Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. Emerson Eggerichs. Nashville, TN: Nelson, Thomas Inc., 2004. Paperback – 324 pages.
Emerson Eggerichs is the former senior pastor of Trinity Church, East Lansing. Eggerichs is now the president of Love and Respect Ministries. He began the Love and Respect Conferences in August of 1999 and, after leaving the pastorate, has focused primarily on these conferences and his writing ever since. Eggerichs has a M.A. in communications from Wheaton College, a Master’s of Divinity from Dubuque Seminary, and a Ph.D. in child and family ecology from Michigan State University. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Grand Rapids, MI and have three adult children.
The claim Eggerichs is making in Love & Respect is that the solution to most marital problems, or at least the Biblical answer to them, is found in Ephesians 5:33. There the author finds this twofold truth: 1) husbands are to unconditionally love their wives; 2) wives are to unconditionally respect their husbands. This love and respect truth, and how it ought to play out in a Christian marriage, Eggerichs’ explores in three cycles of marital thought and behavior. Each part is predominantly practical, exploring causes for breakdown and supplying how-to’s toward solution for each partner. They are: the “Crazy Cycle”, the “Energizing Cycle”, and the “Rewarded Cycle”.
The “Crazy Cycle” (chs.1-7) expands Eggerichs’ (the Bible’s) basic claim that marriage breaks down when each party doesn’t get what God intended – wives need love, but husbands also need respect. Wives, therefore, need to supply unconditional respect and husbands need to supply unconditional love. In these chapters he discusses the “code” language men and women each use and how they need to decipher it; the reasons why women won’t respect and men don’t love; and the fears and assumptions men and women operate under in their relationships. An important acknowledgement the author makes repeatedly is that, because men and women are sinful humans, the “Crazy Cycle” will never go away completely. The author assumes that marriage between two sinful people will always have sinful troubles that can be managed and mitigated under the guidance of God’s Word (112).
The “Energizing Cycle” (chs. 8-22) is “driven by a simple mechanism: HIS LOVE MOTIVATES HER RESPECT; HER RESPECT MOTIVATES HIS LOVE (113).” Here Eggerichs supplies positive “rules to follow” for the husband and the wife. The acronym for husbands is COUPLE: Closeness, Openness, Understanding, Peacemaking, Loyalty, and Esteem. For wives he offers up CHAIRS: Conquest, Heirarchy, Authority, Insight, Relationship, and Sexuality. For either partner, the author simply explores practical examples of why a certain attribute is necessary for the spouse, followed by practical examples of putting it in play in the marriage. For instance, in the chapter on “Understanding”, Eggerichs says,
Remember, the husband is the Christ figure; the woman is the church figure. And as a church places its burden on Christ, a wife wants to place her burdens on her husband. Even if she can’t articulate it in these words, your wife thinks of you as that burden bearer…When she comes to you for understanding, it is a compliment…But when you shut her out…it devastates her spirit. (147)
That section is followed up with the suggested solution of asking a simple question when the husband is unsure whether the wife needs him to simply listen and understand or to fix the problem. The author’s question is: “Do you need a solution…or my ear?” and he suggests actually asking it for the sake of clarity (149). This kind of format is followed in each chapter for both the husband and the wife. And, for each chapter, there is a handy bullet-pointed list of things a husband or wife might do to fulfill the attribute previously described.
Finally, in the “Rewarded Cycle” (chs. 23-24), Eggerichs’ closes with “The Real Reason to Love and Respect” (268). The author assumes readers will ask questions like, “What if your wife doesn’t show you respect as you show her love?” or “If you get no results from practicing Love and Respect, why bother?” His answer flows from passages like Ephesians 6:7-8: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does” (NIV). The author’s main points here are that God does provide reward for doing his will, that believers can trust their Savior and his promises, and that everything they do is for Christ anyway. In fact, Eggerichs’ conclusion here is: “In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ” (279). Beyond that, Eggerichs draws from passages like 1 Peter 2:16-17 and John 8:34, 36 to conclude that believers are free to serve God and to choose God-pleasing action over sin, no matter if their spouse always loves or respects in kind.
As WELS pastors consider this book, a few negatives surface. Primary is a non-emphasis on the gospel as the motivating force of sanctified living. The reviewer was not surprised to find little direct gospel in the “Crazy Cycle” and in the “Energizing Cycle” sections, which are predominantly Law in first and third use. It was notable, however, in the “Rewarded Cycle” particularly, that the author remained with the law, repeatedly citing the believers’ sanctified responsibilities without hitting the Gospel’s motivating love. Eggerichs rings out the freedom of the believer, but only to choose sanctification in the face of sin (287-289). Not once does he move the believer with the freedom he has from sin and its guilt because of the sacrificial love of the Savior, Jesus Christ. His primary emphasis remains on the responsibility the Christian has and the proper response a mature Christian will produce. This is evidenced also when Eggerichs points the couple finally to this question: “Have you really tried prayer?” (300) and fails to make significant mention of sitting down to read about God’s love for them in Scripture so as to grow in faith and ability to love and respect. Certainly, the gospel is present in the words of Scripture cited and in the idea that believers are children of God. Overall, the gospel is not drawn as the motivating force for embarking on this kind of good marital exercise and practice. This is the kind of believer-focused sanctification the reader ought to expect from an evangelical author. It’s also the kind of motivation readers ought to avoid as it removes focus from the sure foundation of the gospel and puts it on the unsure (particularly in a troubled marriage!) foundation of human dedication.
On the other hand, quite refreshing was the general emphasis on the dual command God has given – that wives respect and husbands love, both unconditionally. Also refreshing was the clear emphasis on biblical submission in chs. 17-18 (205-225). Quite clearly the author says, “Paul lays out the biblical hierarchy of the home: The man is the head, and the wife is to be subject to him (see Ephesians 5:22-33)” (216). Notable also was a direct turn away from the modern idea of “mutual submission” (217-218) popular among many evangelical churches. Eggerichs said, “But if [mutual submission] is true, it is hard to explain Ephesians 5:22, where wives are clearly told to ‘submit to your husbands as to the Lord’” (217-218). From that point the author went on to deftly navigate how husbands and wives might “make the call” according to godly headship when disagreements arise, and how wives can be reassured that when they submit it is always to God first and never to a husband’s demands for ungodly things. Nowhere does Eggerichs step away from Scripture’s clear delineation of the roles husbands and wives are to carry out. These countercultural, Scripturally attentive emphases are admirable and noteworthy.
In this reviewer’s opinion, this volume is very practical and supplies good food for thought for the pastor’s marital counseling opportunities. Especially in its unequivocal attention to Ephesians 5:33’s dual-call for wifely respect and husbandly love, Eggerichs’ book brings wonderful encouragements and reminders for husbands and wives. At many points, it shares poignant and thought-provoking ways to think about their separate vocations. This reviewer’s wife joined him in analyzing Eggerichs’ encouragements and both have enjoyed reading them and have benefited from the discussions they produced.
Final analysis: Mark the evangelical sanctification emphases and avoid assuming them into your own counseling; but pick this volume up and enjoy the refreshing, Biblical, marriage perspective and the simple, practical helps that will help you point husbands and wives back to reflecting their relationship to Christ in their relationship at home.