Our Relationship Was Great. What Was Missing?

couple holding hands, smiling at each other
When my boyfriend met my family, I learned I didn’t respect him.

When it came time for him to meet my family for the first time, I was (as most people would be) excited but anxious. We had been long-distance all summer, and he was finally coming to visit me and my family. As I drove to pick him up from the airport, I kept reminding myself that he was good with people. I hoped that once initial introductions were over, I would be able to relax.

I was so glad when his visit was over.

Nothing in particular had gone wrong, but I had been making mental excuses for him all week. None of my family members said anything about not liking him, but I was constantly wishing he had acted differently.

A few weeks later, we broke up. The tipping point was some theological differences that we couldn’t work out. It was extremely painful then, but now I am thankful for these differences that led to our breakup because there were other serious issues beneath the surface.

The Missing Piece: Respect

I had felt there was something wrong in this relationship, but was unable to express what it was until a few years later. It became clear when I was talking to a man who made this off-hand comment: “A woman’s greatest need in a relationship is to be loved, and a man’s greatest need is to be respected.”

Suddenly, the lights kicked on. I realized why there had been such an uncomfortable undercurrent in our relationship — one that particularly manifested when he met my family. The cause of this uncomfortable undercurrent: I did not respect my boyfriend in the way he needed to be respected.

I enjoyed being with him. He made me laugh but also made me think. We could mess around but also have serious conversations. Our visions for the future even seemed to line up. It had seemed that if we could only work out our theological differences, we would make a happy couple. I’m convinced now, however, that this wasn’t the case.

Different Kinds of Respect

In many ways, I did respect him. I knew he loved the Lord, for instance, and I knew that many younger men looked up to him as a mentor. But I did not respect him in a way that I needed to if I was one day be his wife. There were very few ways that I looked up to him. In many ways, I didn’t feel respect; I felt ashamed. Many of the faults I saw in him were petty, but even as I tried to get over them, the central issue remained: I could not give him the respect he needed for our relationship to work.

And I found, he could not give me the love I needed. Although he was very kind and affectionate, he made it clear that if I hadn’t been interested in him, he wouldn’t have pursued me. I thought that was fair when he first told me, but it stayed in the back of my mind. I was constantly aware that if I were to stop showing interest, he would do likewise. So while I knew he respected me, I didn’t have the assurance of his love.

Paul’s Perspective on Relationships

This realization about love and respect gave me a new appreciation for Ephesians 5:33: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

In the world of feminism, I am tempted to focus on the need for husbands to respect their wives. I’m tempted to downplay the need for wives to respect their husbands. I do really believe that men should respect their wives and that wives must love their husband in order to fully respect them. And I believe that we all need both love and respect.

But let’s not forget that God’s commands are not only for His glory, but also for our good. In other words, obeying Him often makes our lives better. By commanding that husbands love their wives and that wives love their husbands, God is helping us to fulfill some of our deepest needs (in a marriage, at least).

If I had listened to what God was telling me, I could have saved countless hours of agonizing over what was wrong in our relationship. I wish I had been able to recognize earlier that I couldn’t give my boyfriend the respect he needed to one day be my husband. If I had, we could have continued on as the good friends that we were much sooner.

About the Author