What can a wife do when she feels her husband does not want to give her access to his heart? What can she do when she feels so disconnected?

“Talk to me!” commands the wife. She and her husband are having a conflict.

The husband retorts, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

He exits the room.

She follows him to talk.

He does not give her access to his heart. He closes her off. It is as though he is an island around which she paddles but he does not permit her to land.

She is in disbelief. She is seeking to do the loving thing by communicating but he lacks interest in responding. She thinks, “How can he be so unloving?” She is hurt, confused, angry and frightened.

This wife’s motivation is to increase the feelings of love between them. This is her ultimate goal. But her husband does not seem to be motivated by her loving efforts in the way she expects.

A wife emailed me, “My husband’s stonewalling and angry withdrawal had gotten so bad that I was ready to just walk away from the marriage so that in the last days of my life I could have some peace.”

Did you know women are divorcing husbands two to three times more than husbands? The walk away wife is real, and for those who don’t leave, they dream about it.

The Secret to Motivating a Husband

I discovered a secret – a secret hidden in plain sight! A husband does not lack the knowledge that he is to love his wife. She tells him that she needs to feel his love.

What he lacks is motivation.

The secret is this: A husband is motivated to be loving in response to a wife showing him unconditional respect. That’s a big truth hidden in plain sight. After hearing it, it still seems foreign to many!

Peter reveals that a wife’s “respectful behavior” (1 Peter 3:1,2 NASB) motivates a husband – even an undeserving one – to open his heart to God and by implication to his wife. “Even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your… respectful behavior.”

Paul, as well, shares God’s secret. “The wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33b NIV). This is his summary statement on marriage to the wife in the most significant treatise on marriage in the New Testament.

Did you know that God does not command a wife to agape-love her husband? Only the husband is commanded to agape-love (Ephesians 5:33a). Agape-love is that God-like unconditional love.

Why is a wife not commanded to agape-love? God designed a wife to love. She loves to love. For this reason, a husband does not doubt his wife’s love. What he doubts is her respect for him. During an argument, if she shouts , “I love you a ton but don’t feel any respect for you!” he’ll become an island unto himself. A mysterious island.

That is equal to a husband shouting, “I respect you more than any other human being, especially since you received a million dollar inheritance from your old man, but I don’t love you, never have.” What wife will jump in the air and click her heels over that comment? She is devastated and would never get over it.

As a wife needs love like she needs air, so a husband needs respect like he needs air. He is devastated and never gets over the declaration, “Nobody could ever respect you.”

Why a Husband Loses His Fond Feelings of Rejection

The key to motivating any person is by meeting that person’s deepest need. A husband is best motivated when his need is met to feel respected for who he is apart from his performance.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
Get more — Free! e-booklet — Les Parrott's Making Happy

When a wife comes across as despising who her husband is as a human being he loses his fond feelings of affection for her. He loses energy to emotionally connect. This is similar to a wife losing energy to positively respond when her husband is harsh, angry and unloving.

But He Needs to Change

Because a husband is less natural at loving, which is why he is under divine command to agape-love, a wife becomes frustrated. She decides to motivate him to change. She tries to love him more to motivate him to be more loving. She wonders, “Why should something so easy be so hard for him?”

When her love does not work, she shows the disrespect she feels toward him. Her tone, facial expression, gestures and words can be very disrespectful to him. Though she uses disrespect to wake him up and motivate him to be more loving, it backfires.

To her, disrespect is the means to resurrect the marriage.

To a husband, disrespect is the means to crucify him.

Things get worse. He puts up a wall – a stonewall – all around the island so she cannot land.

Though there are gender reversals to this pattern, most often it is the husband who stonewalls. Some research indicates that 85% of those who stonewall is the husband. Ask a million women, “What is the key to marriage?” In unison they will thunder, “Communication!” Most women want to connect. When a husband disengages, a wife is stunned. “How can he be so uncaring? He doesn’t ?get it’.”

Becoming more aggressive, she rams the verbal canoe into his forehead, “You are the most unloving human being alive!” She disrespectfully demands they talk. “Sit down and talk to me. Now!” Emotionally, she corners him. Some women keep up this approach for years, others quit early on.

Regardless, femininity longs to feel the feeling of love through connectivity. Perhaps the husband is to blame for the wall between them, then again maybe the wife keeps throwing bricks at him from her canoe and he is using them to barricade himself.

Questions to Answer

1. If it feels like there is “nothing left” in the marriage is this due to the husband’s lack of loving deposits or the wife’s disrespectful withdraws? Though a wife is making “deposits” of love she may not realize that her disrespect is making huge “withdraws.” Words of contempt are costly, bringing a marriage to the brink of emotional bankruptcy.

2. Is the husband reacting negatively because he is unloving or he is feeling disrespected? Though her husband ought to know she is a sweet dew drop using disrespect as a noodle across the face to awaken him to her need, in his male world that feels like a brick in the face. He will run away or explode with anger and fight back.

3. Is it effective for a wife to be extremely negative in order to motivate her husband to be positive? A wife’s disrespect does not motivate a husband to be loving. Juxtaposition, a wife does not feel energized when her husband is unloving. Some things just don’t work, like poking somebody in the eye in order to get them to see better.

4. Does a husband have a right to his feelings if those feelings are different from his wife’s? If a wife interprets her husband’s stonewalling as unloving, the husband has a right to interpret his stonewalling as an honorable way of calming himself down. He also has a right to feel he doesn’t deserve her contempt, after all he’d die for her. God made us male and female, pink and blue. Neither is wrong, just different. Marriage is not all about a wife’s feelings. That’s like saying, “That hamburger is so thin it only has one side.” There are always two sides to a hamburger, coin and marriage. Sarah, my wife, tells other women, “I used to feel that my marriage was all about my feelings. I felt if I was happy then everybody would be happy.”

5. Do you agree that every wife needs to ask herself, “Does my facial expression, tone and gesture feel so disrespectful to my husband that he is missing my heart?” The students squirm in their seats not because of what the teacher wrote on the chalk board but from her finger nails sliding down the chalk board. Few men react to WHAT a wife says but do react to HOW she says it. Few women realize that what grinds on a male is the sour look and dark eyes, the high pitched criticism and the scolding finger. These shut the male down, not her list of items on the board.

6. Will a wife complain about not being loved or get on with God’s call to meet her husband’s need for respect? If a wife moves first by putting on respect even though she needs love, her husband is likely to respond more lovingly. Though this isn’t fair to the wife to move first, it is effective. Pink can win a disobedient husband! Women have power. Feminists have been preaching this for 40 years. Is anybody listening? God’s Word declares a wife can win her husband. A woman once said to a group of women, “Stop the global whining.”

One wife applied respect to her husband. He wrote me, “Several months ago a friend of my wife shared the Focus on the Family CD with her. I immediately noticed a change in how (my wife) was treating me. We have been married for over 25 years… But after (my wife) received this message and practiced it on me, it has been so much easier to love her. She says a light bulb went on. Respect was explained in a way she had never heard before, and she needed to be obedient no matter what the outcome. She can say just about anything to me, because she has learned how to speak it with respect. I don’t feel so defensive. I don’t feel the need to withdraw and avoid. It’s much easier to engage.”

When a wife is respectful, her husband becomes more receptive and open. He builds a dock for her to land and come ashore.

The wife who wanted to walk away shared that her adult son “brought home a tape he ordered from ?Focus on the Family’ titled Love and Respect. He said it really helped him understand why he felt and acted the way he did and thought his father and I would like it. I never expected to hear what I heard. I was pretty much convinced at this point that I had heard everything there was to hear. Your tape was such a revelation to me… (then) I ordered your book set ?How to Motivate your Man’… If a marriage as complicated as ours can be transformed than there is hope for any marriage out there to be healed.”

Copyright © 2006 Love and Respect Ministries Inc Emerson E. Eggerichs Ph.D.