- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs speak at a Love and Respect conference. As I listened to them talk about the differences in how men and women communicate, I occasionally turned to my husband to see if he agreed with what was said or to give him a knowing smile. Clearly, we are different and that is not a bad thing.

At one point, Mr. Eggerichs asked, “What does this statement mean to you: ‘I have nothing to wear.’”

“Generally speaking, when a woman makes this statement, it means she has nothing new to wear and needs to go shopping,” he said. “Men, on the other hand, mean they have nothing clean.”

Mr. Eggerichs contends the interpretation of statements just like this is the very thing that leads to unnecessary tension in many marriages.

“Men and women have these wonderful differences,” Mr. Eggerichs said. “In many situations neither one is wrong, just different. I often tell people that women look at the world through pink sunglasses and men look at the world through blue sunglasses. When people marry, these differences in interpretation can lead to conflicts, which create tension in the relationship and often lead to women feeling unloved and men feeling disrespected.”

Case in point: Let’s say a woman tells her husband she feels fat and needs to go on a diet. Her husband goes to a bookstore to get a newspaper and notices a best-selling diet book. He buys it, thinking he is helping his wife accomplish her goal to lose weight. When he brings it home, his wife starts crying, asking how could he be so insensitive. Now, if her best girlfriend had brought the same book and asked her if she wanted to do the diet thing together, the response most likely would have been completely different.

In a random study of 7,000 men and women, participants were asked, “When you are in a conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” Eighty-two percent of the men responded that they felt disrespected and 73 percent of the women said they felt unloved.

“We all need love and respect, even in the midst of conflict,” Mr. Eggerichs said. “But when a wife feels unloved, she usually responds by being disrespectful. When men feel disrespected, they usually act in ways that are unloving. It isn’t that the wife is intentionally trying to be disrespectful or that the husband is seeking to be unloving. A lot of this has to do with how men and women interpret behavior. I think many couples would be surprised to know that most men and women I speak with feel good will toward their spouse.”

For example, when women sense something isn’t right, they will ask questions. Men often interpret questions as an interrogation and lack of trust. When men recognize things aren’t going well, their natural tendency is to withdraw. Women can interpret this as shutting down and assume that because he does this, he does not value the relationship.

Whether married or single, there are things couples can do to get out of what Mr. Eggerichs describes as the “crazy cycle” in a relationship. To escape the cycle, couples need to ask a few questions:

• Do I believe my spouse has good will toward me?

• Am I willing to show love and respect to my spouse even when I don’t believe he/she deserves it?

• Will I believe my wife/husband is crying out for my love/respect even though she/he is coming across in unloving/disrespectful ways?

“Wives, what I have discovered is that your husband, who would die for you, is not unloving, instead he is reacting to the feeling of being disrespected,” Dr. Eggerichs said. “He is not reacting because you are unloving, but because he believes you do not respect him. When you decode that, great things are in store for your marriage.

“Husbands, your wife is not intending to be disrespectful,” he continued. “She is reacting to the feeling of being unloved. When you decode this, it will pave the way for major positive breakthroughs in your marriage.”

Julie Baumgardner is the president and executive director of First Things First. Send e-mail to julieb@firstthings.org.

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