Relationship Advice from Early Writings
By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW
Showing Unconditional Love and Unconditional Respect Toward Your Partner– a Idea that Goes All the Way Back to the Bible
In 25 years of working with couples to improve their relationships, I have often found the starting point is education for improved communication. How to disagree and argue fairly, beginning feeling statements with the word “I “ rather than “you,” and “attacking the problem and not the person” are all tips to avoid the negative impact of anger and defensiveness and outwardly showing your partner that you care about them through words of kindness and appreciation.
Recently, I’ve become interested in spiritually-based resources that focus mainly on the demonstration and communication of unconditional love. I want to state clearly that unconditional love doesn’t mean placing oneself in harm’s way (physically, emotionally, or psychologically) and it doesn’t mean that we enable partners who are engaged in addiction, abuse, or chronic infidelity.
In 2004, Pastor Emerson Eggerichs published the book “Love and Respect,” which speaks to the difference in male and female communication styles somewhat reminiscent of the “Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” theories in John Gray’s bestseller. Pastor Eggerichs goes a step further in proposing that, based on Ephesians 5:33, unconditional love is vital for women and unconditional respect is essential for men in building long lasting, happy marriages. Let me clarify that these suggestions do not preclude the need that women have to feel respected or that men have to feel loved. It means that the crazy cycle of misunderstanding and miscommunication between husbands and wives occurs at a basic level when women feel unloved and when men feel disrespected. The book teaches that men and women think and interpret what they hear in different “languages” of “blue” and “pink.” It asserts that we don’t realize how our words and actions are received or that they are doing damage because it is not intentional.
Another interesting source of helpful material is the movie “Fireproof” which was released in 2009 and stars Kirk Cameron in the role of a husband struggling with what seems like the inevitable end of this marriage. In the movie, Kirk Cameron’s father recommends that he utilize the book “The Love Dare” to reconnect with his wife, who is also unhappy and moving toward divorce as the solution. The “Love Dare” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick is a 40 day challenge to express love toward your spouse by practicing unconditional love. It focuses on attentiveness, rediscovery, and acts of loving kindness while keeping in mind that marriage is as much about being the right person as it is about finding the right person.
In our society, in which we discard and replace things so easily, the unfortunate truth is that marriage can easily be conceptualized in the same regard. Sometimes this occurs out of sheer frustration and helplessness because couples can’t figure out how to elicit change. These resources are a guide, geared toward Christians but useful to all, for how to refocus ourselves on what we can do to show those we love how much we value, respect, and appreciate them.