Have you ever had one of those days when you considered the D-word? Even if just for an instant? Your spouse hurt you deeply or simply annoyed you. For the 47th time that week. Or perhaps a friend, glowing and giddy in the early stages of love, triggered a fantasy about starting over with someone new. Maybe being alone has become tremendously appealing. Surely it would be easier than this! And then you felt guilty so you phoned a friend or Googled “how to make your marriage stronger.”
Don’t tell Tony Bear, but early on in our marriage, the D-word crept into my mind more than once.
Granted, that was before I figured out—and then worked through—some important issues in my life. Even so, there were days when I thought marriage was not what I expected, and stretches of time when Tony and I seemed more like roommates than husband and wife.
I’m not saying Tony was solely to blame. I absolutely know I played a major role in our problems. In fact, maybe it was him who said that roommate line.
Then I learned the two “magic” words that fixed everything.
Well, maybe not everything, but darn close. If simple words can trigger a miracle, those two little words did, in our marriage.
It happened one night as I was washing dishes. It was one of the rare occasions Tony Bear didn’t clean the kitchen after I cooked, meaning it was likely fall and he was probably out officiating a football game.
I was listening to a radio interview, and the guy doing most of the talking was Emerson Eggerichs, author of the book, Love and Respect.*
An entire hour flew by as I scrubbed, rinsed, and arranged dishes on the drying rack. It felt like Eggerichs was speaking directly to me, about me and my marriage. It all made such sense. As the interview ended, I tugged off my dishwashing gloves and tossed them on the counter. I found my fountain pen and a few sheets of beautiful stationery and then:
I wrote Tony Bear his first love respect letter.
You see, Eggerichs has a theory that women want love and men need respect. According to Eggerichs, “…74% (of men) said that if they were forced to choose, they would prefer feeling alone and unloved rather than feeling disrespected and inadequate …”
By the way, Eggerich’s theory has a Biblical basis. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Each one of you also must love his wife, and the wife must respect her husband.”
That night, it didn’t take long for my respect letter to start looking like a list, as one by one, I recorded the things my husband does that I appreciate.
- I respect the way you provide for our family.
- I respect the way you father our children.
- I respect your work ethic.
- I respect your commitment to family—yours and ours.
- I respect the way you deal with dead animals so I don’t have to.
My list letter went on and on, top to bottom of one page and almost to the bottom of another.
My husband’s response was swift and sweet.
Tony Bear loved his letter. In the days that followed, I noticed a renewed attention to the roles he plays in my life, and in our family’s life as a whole. There was also a definite softening of the invisible tension, thin and brittle, that had risen up between the two of us.
It seemed to me one of Eggerich’s theories was playing out:
“His love motivates her respect; her respect motivates his love.”
When the next Mother’s Day rolled around, my card from Tony included a list of all the things he loves about me:
- how I mother our children
- how I keep our home
- how awesome my cooking is
- how I support him in his two main outside-the-home endeavors: owning a business and officiating college football
I enjoyed the list in my Mother’s Day card so much I included another “respect list” in Tony Bear’s Father’s Day card that year. These occasions, as well as birthdays, provide great opportunities to tell your husband everything he is doing right.
Keeping a record of rights is way better than keeping a record of wrongs.
The practice of writing respect letters has an added bonus. Each time you make a list, you’re reminded of all the reasons you fell in love with your significant other in the first place. This list may serve as a gentle puff of air on the cooling embers of your love.
I’m not saying an appreciative letter is a panacea for all marital woes.
If there are serious foundational flaws in your marriage, a respect letter may not be enough to resurrect the relationship. And if you find yourself thinking, “I love my partner, but I’m not in love with them anymore,” it’s definitely time to seek professional help. Especially if that sentence really means, “Actually, I don’t even like being around my partner anymore.” When disdain creeps in, repair can be hard to accomplish.
Some people, like the author of this article in Psychology Today, may find the love-and-respect theory, and the research behind it, seriously flawed. But based on my experience, if you find yourself wanting to somehow make your marriage stronger, I think you should consider putting a pen to a page.