I've often heard or read how men have an innate desire to be honored and respected. I want to admire my boyfriend's work, encourage his strengths, or honor his abilities. But simultaneously, I fear that this will falsely encourage his already (overly?) healthy ego. How do I go about respecting him in a healthy, constructive and godly manner?
Thanks for writing. It's good to hear that you want to respect your boyfriend. The more common messages to women these days is not to let a man have too much influence over you, not to sacrifice for a man, to keep your independence paramount, and to keep a slightly cynical edge toward him (and even about him) as protection against hurt. All of this, or even part of it, can add up to an undercurrent of disrespect in many dating relationships.
The dictionary says to respect is "to admire someone deeply as a result of his abilities, qualities, or achievements." It bases respect on something the other does; it's a response to his actions, his achievements, his accomplishments, his skills, his talents. It suggests that his actions are worthy of respect. And this is part of what it means to respect someone. But if you limit your respect to this, you may likely do what you dread and further pump up his ego.
The reason this is so is because it bases your respect wholly on the person. The Christian is called to respect the image of God in others, as well as to acknowledge the source of everything in them that is worthy of respect. For this reason, you should let your respect for him also go beyond him to God, who gave him every good thing he has (James 1:17).
Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and by extension, to all believers after them: "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Your motivation matters. Your goal shouldn't be flattery — to boost his sense of self-esteem or self-importance, which is what the "ego" is — but to respect the image of God in him, thank him for his leadership, affirm his masculinity, and also to seek to walk out your femininity in a way that honors the Lord. All of this is part of what it means to respect him in a godly way.
Godly respect goes beyond what someone does to who someone is. The first and most basic reason God calls you to respect your boyfriend is because He made him in His image. Beyond this is the call to respect people for their God-given roles and responsibilities.
Your respect grows because he bears God's image and is called to bear burdens. A man is called to provide for and protect those in his care. Where your boyfriend does this, you should thank him, affirm him, and respect him.
Biblical honor is not that which inflates a man's ego. In fact, it may humble him. God may use your Christ-exalting honor of him to re-align his view of himself. Look for evidence of God's grace in his masculinity, for times when he stewards his gifts and talents for the provision and protection of others, not of himself. Such is worthy of your vocal respect.
Let him know how much you admire his hard work where it serves others, how much you appreciate his care for you when it would be easier to be selfish, and so on. If you do not see such things in his life, if he doesn't do things for others, doesn't serve selflessly, is generally motivated by his own pleasure-seeking, then that would be a strong reason to pause on your relationship. If, however, he does strive to walk in faithfulness, let him know when you see it. Valuing godliness in him will encourage him to continue honoring the Lord with his strength.
One of the ways I respect my husband, Steve, is by affirming his hard work to provide for our family. I might say something like, "I'm so proud of your faithfulness at the office. I'm thankful for the way God has made you to persevere in the midst of a lot of stress, and I love the strengths He's given you to work with excellence." That's much different from ego-stroking: "I love you because you are so smart, you are so successful, you are so this, and you are so that." While such talk may pass for honor and respect on the surface, it stokes pride and is a hindrance to godly masculinity that serves others.
I also respect his leadership by submitting to it, but this is not required of you in dating. In fact, this season of dating is when you should not yet be submitting, but discerning if your boyfriend is the sort you will be able to submit to should you wed. Now is the time to be assessing his character to see if he has the aptitude, the potential to be a wise and godly leader. (For more on this, see "Faith for the Man He'll Become.")
One of the most widely used resources on this topic is Emerson Eggerichs' Love and Respect. In his book and conference by the same name, Eggerichs points to Scripture's commands to wives to honor and respect their husbands, as well as the commands to husbands to love their wives.
Eggerichs says women need Paul's words to wives precisely because women, while naturally more inclined to want to give and receive love, find it less natural to give respect. So too, men, while wired to want to give and receive respect, find it more difficult to love.
It's not that women don't want respect or that men don't want love, but respect is native to men, and love is native to women. God requires that we give what does not come naturally or easily. But He does not leave us to ourselves to do it.
We are called to obey the one-another verses in the Bible out of the overflow of God's love, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5 shows us the way: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.