A former professor told me about a conversation with his wife concerning a scene from the movie Last of the Mohicans. Under the waterfall, Daniel Day Lewis's character looked into his beloveds eyes and said something like, "Stay alive! No matter what stay alive and I will find you."
My professor's wife told him that respect comes after something like 'the look' and a display of courage takes place. I bought it for a while but I don't agree anymore. While certainly there is an important impact with 'the look' and I believe it is true that we are all called to live our lives courageously, I find that deep in my soul I need my wife's respect the most when I fail or freeze as a man.
This seems to line up with what also seems true for my wife. When she is at her bitchiest (I know it is very rare, sweetheart :-)) is when she needs my love the most. Unconditional love. Unconditional respect.
For me, my wife can show me unconditional respect in three ways: believing in me, liking me, trusting me.
Ann showed me she believed in me a long time ago. We were walking down a dusty road by her parents home in southern Missouri. There was a hillside full of huge oaks on one side and a field with cow pies on the other side. My heavy drinking, which began in my teen years was no longer getting the better of me at age 28. I hadn't drank in 5 months.
I knew her friends asked her why she stayed with me and urged her to divorce me. While drinking I hadn't been making money to support the family. I struggled with the idea that I couldn't just play golf and drink beer anymore. I wanted to continue that carefree lifestyle even though I now had a wife and two small children. I was lost and burying us in debt.
"Why did you stay?" I asked her.
She looked at me and said, "I always knew there was something good in you."
That's it. At my worst, even though I caused her much pain. She saw something more in me. I don't know that she has ever said anything better to me. Well maybe, "Honey, the fried chicken and mashed potatoes are readyyyyy." :-)
I want to be liked. Emerson says that men experience criticism as contempt. That is so true. When my wife is trying to 'help' me I feel like she is saying, "I can't believe I ever married a loser like you." I am not saying it is right that I do that. I'm just sharing my internal world. Her 'helping' communicates to me that she despises me. Being despised is somewhere in the vicinity of the opposite of being liked.
Ann really makes an effort in this area with me. She has really thought long and hard about what is most important to her. Little things have little importance now. She doesn't criticize without careful thought and when she does she expresses her heart and does not attack me. She likes me. We have fun together. She knows my quirks and we can joke about them. Almost all of the time (we do get on that Crazy Cycle every so often) I know she is glad we are married and she likes me.
I want to be trusted. Ten years ago I knew I wanted to come out here to CO to go to grad school under Larry Crabb. She said yes. We sold the house, the car, the couch and gave the dog away. She was a sweet black lab/pointer mix. That was hard (giving the dog away, that is). Just before we're getting ready to come to Colorado her dad was diagnosed with cancer. I told her we could wait a year. She said no. Wow. In hindsight it was the best decision for Ann. She wasn't ragged driving the 200 miles each way to her parents. I did buy Ann plane tickets for monthly trips back for several months (a time she felt treasured and loved). It was best for me. I had the most fantastic community I have ever experienced that year in school. It was best for her brother who got to spend time with his parents and live out being the older son.
I felt great trust because of her willingness to go with me on this pursuit to learn the art of counseling. Along the way I cut grass, cleaned toilets, worked 24 hour shifts with mental health patients. She had plenty of opportunities to question and undermine my decision. But she never did. She has trusted in me and my relationship with God. I have felt it.
Experiencing Ann believing in me, liking me and trusting me has been thrilling for me as a man. Many times she had reason not to respect me and I am sure she felt it. But the vast majority of the time her disrespectful feelings are held at bay and she chooses to relate with the man God created me to be. To paraphrase the immortal words of that great 'theologian', Jack Nicholson, she makes me want to be a better man. And no this isn't as good as it gets. It keeps getting better and better and better.
I'll highlight possible objections to unconditional respect next post.