Each of you, however, should love [agape] his wife as himself, and let every wife respect her husband. Eph 5:33
When St Paul wrote these words 2000 years ago he was keenly aware of the differences between the sexes and so he deliberately gave husbands and wives different instructions on how to live a successful marriage.
To Cherish …
…to show great care for somebody; to value highly; to retain a memory of.
The original text of St Paul’s letter uses the word ‘agapé’ for love. In Ancient Greek (in which St Paul wrote), there were at least three different words used to describe different types of love. In English, we have only the one word: ‘love’ and it has many meanings.
‘Agapé’ described the kind of love that was completely other-centred and in service to the other. In the context of marriage, the English word ‘cherish’ sums it up well. It is the kind of love that led Jesus to tenderly wash his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, to teach to the point of exhaustion, to feed and nourish his followers, to ultimately give his life on the cross in love. In fact, earlier in the passage (Eph 5:25-30), these very actions were referred to by St Paul as examples of how a man is to love his wife.
Most women experience love most powerfully in the form of being cherished. When we cherish someone we value them greatly, they are precious to us, so we care for them tenderly, and we think about them often.
Practical expressions of cherishment include: providing for a wife materially, caring for her physically, protecting her from harm, doing things to support her and making gestures to show that her husband has been thinking about her. A husband can communicate how much he cherishes his wife by affirming her beauty, listening to her and letting her get close to him emotionally.
Like Christ, husbands are to take the leadership in being of service in the marriage, just as Christ leads the Church in self-sacrificing love. It’s a big mission – to ‘agapé’ (i.e. cherish and care for) our wife in the same way that Christ loves and cherishes his people!
…an attitude of admiration and deference toward somebody or something.
The Latin roots of the word ‘respect’ are ‘re’ meaning to ‘do something again’, and ‘spect’ meaning ‘to see’. In the context of this passage, respect means to look upon our husband through God’s eyes, as a man with dignity, honour and value.
When we respect someone, we value their opinion and are open to being influenced by them. Respect will not let a wife criticise or belittle her husband, but rather, will help her see his underlying virtue and call her to encourage and affirm him.
Receiving respect empowers a husband with the freedom to love and cherish his wife with all his masculine goodness and value. In fact, many men will report that they can’t differentiate between being loved and being respected – to them, the two are the same experience.
Practical expressions of respect may include seeking his opinion when making decisions, avoiding negative judgements about his motives when something goes wrong, trusting his judgement, and refraining from criticism or put-downs. It is through a wife’s respect for her husband; her admiration and appreciation of him and the sacrifices he makes, that he most often experiences her love. To say to a man ‘I love you but I don’t respect you’ does not compute… for most men they are one and the same.
Like many of our sexual differences, these traits are not exclusive. Women like to be respected and men also like to be cherished. The differences occur in the relative importance of these two modes of expressing love. Just as we have two hands, but only one hand, (either our right or our left) is the preferred or dominant one; likewise with our experience of love.
Most men predominantly experience love in the context of respect and secondarily in the context of being cherished. For most women the reverse is true; she experiences love more powerfully in the form of cherishment, and secondarily as respect.