In my home office, there is a shelf of books about dating, marriage, and how to know you’ve met the one. When I look at this shelf, it all comes back — the feelings of anxiety and insecurity and my earnestness to get this right and do my relationship, and eventually marriage, like a pro. A lot of the books, at least the Christian ones, came back to the same theme: men need respect and women need love and affection to feel cared for in a relationship.
The result of failing to deliver respect to husbands and love to wives is that “five out of ten marriages land in divorce court,” according to a book on our shelf, titled, appropriately, Love and Respect.
In some ways, I get the argument that men and women are wired differently — that a lot of men are more reserved and less demonstrative in their emotions, and a lot of women feel things more keenly and are more receptive to affection. My husband and I constantly laugh and tease each other about our differences — he’s quiet and understated, with a dry sense of humor and a cool head. I’m a type-A over-thinker and perpetual multi-tasker who is prone to stress but also very good at planning.
We balance each other nicely in life; he reminds me to breathe, and I help him stay motivated.
There are also lots of gender generalizations that don’t fit us at all. Of the two of us, he’s the better cook and the better at keeping our house in order. He’s the one who is more likely to cry during powerful life moments, like the birth of our baby. I’m the breadwinner, working during the week while he works in the house as a full-time dad.
It’s good to know and admire our differences, but when it comes to love, we’ve found we can get in trouble by relying too much on any formulaic approach.
Does he need respect? Absolutely! But so do I. Do I need consistent, affectionate love? Yes, every bit as much as he does. Mutual respect is especially important when we have disagreements, and mutual love when we’re facing hard times, disappointment, or uncertainty.
The main point is this: we can get in trouble when we start to think of a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend as “other.” We may be men and women and different, but we’re human first. As as humans, we want the same things: to be loved, cared for, valued, and secure.
These days, that shelf of books on love and marriage is gathering dust, the good advice side-by-side with the bad. To improve my relationship, I talk to my husband and learn about him from him, instead of from a how-to guide. I’m still discovering things about his personality and character that break the mold and surprise me in pleasant ways.
Five years into our relationship, and three years into our marriage, we’re still not “pros” and we definitely aren’t getting it right all the time. But we’re getting to know each other better all the time, and for us, that’s what matters.