Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers
–1 Peter 3:7 (NIV)
Over the years, one of the themes I have heard regarding marriage is the need for the husband to love his wife and for the wife to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). It is an excellent theme, especially regarding husbands loving as Christ loved the church. Another theme that I think is excellent is that the husband needs to respect his wife. Unfortunately, I have not heard much along these lines. There may be various reasons for this, but I wonder if the net effect is rather like short-sheeting a bed: it’s still a made bed but the sheets just don’t fit the way they should.
When I have heard discussion about love and respect it is often applied as gender specific: a woman needs love, a man needs respect. But it isn’t that cut and dry. Men need to be loved as well, and women need to be respected, too. A song a few years ago caught this very clearly in its chorus when it spelled out: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The apostle Peter, in the verse cited above, addresses this need in regards to marriage: Husbands, respect your wives.
Peter speaks of two ways to respect her: first as the weaker partner and then second as your co-heir. We will look at these two separately. When Peter speaks of the wife as the weaker partner (or vessel) he is not making a character statement. Nor is he making a value statement, as in weaker meaning inferior, less important or valuable. Peter is simply making a physical statement reflective of reality. Generally speaking men are physically stronger than women.
Now it is true that physical strength is a form of power, and power has been valued as a means of attaining what one wants in life. But it also has a tendency to lead to abuse: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is why the Lord puts emphasis on character, and there are plenty of women of great character.
When Peter says to respect her, he is saying not only to recognize the physical differences between men and women, but to value them as well. Don’t look down on her for being different (i.e., not a man) but honor her because she is different. Not only see how she is different, but how good it is that she is not like you! If she weren’t different, she would not be a helpmate. (By the way, the word for helper is Ezer, which appears, some 26 times in the Old Testament: 19 times of God; 5 of military alliances; twice of Eve. Obviously, helpmate is a term of great strength.)
One of the keys to respecting her then, is to be grateful for who she is as a person. Take a moment and recall what it was about your wife that attracted you to her in the first place. What personality traits did she display that you found attractive (yes, laughing at your jokes is nice, but there must have been more)? What character traits did you admire (her honesty, integrity, compassion ...)? What about her spirituality (her giftedness, her vision and sense of calling)? How have you seen those displayed lately? List a few of those and over the next week take a moment to share them with your wife. Verbal affirmation can do wonders in your relationship.
“Husbands, Respect Your Wives” is the edited text of the first installment of a series presented by Pastor Nils Swanson in his church in the state of Washington.