If you are anything like me, Valentine’s Day can bring a flood of positive and negative emotions. As a single woman, I always dreamed of having that “someone special” to share the day of love with and was painfully reminded that I was, in fact, alone. Now, after being married for almost 18 years, I am blessed to have an amazing man who I love more today than I did the day we married. However, there is now a different, sometimes more difficult, ideal that society places on us…being provocatively dressed, romantic, sexy women with abundant time and endless energy for pleasing our husband’s deepest desires.
The truth is most of us have an unending “to-do” list for our homes, children, church, friends, work, etc., but where do our husbands fit in? They tend to get what is left over at the end of the day or week, which doesn’t amount to much. You may be thinking, “I am doing the best I can. There is nothing left to give.” I get it! I have three children who demand time, attention, affection, counsel, food, clothing and the list goes on. The challenges are different depending on the ages of our kids. Now that I have two teenagers and one preteen my job has shifted from teaching them to share to helping with relationship issues; from helping them get dressed to helping them understand why they are not allowed to dress in a particular way; from nursing to making sure I have enough food to feed a growing teenager and usually friends…different but draining. We feel tired and overwhelmed by all that we have to do and our marriages are often our last thought.
However, the greatest gift we can give our children is a healthy marriage. This requires time, energy and devotion. In a few short years, we will have raised our children and they will have (hopefully) moved out and on with their lives and we will still be married. In Titus 2:4, Paul says, “…so train the young women to love their husbands and children.” Please notice we are to first love our husbands. In Feminine Appeal, by Carolyn Mahaney, she says, “The word used for love in Titus 2:4 is phileo. This word describes the love between close friends. It is a tender, affectionate, passionate kind of love. It emphasizes enjoyment and respect in a relationship.” (p. 32)
The adjectives used in this description resonate and even convict me. Am I tender, affectionate, and passionate toward my husband? Do I enjoy and respect him? We find it easy to walk in agape, self-sacrificing love, but phileo is more difficult for us. We clean, cook, care for the children, do laundry, buy groceries, manage schedules, etc. all in service, but how much more should we be showing affection and tenderness toward our husbands. We are so busy serving him that we forget to enjoy him. Are we taking opportunities throughout the day to communicate care and encouragement? Do we show physical affection through hugs, kisses and flirtation and even sexual availability?
Hugs, kisses and flirtation are easy enough, but sexual availability is something completely different. If you are the mother of young children, the thought of someone else touching you at the end of the day when you are already exhausted is overwhelming. If, like me, you are the mother of teenagers or tweens, you are often emotionally spent and want to disengage. Ladies, it is no surprise that sexual intimacy is essential to a healthy marriage. We must be passionate about our husbands. Practically, this means we need to be available to him sexually. We must be tender toward his needs.
For a time in our marriage, Bland was always on the offensive while I was always on the defensive. This made our sex life less than enjoyable for both of us; in fact, it became a source of conflict. Bland felt that I didn’t “want” him, yet my reasoning was that I was tired or had a difficult day with the kids. I felt that he wasn’t being sensitive to me. Through prayer and Bible study, I realized I was not loving or respecting him. What I learned from the Word and from Bland, was I needed to trust that he wanted what was best for me. By being available to him, I was trusting him and giving him the opportunity to love me by choosing to set aside his sexual needs in order to do what he thought was best for me. This thinking is counterintuitive because it is selfless. By changing my attitude and actions and seeking to be tender toward him, our intimacy has grown in trust and enjoyment. Bland now feels respected and valued.
RESPECT is the most important way we show love to our husbands. As my sweet husband says, “this is the big E on the eye chart.” You can’t miss this!! In the eye-opening book, For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldman, she shares some amazing facts about the way men think. She conducted a study that found three out of four men would rather feel unloved than disrespected or inadequate. “If a man feels disrespected, he is going to feel unloved.” (p.23) In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul gives instruction on how husbands and wives are to treat one another. At the end of verse 33, Paul says, “let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Paul never tells the husbands to respect their wives or the wives to love their husbands; this is our default setting. What we must understand is that respect equals love to our husbands. I have learned that respect is not just something we feel, but something we show through our attitudes and actions.
As women, we often want to control how and when things are done. For example, we think that the children should be bathed or fed in a certain way, so we correct our husband=inadequacy and disrespect. We have the “honey do list” that doesn’t get completed on our time schedule so we remind him=inadequacy and disrespect. During an argument he doesn’t see the issue our way so we cry=inadequacy and disrespect. We are hanging out with friends and jokingly tease him about a failure=inadequacy and disrespect. He comes home from work and sits down in front of the television, we assume he doesn’t want to be helpful=inadequacy and disrespect. A reaction of anger toward what you have said or done is an indicator of him feeling disrespected. This same study found that most men believe that their wives respect them, but the wives do not show it. We must remember that words are important but our actions speak as well. As wives, we need to hear we are loved, but for a man it is deeper. Feldman shares, “We as women hold incredible power—and responsibility—in our hands. We have the ability to either build up or tear down our men. We can either strengthen or hobble them in ways that go far beyond our relationship because respect at home affects every area of a man’s life.” Consider this man’s plea: “She has to make me feel respected so I can command respect out in the world. If she defeats me emotionally, I can’t win the race and bring home the prize for her.”
I know this seems like a lot to swallow, but ladies, our marriage relationship is the most important relationship on this planet. Our marriages point others to Christ and the church. The most amazing news is that we are able to live this out because of the grace we have received from Jesus. When we have received this grace vertically from our Savior, we are able to bend it out horizontally to our husbands. Being married for 17 years has taught me that Bland has never nor ever will sin against me worse than what I have sinned against a holy God. Forgiveness and grace are not optional. You may be in a place in your marriage where you have no feelings of love. Sister, be encouraged by Jesus. First John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus loves us even we are undeserving and hostile. As we submit to Christ, He will show us how to love.
I pray that God will strengthen you today to walk in phileo toward your husband by embracing the moments to show tenderness and affection, by making yourself available for passion (even seeking it out), by enjoying the man that God has given you, and by respecting him even with his flaws. I pray that you will operate toward your husband in attitude of grace, knowing that you are forgiven, therefore, you forgive.