Love & Respect is Based on Illogical Assumptions about Gender
This post is part three in a series that describes some of the problems with the book Love & Respect. As you will find in the introductory post of this series, this is not intended to “bash” any author or to condemn anyone who read and enjoyed it. Instead I aim to answer questions I have received, and to help you understand how this book has harmed many people who read it. When you are aware that a book has the potential to harm someone, my hope is that you will either encourage your friends to skip it or to make them aware of the potential issues before they read it so that they do not come away with ideas that could be damaging to them or their spouse.
As I have already pointed out in part one and part two of this series, I believe Love & Respect’s biggest fault lies with the fact that the author presents his theory (what he calls the “Love and Respect Connection”) as Biblical truth. The natural understanding is that if one chooses not to follow the author’s advice, they are really rejecting what God says.
Observe the following quote from Love & Respect: “Men’s deepest need is respect and women’s is love. When your husband makes you feel unloved or your wife makes you feel disrespected, that is because you have not met this deepest need of theirs. Therefore, husbands love your wives (so you can meet her deepest need,) and wives, respect your husbands (so you can meet his deepest need.”) To say that this is what God said in Ephesians 5:33 is to add a whole lot to the word of God, and to make a whole lot of assumptions.
If one looks closely at the endnotes of the book, he will find the author’s admission that “The Love and Respect Connection is what the author infers from Ephesians 5:33 and is not its actual theology. Although he paid lip service to acknowledging that this “Love and Respect Connection” is only his theory, two sentences later he goes right back to presenting his theory as scripture: “Ephesians 5:33 reveals that a wife needs love and a husband needs respect, and when those needs are unmet each spouse reacts at some level” (from chapter one end notes). In the front matter of the book he promises his readers that couples who “submit themselves wholeheartedly to this biblical design for marriage” will have “limitless” potential for improving their marriage, I will not rehash the many other ways that he misled his readers into believing the material was God’s word, but if you read parts one and two of this series you will see that this message pervades the entire book.
If the “Love & Respect Connection” is nothing more than a theory, and if the author knows that, why on earth does he make such bold promises that these rigid interpretations of each gender’s needs have “limitless” potential to improve their marriage? (I do not have an answer for that. Only he knows his heart, and I will not assign motives to him, but it is a tragedy that so many people have been hurt by placing their hope in what they were told was the Biblical “key to any marriage problem.”)
What about couples where the wife would much rather feel respected than anything else or the husband would rather feel loved?
Because the author has already presented his theories about each gender’s needs as if they are Biblical fact, there is no room for him to say that perhaps every individual is different in regard to their personal values, needs, and feelings. While there are no doubt generalities that will apply to most males or most females, there are no dogmatic rules regarding who would most like to feel loved and who would most like to feel respected.
The author addresses “exceptions to the Love & Respect Pattern” in Appendix D, and his explanation basically says that women who prefer to feel respected are actually at their deepest core seeking love and men who prefer to feel love are at their deepest core seeking respect. In other words, the author uses circular reasoning to hold to a dogmatic position of each gender’s needs. He states his conclusion without any evidence (men need respect; women need love), but when men and women try to assert that they feel differently, he refutes that by saying that they don’t actually feel differently because respect and love are the primary needs of men and women.
Some additional problems with asserting rigid gender stereotypes:
The author’s assertion that a man’s primary need is respect and a woman's primary need is love is based on two things. First, as has already been expounded upon, it is based on his own theory. Second, it is also based on a survey question used by Shaunti Feldhahn in her book For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men.
In the survey, she asked 400 men which of the following, if forced to choose, would they prefer to endure: a) to be left alone and unloved in the world or b) to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone. Out of the 400 men who answered the survey, 74 percent of them said that if they were forced to choose, they would prefer to be alone and unloved in the world (Love & Respect, p. 49).
The problem with drawing rigid conclusions about each gender from this survey question is a multi-faceted one.
1. The survey only asked 400 men this question. This is not nearly large enough of a sample size to draw any conclusions about “all men.”
2. The survey respondents were given a choice between which two things they would choose to feel, if forced. However, being presented with only two options and forced to choose between them does not necessarily lead to any conclusion that the choice one makes is their deepest need.
3. Shaunti Feldhahn's survey expert warned her that the men who responded to her survey may have a hard time choosing between the two answers. A pilot study of 10 men revealed that the men “fussed over” the question because “they did not feel the choices were different” (For Women Only, p. 23). In other words, how can one conclude that a man's deepest need is respect when he feels that feeling unloved and feeling disrespected are the same thing?
4. Women were not asked the same question. It is logically incorrect to assert that women's primary need is love when women did not even answer the question.
Along with making unsupported assertions that men's and women's primary needs are respect and love, the author of Love & Respect spends many chapters elaborating on specific types of behavior spouses can display that will make the other gender feel either respected or loved.
Although people write to him claiming that they feel differently than what he is saying (appendix D), he seems to dismiss their individual experiences in favor of holding to rigid gender differences.
I want to be clear that I am not dismissing the importance of either love or respect in a marriage. Neither am I dismissing the fact that there do seem to be general ways in which many women or many men think and act differently.
What I am saying, though, is that there is no Biblical or logical evidence that all men and all women have specific, gender-determined needs or that all men or women will interpret certain behaviors from their spouse the same way.
Some women may be the first to start a conversation when there is conflict while the man goes silent. In other cases, it may be the opposite.
Some women may enjoy having their financial or intellectual abilities appreciated while the man may not be talented in those areas and doesn't want his wife to pretend like he is.
Some women may have a higher sex drive while the man may not be interested as often.
I have no problem with an author presenting practical ideas that spouses can use to aid them in communicating with and understanding their partner. But as I have already made clear, the big problem for me all comes back to the author's presentation of the material – leading the reader to believe that his points are all clearly Biblical, then backing up those points with (illogical) “science”, both of which make the reader feel they are obligated to engage in specific behaviors that will meet their spouse's “deepest need.”
Instead of learning to interact authentically as unique individuals, spouses learn to alter their behavior to conform to a formula that has no firm Biblical or scientific foundation.
The result is that men and women with a destructive spouse suffer even further damage, and those with good-willed spouses learn to engage with their partner based on assumptions about them rather than on healthy communication.
To find all the posts in this series, click here: Why I Don't Recommend Love & Respect