I grew up believing, like most females bred on 20th-century evangelical Christianity, that women naturally love their husbands. It's preached from pulpits, written in bestselling books, and seems to be a convenient explanation for Ephesians 5:21-33, that mini-manifesto on marriage: "Women are commanded to respect, not love, because God made women to love, and loving comes naturally to them."
Well, with a whopping nine years of marriage under my belt, I've unearthed two rather inconvenient truths.
The first is that, despite my womanhood, I am not a naturally loving person. I act with impatience, stonewalled silence, and selfishness just as quickly as a man. I wish I naturally unconditionally loved my husband, Dale, but I do not. Perhaps I could fool myself into thinking that moments of nurture, sensitivity, and compassion, the sweet notes, anniversary surprises, and home-cooked meals prove otherwise, but really now! Love is more vigorous and hearty than romance and sweetness. Love takes the harder road, a more personalized approach than the one-size-fits-all technique that assumes sexy lingerie, warm dinners, and a commitment to stay at home with the kids are what every husband needs. Despite the free advice at bridal showers—"Men want a Martha in the kitchen, a Mary in the living room, and a Delilah in the bedroom"—love requires much more attention to who my husband is.
I have to get to know him, not what I think he should want, but what he really wants. From day one Dale surprised me. He wanted my body and soul, not just a flimsy bit of chiffon in bed. He'd rather me not cook, preferring to eat out so as to have my undivided attention as a conversationalist. He wanted my interests to guide my career path. And when he saw I could teach, he made space in his life for me as a partner to travel and speak and write alongside him. His wants came as a surprise to me; he wanted my love. Loving my husband, not my idea of a husband, didn't come naturally to me, the good church girl prepared to maintain an arsenal of slinky unmentionables, Martha Stewart meals, and a brood of children.
The second surprising truth upset me even more profoundly.
I discovered I could respect my husband beautifully but fail to love him completely. According to Dr. Emerson Eggerichs's popular book, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, disrespect means to "hold in contempt." I had followed Eggerichs's formula to perfection. I avoided contempt of Dale, I honored him, I treated him as my hero. But until I studied him and his needs, I was deficient in love.