Respect must always be earned

If you haven’t yet heard of Matt Walsh, you must not have been on the Internet for long. Recently he wrote a post called “Your husband doesn’t have to earn your respect“. And for about the first half of the article, he’s pretty spot on:

But I’ve noticed that the corollary – a message about the respect women must give men, a message challenging wives and encouraging husbands – isn’t quite so palatable for many people. Disrespect for men has become standard practice. That scene I witnessed was sad but unremarkable; we’ve all watched that kind of thing play out a thousand times over. Men are disrespected by their wives – they’re disrespected publicly, they’re disrespected privately, they’re disrespected and then told that they have no right to be upset about it because they aren’t worthy of respect in the first place.

Another place where you can see this attitude is in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in which the matriarch of the family, Maria, says “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”

As Matt further points out in his article, it is not an uncommon point of view that the woman is in charge of the house, that the husband is subordinate to her, and that his role is to keep her happy. If a husband is buying flowers or jewelry for his wife, it’s to buy his way out of trouble rather than just because. If you remember the show Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen, one episode featured a bouquet of flowers the florist calls the “Tim Taylor Foot-in-the-Mouth Special”, which apparently had been purchased so often that Tim’s wife, Jill, could easily rattle off what went into it.

That also was almost 20 years go. Matt says that “disrespect for men is a joke to us now”. No, it’s been a joke for at least the last two decades.

The problem is certainly well observed and readily observable. Part of the problem is that women know that in divorces involving kids, the woman will almost always receive primary custody. If there’s a house involved along with the kids, she’ll likely also get that, and he’ll be forced to pay alimony and child support. A legal landscape has been created to where men have little choice but to submit to their wives to avoid having their home and kids used as bargaining chips against them in a bitter divorce proceeding.

Divorce is costly and messy, and I think it’s safe to say that neither spouse wants to go through it. So it shouldn’t be surprising that some spouses, likely wives mostly, realize they can use that as a means of getting whatever they want, threatening divorce and taking the house and kids if compliance is not absolute.

Matt is correct as well that men need respect. But so do women, let’s not discount that. If you want to see that notion readily observed, all one needs to do is look at any high school and middle school and the things girls are at times willing to do in order to earn the respect of the other girls around them, or of a particular girl seen as socially superior.

Where Matt’s article goes south is actually when he quotes the Bible:

These cultural messages aren’t harmful because they hurt my manly feelings; they’re harmful because of what they do to young girls. Society tells our daughters that men are boorish dolts who need to be herded like goats and lectured like school boys. Then they grow up and enter into marriage wholly unprepared and unwilling to accept the Biblical notion that “wives should submit to their husbands” because “the husband is the head of the wife.” [Ephesians 5]

The idea that one person, be in the husband or wife, must be in charge, that one must submit to the other, gives marriage an adversarial quality to it. Why must the wife submit to the husband or the husband to the wife? Why must there be any kind of submission in the relationship or marriage? I’ve asked that question numerous times and have yet to receive an answer that cannot be boiled down to just “the Bible says so”.

Submission shouldn’t exist in a marriage. Instead what needs to be there is communication and compromise. Compromise may look a lot like submission when it is being exercised, but there is a huge difference. In submission, one always cedes their wills and desires to the other. In compromise, both cede their wills and desires to come to a mutually-beneficial decision.

Now which do you have in your marriage, submission or compromise?

Often, people will say that a husband should only be respected if he “earns” it. This attitude is precisely the problem. A wife ought to respect her husband because he is her husband, just as he ought to love and honor her because she is his wife. Your husband might “deserve” it when you mock him, berate him, belittle him, and nag him, but you don’t marry someone in order to give them what they deserve. In marriage, you give them what you’ve promised them, even when they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

And things go further south still, and here is where Matt becomes part of the problem.

Getting married does not mean the spigot of respect from the wife is always open, nor does it mean the husband’s spigot of love is always open. Marriage is little more than a government-enforced “till death do you part” legal bind to each other. I said this in a previous article discussing a husband who pursued divorce over his wife’s weight gain:

Relationships, including marriages, are about give and take. Marriage does not mean that you agree to put up with whatever the other throws at you. We all have only so much patience. And if your significant other starts him or herself down an unhealthy and self-destructive path, you have right to demand they change or reverse course, and threaten to leave and actually leave the relationship if they refuse to do so. Doing so does not mean you are not committed to the relationship, nor does it mean you don’t love them. It means you recognize they are no longer committed to holding up their end of the bargain.

Matt is correct when saying that the husband needs respect. But it is not automatically due and payable to him simply because he’s married to his wife. Sorry that’s not the way it works, and to declare that to be the case means that the wife has no choice in the matter but to respect her husband, even if he doesn’t respect her. At the same time, his love to her is also not automatically due and payable simply because she’s married to him.

Everything in a relationship is a two-way street. Respect is also and always a two-way street. So is love. If you’re not getting it, it’s likely because you’re not giving it. But if you are giving it but not getting it in return, that’s going to take a toll on the relationship. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the wife or the husband who’s being more of the giver than the getter when it comes to respect.

It’s this line of thinking that respect becomes automatic because of the marriage vows that feeds into thinking that children must always respect their parents simply because they are the child’s parents, which is another notion that comes from the Bible. Again, that’s not the way it works.

This doesn’t mean that a man has a license to be lazy, or abusive, or uncaring. He is challenged to live up to the respect his wife affords him. If his wife parcels out her respect on some sort of reward system basis, the husband has nothing for which to strive. As the respect diminishes, so too does his motivation to behave respectably. Respect is wielded like a ransom against him, and he grows more isolated and distant all the while.

He’s spot-on with this notion, but it contradicts the idea that the wife “ought to respect her husband because he is her husband” (emphasis mine). Again to say that the wife should respect her husband simply because he is her husband essentially means that nothing he does should diminish the amount of respect she shows him. That means that, contrary to this assertion, it is actually a license to be lazy, abusive and/or uncaring, because it means she has little option but to put up with it, because, as the Bible says, she is to submit to him.

And the notion is continually displayed throughout the remainder of the article: women should always respect their husbands. He even concludes the article saying, “Respect your husbands. Even when he doesn’t deserve it.”

We all have limits. Everything is conditional in some way. There is no escaping that reality. The husband or wife who stands up and says that there isn’t anything that could cause them to contemplate divorce is a person with their head in either the clouds or buried in the sand. Not being able to immediately say what would cause you to contemplate divorce does not mean nothing will. It just means you’ve never contemplated the idea.

But to say that respect and love both must be unconditional ignores reality. Again, we all have limits, and you can only say your love and/or respect are unconditional so long as you never encounter a condition wherein you would no longer give respect and/or love to your spouse. Again, going on what I quoted of myself earlier, marriage does not mean that you agree to put up with whatever the other does, nor does it mean the other must put up with whatever you do. We all have limits, we all have only so much patience.

There are always conditions under which a person will withdraw their respect for their spouse, even if you’ve never contemplated or encountered them. I highly doubt you’d still respect your spouse if they became abusive or displayed a complete loss of self control on one or more fronts. Indeed Matt even implies such in his article:

Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to love my wife because she’s kind, warmhearted, and beautiful. But if she becomes less kind, and I withdraw my love because of it, then my love was never love to begin with. It was just a pleasant feeling; a natural response to her nicer tendencies.


Now if you were to withdraw your love because she became only a little less kind, then yeah I’d have to wonder if you ever really loved her or if you were just merely infatuated with her. Would you try to determine why she’s become less kind, or would you just abandon ship? If the latter, yeah it was never really love. But if she were to become less kind to the point where she’d be confrontational with you, possibly bordering on physically, verbally or emotionally violent, I think you’d say a limit has been reached or exceeded and you’d set an ultimatum. And if that ultimatum were not met, you’d leave.

If you were to just put up with it, you’d be implying to her that she can basically do whatever she wants. If you set the ultimatum but don’t follow through, you’d be implying the same, that she can do whatever she wants.

Respect and love must still be earned, even in marriage. Even Matt recognizes that as evidenced by what he’s written in his article, even if he keeps stating the exact opposite.