With downcast eyes, Kathryn confided, “I have a hard time respecting my husband. I want to be obedient to God’s command, but I don’t want to be dishonest to my feelings.”

When the apostle Paul says, “the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33), he is not saying a wife must feel respectful toward her husband. He is saying she must show respect. That same principle holds true when Peter commands all Christians to "show proper respect to everyone" (1 Peter 2:17). Put those two verses together, and you'll realize that the wife's call to respect her husband does not preclude the husband's call to respect his wife anymore than the husband's call to love his wife precludes the wife's call to love her husband.

But what women sometimes fail to understand is that a man will often equate his wife's respect and admiration with her love for him. A husband thrives and grows toward godliness when this need is lovingly fulfilled by his wife, just as a wife thrives and grows toward godliness when her husband manifests loving respect towards her.

But respecting one another is easier said than done, especially in the heat of an argument. So what are some ways you can obey this command and show respect for your spouse?

1. Pray for Your Spouse

Something happens to us when we pray for people. Our hearts soften, our compassion and empathy increase, and we gain spiritual insight as to what the other person is going through. So pray for one another. Ask God to give you both wisdom, protection, guidance, knowledge, spiritual maturity, success, purity, and courage. Thank the Lord for bringing you together and for working within your family. Invite God to change your attitude and allow you to see your spouse as he does. Then, rather than focusing on your mate's flaws, thank God for his strengths. And then look for God’s answers to your prayers. Because he is listening!

2. List your Spouse's Good Qualities

When routine takes over, we need to remind ourselves every once in a while why we fell in love in the first place. Reflect on your spouse’s character and strengths. What do you admire? Review your list and add to it regularly.

3. Affirm your Mate

It’s really nice to hear the words “thank you”. It’s even better hearing a number of specific things someone admires about you. By telling your spouse what you appreciate, you communicate your love, respect and gratitude.

4. Listen attentively

When your spouse wants to talk, give him your full attention. Put down the phone or computer or remote, and listen. When you ask your spouse a question, wait for an answer. And when he does talk, listen to what is being said and seek to take those opinions into account.

5. Don’t put down your spouse in front of others

Especially your children. You and your husband are on the same team. You’re partners, supporters, and cheerleaders for each other. So when you are constantly criticizing one another, it’s like you’ve abandoned the team. This doesn’t mean you can’t be open with your friends about your relationship; sometimes you really need to talk about what is going on, and an outside perspective can help. But if you find yourself endlessly putting your mate down, stop. This isn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, try and find something good to say, and even brag about him a little.

6. Put a positive spin on things that annoy you

If you find it boring when your spouse spends time telling you about his bad day, remember that at least he is talking to you, spending time with you, sharing his concerns with you, bringing you into his confidence, and giving you the chance to be supportive.

7. Make love

By responding to your spouse's advances — and initiating advances of your own — you are communicating your loyalty, your selfless love, and your passion. Plus, it’s pretty fun, too.

8. Involve your spouse in your life

When you’ve been married for a while, it’s easy to go through life on autopilot. You each have your own routines, your own hobbies, your own friends. So make it a habit to include your spouse in your activities, to talk about what is going on, to enjoy one another's company amidst the mundane. By including him in your everyday life, you show him how much his presence brightens your life.

9. Use “I” statements to talk about problems

If you have a problem about a decision your spouse has made, or if you’re in the midst of an argument, accepting responsibility for your feelings is crucial to communicating effectively. This invites conversation rather than defense. Say: “I’m confused about [ ]. Can you explain it to me?” Or, “Can we talk about [ ]? I feel uncomfortable about [ ].” Don’t say: “Why would you ever do it that way?” Or ask “Why?” in a way that implies your mate is foolish.

10. Believe your spouse has good intentions

If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about your spouse, stop and choose to think of something else, especially things from your positive quality list. As Emerson Eggerichs says in his book Love and Respect, a key to making your relationship feel safe and secure is to believe your spouse has good intentions. Even when your partner messes up, you can still believe it was unintentional.

Remember, God is at work in both your lives. Give God the freedom to teach you both through your failures as well as your successes.

This article is directed towards spouses in relationships free from emotional, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship and want to talk about it confidentially, fill out the form in the Connect tab below. We’re here to listen.

The above article by Cyndie Hamley has been adapted from its original form by The Life Project Team.
updated September 2019

Photo Credit: João Silas