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. The idea that modern women desire love and modern men disparately need respect could also be a criticism of modern feminism. Some say that feminism has shifted the balance of power too far towards women, that it has become greedy and is destroying society. (This is questionable considering that modern men are misbehaving too.)

    Of course, there are some men who are so arrogant that they think men never did anything wrong ever. They think women were just fine under full patriarchy, and women just decided to rebel for no reason.

    There are even some men who are so far on the extreme that they think women have always ruled society and men were the real victims all along. Check out some of the ramblings of “red pill” Reddit and “men’s rights activists”.

    The world is going crazy. I try to see both sides of the gender war to find a balance, to find peace. But most people don’t seem to want peace. They like to fight for dominance, to prove that their side was the “right” one all along.

  2. I am adding my thoughts on Marama’s post: “My husband and I both enjoyed the message of this book. I can quickly feel better after a disagreement (what does this disagreement look like and sound like? At my house, I try to voice an opinion in the most innocuous way, he yells until I give in to his wishes, so no, I will NOT “feel better” with a hug and kiss after that attack for obvious reasons, no apology (I draw the conclusion that this wasnt just a “bad moment” for him but rather one he thought he was entitled to, ie he did nothing wrong), and making the moves for intimacy) 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 (Sure he will, as long as you have capitulated to what he wants and the hug leads to sex). He is more affected (is this a comparison? More affected THAN you? I was a bit confused here. Is HE speaking kindly and YOU are speaking harshly? Then , yes, you owe him an apology, but if YOU are speaking kindly and HE is harsh, it should go the other way as well. Harsh words HURT, no matter your gender) 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….(Yes,of course this would be better if BOTH spouses/parties did this. The problem in an abusive relationship is that only ONE person is doing the “good” thing to their own detriment as they lose themselves somewhere along the way) He appreciates that” (and you WOULDN’T?! EVERYONE would “appreciate ‘that”)

    But this gem was amazingly insightful from zanspence:
    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.

    I think you have nailed it. When you throw around multi-defined words like “love” and “respect” it is difficult to really understand where someone is coming from. I think the debate centers around us all trying to figure out what Eggerichs really means but from what I remember of the book and tapes, it was VERY debilitating to me where I was at the time in the abuse fog. I remember crying as I listened and thinking “My God, that’s what I have been DOING and he is still abusive.” And I was without hope because I believed the lie.

    And finally from Julia:
    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.

    All the romance and flowers in the world won’t counter an emotional and verbal assault. Only true repentance and admitting and changing the hurtful behavior. THAT will stop the “crazy cycle.”