Complementarian Crimes: Erasing the Needs of Women

For a while now, I’ve wanted to do a review of the marriage book Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. But that assumes I would actually have the time to read it. It may still happen one of these days, but it might be when my kids are in college. 🙂

However, I often see the book whenever I’m browsing shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, and it always sets me off. I just KNOW this book is a prime example of the typical complementarian diatribe that shames and oppresses women through twisted scriptures. How do I know? Because of what appears on the cover:

The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs.

As you can see, Eggerichs casts love as a desire and respect as a need. Not just any need, but a desperate need. (Respect is the new oxygen, apparently.) From the time we are three years old, we are taught that needs take precedence over wants. Sure, you may want a PlayStation, but what you really need are some new pants to wear to school. Needs come first. If anything is left in the bank account after needs are met, then we can talk about indulging wants.

Christianity, in particular, tends to give desire the ole disdaining side-eye. Despite the Bible’s decree that the desire of the righteous ends in good (Proverbs 11:23), or that the Lord will give those who delight in Him the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4), or that the entire Song of Solomon is a celebration of desire, Christians tend to view desire in a negative light. Desire is something to be restrained, controlled, feared, put on hold, and even sacrificed if necessary. After all, denying self for the sake of Christ is the believer’s ultimate prerogative.

So when complementarians frame love as a desire, they are using a loaded term that pitches love as something superfluous – something that can (maybe) be fulfilled only after all other needs are met.

This is not an accident. If you’re going to sell the idea of man’s God-mandated headship over women, then you have to do something to prioritize the biblical command for wives to respect husbands over that of husbands to love wives. To cast both love and respect as needs would place the obligations husbands and wives have toward each other on equal footing, which would smack of the dreaded egalitarianism and, thereby, defeat the complementarian position.

There are a couple of reasons why this portrayal of love is particularly criminal:

1. It ignores love as a spiritual imperative.

2. It erases the needs of women.

Yes, love – like respect – is a spiritual imperative. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives. It also says that those who do not love do not know God. Jesus’ sole command to his disciples was for them to love one another. In fact, Jesus says that loving others is the only way to remain in his love. Loving God and others is the greatest commandment, and doing so fulfills the whole Law.

So when complementarians suggest, however so subtly, that loving one’s spouse is, at best, of secondary importance, they endanger the very body of Christ. They endanger women by subjecting them to emotional death, because love is the key to spiritual, emotional, and even physical life. Nearly every testimony I’ve encountered from women who have experienced loveless and abusive marriages has included statements like, “I was dying inside,” “I became a shell of a person,” and “I could feel my life draining away.” Lack of love kills the soul.

This teaching likewise endangers men with a heretical doctrine of entitlement that leads them away from the will of Christ. FYI, the Bible does not define respect as an especial need of men. Neither does it indicate that women crave love more than men. Love and respect are simply spiritual imperatives to which all believers are required to submit. In particular, men are called to love their wives sacrificially, just as Christ loved his Church. Sacrificially means there are no prerequisites to a person’s ability to love. On judgment day, Jesus isn’t going to buy the argument, “Well, I would have loved my wife, but she didn’t respect me enough.” Why so many pastors are willing to accept such hokum is beyond me.

And when one of humankind’s greatest needs is redefined as a desire, it means that women don’t get to have needs. Their needs aren’t simply made less important; they are erased from the conversation entirely. As a result, men often act in marriages without awareness and without motivation to sacrifice.

This doctrine of love and respect also places an enormous burden on women. When respect for husbands is cast as a desperate need, persuading women to fulfill that need becomes a desperate attempt. As I have stated before, about 90 percent of complementarian books and sermons are directed at women – including those written by women. Christian women are told that men NEED their respect in order for men to fulfill their God-given purpose in life…which is to lead, succeed, and serve as kings and priests unto God. So in the event that a husband fails at being a good and godly person, his wife takes the blame.

God didn’t tolerate such nonsense in the Garden of Eden, and He hasn’t changed since then.

Love is our deepest need, our greatest spiritual imperative and our highest calling. It is only a desire when it is used to prop up a dangerous doctrine like Eggerichs’.

39 responses to “Complementarian Crimes: Erasing the Needs of Women

  1. I don’t know if you have read the reviews on Amazon for this book but they confirm your suspicions. Our small group started this book. It triggered me, although I didn’t know at the time what my uncomfortable feelings were. After one week I quit the group. This is an overly simplistic and awful book. I have never understood this notion that the wife should respect an unloving husband first in order to get love. Didn’t God command the husband how to love the wife before He commanded the wife concerning her duties? Congratulations on your new little baby, BTW!

    • The pastor’s wife of the church I was attending at the time taught for weeks on this book. Like you stated in your post, I also was very uncomfortable. Something just didn’t feel right about this book. I’ve also seen the author on Joni Lamb’s “Table Talk” – Daystar and did not feel right inside about him or his book. I am always amazed how christian women in the church just continue to buy this “put up and shut up and just worship your husband”. My understanding of scripture also states that God is a jealous God and doesn’t like us women AND MEN to worship another person (husband) more than God. I have this feeling inside that this pastor’s wife is being emotionally and mentally abused and I have picked up two definite situations I was witnessed to that warrants my concern. Troubling. I am so thankful for page “Cry For Justice”.

  2. Hmm, where to start? I can’t possibly type it all – but the most important thing, I think, is that the author’s title is wildly inaccurate. The “respect he desperately needs” doesn’t come from his wife, it must come from himself. This is the problem that many men are suffering from, a lack of self respect, and many marriages suffer because the husband blames his unhappiness and self derision on his wife and punishes her – and unbiblical, ungodly, unChristian tripe like this book perpetuate these situations. I suppose it is to keep the coffers overflowing; if miserably unhappy people are convinced that they can only be happy with God, and God can only be found in this book, under the authority of this pastor, and using these guides – and, btw, your unhappiness is an ungodly response and therefore you obviously need shepherding because you are still so unhappy, QED (see previous series 😔). Oh well, Jesus said, “Many will come in my name,” so He tried to warn us to be on the lookout; this is just another one of those false prophets!

  3. Strange. I was talking to a friend (male) last night, right before he was to see his ex for a family issue. When he asked me how to approach her, I went still for a moment and then said, “Love her. Find that place inside that is love(you married her once and she is the mother of your child) and she is in a hard place, so just love her.”
    I got a text later thanking me for my help. I know that love comes first in all things. I am grateful to have friends that remind me of that often. My beloved and I share the belief that in our home there is no “mal” intended, ever!
    No malice, malfeasance, maliciousness, malpractice—only love, even if awkwardly expressed. It has made such a difference in our lives. God is love and I sincerely believe since we are to be in his image, that we are to be love too. Since experiencing the pure love that is neither male nor female, but transcends all differences –I can’t hold anyone in anything but love. If I get really lucky/blessed, my behaviors will ultimately be congruent and I lose all my judgments, which has are sharp instruments that only hurt me. In leaving/learning judgments to God I am set free. That’s what I wish for all, to be set free of the past and live in the joy of love. I have a new granddaughter, about 6 weeks and the beautiful love that is what we are is present in her, so many congratulations on your child. He will be blessed with you as his emotional guide for being a God reflected human being. Much love to your family.

  4. Upon reading this, three thoughts came to mind; being loved is a universal, not a feminine need, what happened to the concept of universal priesthood of all believers, and I, as a woman, appreciate respect as much as anyone else. When I was growing up, I was a kid seen but not heard and I had no expectations of being respected. I started having my children early and stayed home with them and felt no respect. When my youngest started school, I went back to school and loved being a student. I graduated magna cum laude and started grad school. During that same year, I had my first paper published and felt respect for the first time.

    I really liked it and expecting respect has become a need in my life but love is still the greatest need for everyone, at least in my experience.

    As far as that book goes, I would suggest lining the bird cage with its pages but that might constipate the poor birds.

  5. You’re exactly correct, April. The slogan, “The love she most desires; the respect he desperately needs” is one of the first things that jumped out at me as a clue to the misguided and unjust nature of this book, and you’ve framed the explanation of it perfectly.

    And your suspicions are correct: this book is patriarchal to the core. While he stresses equality between men and women, he actually has an entire chapter entitled “Hierarchy” – which is one of the key things the woman has to understand in order to respect her man. In this book, “respect” pretty much means to do as the man says without giving him any lip about it.

    Any disagreement or hesitance to follow his leadership must be done in the most deferential way, lest he feel disrespected, and it’s only natural then for him to react in an unloving manner. (Unless he is sufficiently spiritual to overcome the lack of respect.)

    He teaches that either spouse can begin doing their thing, either the wife respecting or the husband loving. In theory, the other one will then respond naturally doing their part- the husband will respond to respect with love, or the wife will respond to love with respect. But one can’t help but think at the end of the day that the burden here is placed on the wife to get in line and start “respecting him unconditionally” – i.e. even if he is an irrespectible lout.

    The book and video series are awful.

  6. Saying that you have a “need” to be respected (beyond basic respect for another person) is, to me, another way of expressing pride/ego. I have always marveled that, in every other situation, Christians count pride as something sinful, not something to be encouraged. But it seems that in the home, Pride is something that is celebrated for Husbands/Fathers, and much has to be done by the other family members to protect this pride/ego. The work of the Spirit is to break down our pride until we “count it all as loss,” isn’t it? I see no scriptural “free pass” for men on this one.

  7. Thank-You for writing this. Emerson Eggerich was my pastor for years, before he started L & R ministry. Please pray for me to continue to heal from all his toxic preaching.

  8. I am stumped. I cannot believe I have bought that hook, line, and sinker. It’s so ingrained in me…. I do not have an abusive husband, but I do have one who doesn’t understand equality. Now. How to break it to him…..

  9. I kindly disagree with you on some of review, April. The information and tools provided in this book were amazingly astute and extraordinarily helpful to my husband and me. Many Christian marriage books hug the wife and scold the husband. This material by Dr. Eggerich is much more objective, practical, and biblical …just what we needed to navigate our broken our marriage. Through humility, patience, and prayer, God made a difference and saved our marriage. Our souls learned to mend and trust… and miraculously, gratefully, we’ll celebrate 37 years together this summer. We still use the objective tools Dr E provided to gain growing understanding of each other when emotions are high and issues are important. I know that not every book is for every couple, but I highly recommend this book for it’s down to earth helps and its godly advice. Thanks for reading. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad God saved your marriage. I’m not saying that everything in Eggerichs’ book is bad, just the premise it is based on.

    • It sounds like you have a husband who was willing to “equally do the hard work that his part entails” and that is truly a blessing. In an abusive marriage, it is just one more book where “she” is doing her part and “he” sees no need to make any changes. It heaps more false guilt on the spouse who has done everything she knows to do, respecting just short of groveling at his feet, for a man whose definition of “respect” is not a healthy nor Godly one, and at the same time, lends credence to his already misplaced notion of entitlement.

  10. Did an entire course on this book. It annoyed me but I stayed in it for my husband. And for years after my husband would use it to nag me to “respect” him before I should expect love. One of my biggest issues was how it made me feel like a child in relation to my husband–I was relegated to “pink” and he to “blue”. I am not a fan of pink–since I’m a full grown woman I’d prefer red. A bit silly, I know, but putting this “girlish” identity on me really ticked me off (among other things). It’s way too simplistic.

  11. So I ACTUALLY READ this book and I found it to be a helpful perspective for my (non abusive) marriage. To write a whole negative article towards it based on the title is unfair and takes away from all the good stuff in the book. And to Donna in the above comment – if your husband was waiting for you to respect him before he gave you love – that is the exact opposite of what the book goes on and on about!

    • Actually, I think Donna’s husband was following along pretty closely. This book is pretty heavy on the “respect” portion, and is often harder on the wife to be the one to start the cycle. When I read/watched this material, I did not recognize myself in any of his examples. He stuck pretty closely to the Wife=Homemaker, Husband=Work Outside The Home Provider model of life. I found his Pink Glasses vs. Blue Glasses to be extremely contrived and not at all indicative of my reality. I also found that my fiancee, through watching this material, became more demanding of respect, which to him meant never disagreeing with his opinions (even “respectfully disagreeing) and him expecting to make every important decision for us. Eggerich’s entire system rests on a hierarchical structure that so many of us realize is completely fabricated and not God-ordained at all. I found this curriculum to be belittling toward women and often reducing them to being “Emotional,” encouraging husbands to humor their wives emotions, rather than to respect their wife as an equal partner. I found that much of this appealed to a Man’s ego, aka Pride, rather than truly encouraging both spouses to act like Jesus, produce the Fruit of the Spirit (which are not separated into pink and blue categories), etc.

      • I can’t really remember the details of the book as I read it a couple of years ago, but what I took away from it was to humble ourselves and submit to one another which is exactly what Jesus wants us to do. There will always be things that we don’t agree with or things that don’t relate to you, and people may present material in an imperfect way. I don’t particularly like the idea of pink vs blue glasses thing either but well then I just ignore that bit and take in the other advice.

        My husband and I both enjoyed the message of this book. I can quickly feel better after a disagreement with hug, kiss and I love you, because those things make me feel loved. My husband is not going to feel better with a hug. He is more affected by the harsh way I speak and it would be better if I controlled myself (yes self control :/) by discussing things in a calm non yelling voice…. He appreciates that. So this book helps us to see each other’s perspective.

  12. Our small group went through the video series a few year ago. I found it very helpful and insightful.

    The book is scripture-based and while I know that verses can be taken out of context some things are pretty clear even if they are hard for us to humanly follow. It’s easier to lean on our own thought to how things should be or how the rest of the world lives instead of clear truths in God’s Word.

    Either God is right in all or he is not right at all.

      • You think submitting to one another is taking scriptures out of context? That’s what I think is a key theme in the book

        • If submitting to one another was the key theme of the book, that would be wonderful. But that’s not what the book teaches at all. On page 217 of the 2004 edition, under the heading: Does Scripture Teach “Mutual Submission”? – the answer is pretty clearly “no”.

          The husband gets the final word, but then “submits to her” by meeting her need to feel loved despite the conflict.

          Here’s a link:

      • The main thing I remember about this book is about respecting your husband even if he’s not being loving, and loving your wife even if she’s not being respectful, to break the “crazy cycle.” So I’d say it is a key theme. I can’t read that link, and I don’t have the book so I can’t comment on that chapter.

        • I read it in late January so it’s still quite fresh in my mind. According to the notes I took, the page I linked to is the only place he mentions Eph 5:21, though he mentions all or part of 5:22-33 many times.

  13. This kind of language drives me batty. I’ve never understood how one can separate love and respect. Isn’t respect a form of love? After all, you’re treating another person as a worthy individual, one whose voice deserves to be heard. That sounds an awful lot like love to me.

    Unless by “respect” this writer means “authority,” and by “love” he means “romance.” In which case, I do NOT need love more than men do. In fact, if I had to choose, I’d go with the respect, thank you very much.

    (Growing up in a misogynistic household will do that to you.)

  14. Boy I’m glad that went poking around your blog today. lol. As I mentioned in another post I’m getting married in August and our pastor (well my fiancés pastor) who is doing our counseling recommended this book. I will still read it but now cautiously. I wholeheartedly am against the concept that women are responsible for men’s failures. I see this quite a bit and while there is a accountability on both partners for the failure there is no accountability of the other’s decisions. Someone can verbally attack me, for example, but it’s my choice on how to respond. I also think that any biblically based book that discusses love needs to establish the different types of greek love (agape, eros, storge and phila). The author should pinpoint the koine greek work used in the new testament which in many cases is 1 Corinthians agape. Surely a man needs agape love as well. All humans need it. It seems that Eggerichs is talking about a 5th emotionally annoying “love” that should be thrown as a bone.