As a girl, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I was always told that my future husband would want, and need, my respect. Books on marriage and wifehood that I've read by conservative evangelical authors echo that sentiment- "wives, respect your husbands." "Husbands need respect like wives need love." Even the Bible commands me, a woman, wife, and feminist, to respect my husband. (It commands mutual love and respect, from both of us to the other. I reject the gendering of love and respect and the assertion that men and women have different levels of these needs as patently false. I am focusing on wifely respect here, but respect of husbands for wives is just as important.) What does this mean? Or first, what doesn't this mean?
It does not mean treating my husband as a sex-crazed beast, who needs women to "dress modestly" so that he can control his lust.
It does not mean treating my husband like a child with a fragile ego who cannot abide criticism, censure, or disagreement.
It does not mean treating my husband like a potential abuser who will grow irate if his wishes are not acceded to in every particular.
It does not mean treating my husband as if he were mentally inferior, regarding ineptitude in housekeeping and fatherhood with a knowing smile and an "Ah, well, men!"
It does not mean assuming that because he is male he is less complicated, less emotionally developed, less capable, or less sensitive than I am.
It does mean treating him like an adult and a partner.
It does mean refusing to belittle, manipulate, or indulge in other unhealthy forms of communication.
It does mean expecting him to be capable of the same self-control, self-sacrifice, openness, frankness, reason, and logic which I myself display.
It means supporting him when he needs it, confronting him when he's wrong, putting my foot down when he's about to make a big mistake, and loving him without condition or apology.
It means not allowing him to dominate, control or manipulate me. This disrespects both of us and destroys a marriage.
It means treating his opinion as valuable, but not infallible. It means being gracious, but not a pushover. It means seeing him as a worthwhile, valuable child of God and brother in Christ who deserves my serious consideration, my vulnerable communication, and my tender affection, but not my worship or my flippant disregard.
My husband tells me that he feels much more respected, not less, in an egalitarian framework. He feels more truly valued when my treatment of him stems from love and merit and not a command I'm obeying. I find it easier to respect him when he is not trying to mold us both into boxes which don't fit us.
It is my opinion that a headship/submission model for marital relationships actually destroys respect in favor of manipulation, hierarchy, and stunting personal and collective potential. Hierarchy also destroys oneness and openness, two things which have been instrumental in making my marriage as sweet and uplifting as it is. A true partnership with someone you respect and trust is a glorious thing.