurry home to cook, clean, and care for his kids. Why? Because they love their husbands. It is not wrong for the wives to love their husbands, but it is wrong to substitute love for the respect God requires.

We can also see the commands which are given have regard for our respective weaknesses in another way. Men have a need to be respected , and women a need to be loved . When Scripture says, for example, that the elders of a church must feed the sheep, it is a legitimate inference to say that sheep need food. In the same way, when the Scripture emphasizes that wives must respect their husbands, it is a legitimate inference to say that husbands need respect. The same is true for wives. If the Bible requires husbands to love their wives, we may safely say that wives need to be loved.

But we are often like the man who gave his wife a shotgun for Christmas because he wanted one. When a wife is trying to work on a troubled marriage, she gives to him what she would like, and not what God commands, and not what he needs. She loves him, and she tells him so. But does she respect him and tell him so?

We have difficulty because we do not follow the scriptural instructions. When a man is communicating his love for his wife (both verbally and non-verbally), he should be seeking to communicate to her the security provided by his covenantal commitment. He will provide for her, he will nourish and cherish her, he will sacrifice for her, and so forth. Her need is to be secure in his love for her. Her need is to receive love from him.

When a wife is respecting and honoring her husband, the transaction is quite different. Instead of concentrating on the security of the relationship, respect is directed to his abilities and achievements; how hard he works, how faithfully he comes home, how patient he is with the kids, and so forth.

The specifics may cause problems with some because he thinks he might not come home, and she thinks he doesn’t work nearly hard enough. But love is to be rendered to wives, and respect to husbands, because God has required it, and not because any husband or wife has earned it. It is good for us always to remember that God requires our spouses to render to us far more than any of us deserve.

So I bolded the two parts that I want to talk about.

First thing is about the removing troubles view of love. Now, I had never really consciously thought of this before, but I was thinking about how I treat Dina and suddenly it became clear that this is exactly what I am trying to with her. She hurts her hands, has OCD, wants to vacuum up cat fur, has to lift a heavy vacuum up and down the stairs… I buy her a cordless hand vacuum! She likes to cook with a wok several times a week, uses a horrible, cheap broken-handle wok that has to be washed and dried or it will rust… I buy her a Circulon wok! She hates to iron, has to iron baskets and baskets of clothes with her hurt hands… I buy her a steam iron that makes quick work of ironing! And on, and on, and on. After all, why should she have to suffer when she is trying to do her work so she can clear her schedule in order to do other things, like care for the elderly as a volunteer? She already has a stressful job at work, she doesn’t need more stress at home. My job is to make her life easier, and that shows that I care about what her life is like. I don’t want her to be struggling, I want her to be able to do good for God without being burdened by troubles.

Second thing is about how a woman can give a man respect. Well, an important part of what a man does in a marriage is to give a woman security. And this is not something he can finesse at the end of his life, he has to be thinking about giving her that at the beginning of his life… when he is in school, when he is starting to work. The most praiseworthy way of getting money is by earning it in the private sector, by supplying the needs of consumers in a competitive free market. In order to learn how to do that, you have to study things that are valuable. to others, like mobile devices, petroleum engineering, etc. So when it comes to your education, you don’t get to study what you like or what makes you feel good. You have to study things that will allow you to earn money, money that you can use to give your wife security and freedom. Money that is saved should be invested, so that you earn more than you can even get by working. When a woman comes along, she must recognize which men have done hard things to prepare for her – hard things that were not fun. Choosing a man who understands the role of earned money in a marriage is a way of according him respect. No, he did not do what he felt like. No, he did not win the lottery. No, he did not receive money from his parents. Recognizing those sacrifices and the value others get from them is respect.

I’m going to keep working through this book and see if there are any other secrets for me to find in it. So far, so good.

11 thoughts on “Doug Wilson explains the meaning of love and respect”

  1. Fascinating. I was talking about the rule of women in child rearing the other day. I guess I might have it backwards as described above. But my point was that the most precious thing that a man has is not his money or his things but his legacy. His most sacred duty from God is to train up children in the way they should go so that when they are older they will not depart from that way. In doing so, he must provide both for their spiritual training in the Lord and their physical training in law and work ethic for the good order of society. So, the man who trusts his wife to raise the children is the man who shows her the highest respect. And the woman who truly loves her husband does her best the bring up his children for him. But now you explain that this is, while absolutely true, misses the command of God. Unless you add the point that the man trusts her to deal with his most precious gifts while he devotes himself to working to provide, and that the woman respects her husband enough to honor his commitment to being the provider. Perhaps it is a little bit semantics. But you seem to hit it on the head. Most women today consider men bumbling fools and feel they can do it better, whatever it may be. I watched my cousin’s marriage blown apart because she could not respect her husband for the great father and provider he was and instead fixated on his rather “juvenile” love of Marvel action characters. This man ran into a burning kitchen fire and put it out, saving the building and her precious keepsakes at the expense of third degree burns to his tradesman hands. All she could offer was how foolish he had been to make himself unable to work for a month. Perhaps he could have shown more love for her by pretending to be more grown up, wearing more ties, being more “presentable” at her side. But he joined her church and was a God-fearing, practicing, responsible Christian man who work hard to provide for her. All of these were the reason she fell in love with him. What she lacked, you would probably say, is respect for him. She replaced him with a musician, a man she could respect for his music, perhaps a fantasy she could lust after and never need to trust to provide for her. This is perhaps a common problem today, is it not? No woman is able to really respect a man as a provider. So most women only look for vacuous relationships where true love and respect are not needed. Men instinctively know that women don’t respect them, so they also don’t feel any obligation to be providers. Amazing that anyone gets married at all any more. Once the gays find out that a piece of paper doesn’t fix what’s broken, they won’t be clamoring for it any more either.


    1. I love your point about the man relying on his wife to do the most important task of the family, namely, producing children who know God and serve God. I would also say that I would like my wife to lead the children to be effective and influence for God. If I am going to go out there and do the boring stuff to make money, nothing would make me happier than to hear what sorts of things she has done with the kids at home to get them moving along a good path. I don’t want her to have no plan or purpose with them.

      The no-respect problem is an epidemic, like the sex-withholding. And it’s not very different inside the church than outside, as far as I can tell.

      “No woman is able to really respect a man as a provider. So most women only look for vacuous relationships where true love and respect are not needed. Men instinctively know that women don’t respect them, so they also don’t feel any obligation to be providers. ”

      I think a lot of complaining about Peter Pan men goes down to men realizing that taking on the traditional male roles will NOT get them any respect. Instead, they are better off playing the fool: being entertaining and aloof.

      You need to make more paragraphs!


    2. For what it sounds like is that this guy is nerdy,he loves marvel and maybe other fandoms as well. Does he play video games too?

      If this is what he does in his “me time” – then what is the issue? The wife sounds stuck up. Your cousin probably needs to find a woman with like interests and who doesn’t judge him for his love of marvel, marvel is freaking awesome.


      1. No, he is not a gaming freak. He barely has time since he works 60 hour weeks and takes care of the two children she left behind. He does have a portable game console, I guess. But, as I said, he is the kind of guy every wife dreams about in all other departments. Of course I never married him so don’t know what’s behind closed doors. But we can judge by actions, or fruits, that we see. He invested everything in the marriage and she chose to walk into the arms of someone else. And she is my cousin, not him. All my relatives are scratching their heads. She led him into a deep relationship with his Lord, and then she betrayed everything she stood for. But this is a funny thing with sin and rationalizing. When you think you are a good Christian, then you become a bad one, because you can’t believe the bad one could be you. If St. Paul’s words, “Jesus came to the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst”, have never crossed your mind as applying to yourself, then you might have a little problem with Pharisee complex. We all get it at some point. When we know we are wrong but don’t want to admit it. But, thank God, the Spirit usually leads our conscience to fess up so we can fall back on God’s mercy. It’s really hard for anyone who has built up that wall of rationalization for so long to tear it back down. I fear for my cousin’s eternal life. And I, in turn, try not to say, “God I thank you that I am not like my cousin….”


  2. Yes! In general, women tend to be nurturers (motherly). Men do not need nurturing. They need respect! Women have to turn this off. Women need to feel secure and cherished. Men don’t often understand this because these are needs they don’t have. One of the best places to start is Philippians 2 – regardless.

    I am not a big fan of Wilson’s style (not at all) from other stuff I have read, but he is spot-on with this.

    One more thing, I heard Dennis Prager say that nothing kills a marriage more quickly, more completely than contempt. Women, treating their husbands like babies, fuels contempt. Men, not providing security for their wives fuels contempt.


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