Today the very question is offensive to some and is certainly quite loaded, laden with sexist tones and implications that women are to be managed or even “handled” like a piece of property. What’s the Bible say about it? ◊
I recall the beautiful song “How to Handle a Woman” from the classic movie Camelot. The words are so 1967 even as they are put on the lips of a fictitious 5th century King Arthur (played by Richard Harris):
“A way known by ev’ry woman since the whole rigmarole began.”
“Do I flatter her?” I begged him answer. “Do I threaten or cajole or plead?
Do I brood or play the gay romancer?” Said he, smiling: “No indeed.
How to handle a woman? Mark me well, I will tell you, sir: The way to handle a woman
Is to love her…simply love her…merely love her…love her…love her.”
Today, of course, the very question “How to Handle a Woman” is quite loaded. It is laden with what may be seen as sexist assumptions and implications that women are to be managed or even “handled” like a piece of property. Of course, in some past and current cultures, women have been literally held as property and treated as such. But this is not the way it was intended.
How does the Bible answer this question?
The Bible states clearly that the first woman was created as complement and gift to man (Genesis 2:18, 22). Jesus cites these words in His teachings on marriage and the Apostle Paul supports them with instructions that the woman is to be treasured, protected, and selflessly served by her husband the way Christ loves and serves His church (Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Peter 3:7). Unfortunately, we well know that God’s ideal model for the woman was corrupted by man and she became a sexual object, baby-bearer, and slave to the man. This is not the failure of God, but the failure of man whose fall into sin and separation from God has led also to the poor consequences of war, disease, and suffering.
The Plan was good, even “very good.” The free care-taking and implementation by man was a disaster.
The very freedom of will and choice that man was given by God has resulted in the misuse of the woman. That is, one-half of His image God gave him (Genesis 1:27) has been abused, violated, and held-captive throughout human history.
Love Her, But How?
In his book Love and Respect, author Dr. Emerson Eggerichs digs deep into the Ephesians 5:33 passage and emphasizes the way for a marriage God’s way.1 If you want peace, closeness, understanding, and to experience marriage the way God intended, then simply love and respect each other. Specifically, men love your wives and women respect your husbands. It is as simple as that:
“However let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
Eggerichs points out the damage done when this verse is not heeded. He calls it the Crazy Cycle, a powerful and vicious cycle that occurs when a husband and a wife stumble in this instruction. When a man fails to love his wife (as himself), she fails to respect him (lacking trust). The husband responds with anything other than love; the wife responds with anything other than respect. This breakdown in following God’s ways can lead to a breakdown in a marriage.
But is there any more specific guidance than this general call to love and respect each other?
Here’s What the Research Says
Let’s keep the focus on woman. Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn conducted extensive survey research (over 3,000) for their books For Women Only and For Men Only.2 Here are 6 practical takeaways and actions for men to help them live up to the Biblical call for a man to love his wife:
- Relational Reassurance – even in healthy marriages 82% of women have some level of insecurity about their relationships and their husband’s love. Practical Action? Consistently reassure her of your love and persistently pursue her. When she’s upset, don’t get defensive as it’s not necessarily about you. Don’t argue your position. Slow down and soften your approach. Words of affirmation, love and physical touch do wonders.
- Free Thoughts and Fears – 79% of women often have multiple things on their minds as they do not necessarily “compartmentalize” thoughts, pains and fears as men do. Practical Action? Don’t assume she can just “stop thinking about it.” Knowing this, be proactive and help her resolve the open issues on her mind. Know and be sensitive to her past “wounds” and worry tendencies. Pray for her daily and withhold judgement or expression of how you yourself can let go of little things.
- Emotional Security – “Money talks but emotional security sings.” Closeness and intimate friendship is more important than financial security for 70% of woman. Practical Action? You may have to rethink your provider/protector assumptions. Believe it or not, money and material things aren’t nearly the priority that you are. Your wife and family want a present and happy husband/dad rather than an overstretched, stressed out and grumpy husband/dad.
- Right Listening – Listen to her feelings, not the words about the problem. For 60% of women what she is feeling about the problem is more important to her than the problem itself. What she is feeling is actually the “real problem.” Practical Action? Don’t fix it. Without the right emotional support 95% of women don’t believe a reasonable solution will fix the problem. Rather, give her your full physical attention, your mental and emotional attention, listen for the right thing (how she is feeling about the problem), and acknowledge and affirm her feelings about the problem.
- Sexual Closeness – While most women (not all – 82%) are physically wired to desire sex less than men do, they do enjoy it just as much. Discouraging a man’s advances has more to do with a woman’s physical differences, need for closeness in the relationship, and anticipation time, rather than his desirability. Practical Action? Give her time to warm up, flirt and anticipate. Pursue her so she knows she’s sexy to you outside the bedroom. Create a context of closeness and emotional security.
- Beauty Confirmation – 77% of women have a deep need to know that their man finds her beautiful; that she still rocks his world. Women need assurance that she is attractive and measures up in her husband’s eyes. Practical Action? Tell her she’s beautiful regularly and make your visual choices show her that she’s the only one for you. In essence, you are the only mirror that really matters.
Like a Knight in Shining Armor
Indeed, King Arthur of Camelot actually got it right. “The way to handle a woman is to love her…simply love her…merely love her…love her…love her.” With that and some practical understanding of women and doable actions, we can be like knights in shining armor loving our wives with attentive, sensitive and unselfish love as we’re Biblically called to do as men and husbands.
Are you loving your wife or handing her?
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband – Ephesians 5:31-33
1 Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, Integrity Publishers, 2004.
2 For Men Only, by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn, Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2006.