Love and Respect – A best-seller built on a faulty premise
Last week, I intentionally deviated from a series of critical pieces and ventured into the realm of positive psychology. In discussing the beneficial aspects of travelling alone within the context of a committed relationship, I hoped to inspire others to reap the rewards of solitary wanderings. The problem is that barely anyone read the last blog – my total readership suddenly dropped by over 60%.
So I guess that you like your blogs served up ornery. On that note, here is the very subject to draw out the most “ornery” part of me…
Emerson Eggerichs, best-selling author of Love and Respect*, asserts: “Women need love. Men need respect. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.”** The foundation for his platinum-level former book-of-the-year is a theorized gender difference he identified by posing this question:
If you were forced to choose one of the following, which would you prefer to endure…to be left alone and unloved in the world, or to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone?
In his original sample of 400 males, 74% said that if they were forced to choose, they would prefer feeling alone and unloved rather than feeling disrespected and inadequate (p.49). He collected data on a female sample and found that a comparable majority would rather feel disrespected and inadequate than alone and unloved. Based on this data, Eggerichs concluded that a wife “needs love just as she needs air to breathe” and a husband “needs respect just as he needs air to breathe” (p. 37).
As early as page 1 of his book, Eggerichs begins to shape the argument that wives’ failure to show respect to their husbands is the reason that many marriages end in divorce. As he explains, “What we have missed is the husband’s need for respect. This book is about how the wife can fulfill her need to be loved by giving her husband what he needs—respect” (p. 1). A few pages later, he asserts, “Husbands are made to be respected, want respect, and expect respect. Many wives fail to deliver. The result is that five out of ten marriages land in divorce court” (p. 6).
At times, I thought that Eggerichs might begin to see how disrespect is at the core of many marital problems for wives as well as for husbands. For example, he says that a wife “yearns to be honored, valued and prized as a precious equal” (p. 11) and that wives “fear being a doormat,” (p. 53) and informs his male readers that a wife will feel “esteemed” when “you are proud of her and all that she does” and when “you value her opinion in the grey areas as not wrong but just different and valid” (p. 73). Why not just substitute the word “esteemed” with the word “respected?”
To test my theory that respect is equally critical for many women as for many men, I set out to profile the marriages of some of the smartest women I have known and their equally capable friends (The Lifestyle Poll). The first phase of data collection for The Lifestyle Poll was based heavily on a Harvard college graduate sample. In this group of 300 women, 75% reported that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate.
In other words, within this group of highly educated, accomplished women, the tendency to favor respect over love was equivalent in degree to the preference expressed among males that was used to launch a best-selling book predicated on what now seems to be an inaccurate assumption of a consistent gender difference.
Because word of the Lifestyle Poll project spread through informal social networks, the overall composition of the sample remained highly educated and very accomplished, but as time passed, the sample became less homogeneously Harvardian. Even in this somewhat more diversified sample of more than 1200 women, however, a definite majority (65%) reported that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate.
Of course, I’m not saying that all women would prefer to feel alone and unloved any more than I’m saying that all women would prefer to feel disrespected and inadequate. My sample is a highly targeted sample, and I can no more generalize my results to all women than anyone studying a particular group of people.
Even though I would roundly criticize what I see as the sexist underpinnings of his book, I nonetheless feel that Eggerichs states some profound truths with great clarity. He argues very persuasively that respect is a core, and absolutely necessary, element of a good marriage(albeit more for males than for females, in his view) and provides a number of compelling illustrations to show how a shift toward unconditional respect can give new life to a marriage.
If he highlights a universal truth, then it is one that applies to both genders. For example, his concept of “the crazy cycle” is the idea that without love from her husband, a wife reacts without respect, and that without respect from his wife, a husband reacts without love. Instead of this formulation, I would suggest that the crazy-making pattern is that when one partner fails to meet the other partner’s deepest needs for both love and respect, the second partner will react defensively and fail to meet the first partner’s deepest needs for both love and respect in return.
It may be easier to sell a book by drawing blanket conclusions about large groups of people, but a thoughtful approach requires assessing the unique character and qualities of each person and each close relationship. Maybe men and women do not live on such different planets after all?
*Eggerichs, E. (2004). Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs
**Eggerichs, E. Accessed March 4, 2011. www.loveandrespect.com
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