What to Do if "Love and Respect" Doesn’t Work

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Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that He can heal your marriage? Focus on doing your part, and trust God to do what only He can do in the heart of your spouse and in your marriage.

FAQ: “I have tried Love and Respect for a few months. Nothing is changing in my marriage. Why isn’t this working?”

Dr. E says: My encouragement to you is to be consistent and do not give up! Love and respect is not a “magic bullet” nor is it a vending machine: “If I love her, she’ll give me respect immediately.” Or – “If I respect him, he’ll immediately give me the love I want!” That’s manipulation, and that’s not loving or respectful! If your spouse senses that you are manipulating him/her in any way, this will backfire.

Don’t interpret delay as defeat.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people tend to give up too soon. Don’t interpret delay as defeat. Things don’t change overnight. If a marriage has been out of control on the Crazy Cycle  for 15 years, it may take a good 15 months of applying new principles to get it running on the Energizing Cycle.

A good rule of thumb, when it comes to relationships, is one month of hard work for every year of craziness. That’s not too bad, is it? Yet spouses want to give up after unconditionally loving or unconditionally respecting for one month or even one week, although they have been unloving and disrespectful for 20 years!

Don’t expect immediate results. Of course we all want to see results, but ultimately our motivation needs to be our obedience to Christ and His design for marriage. He will honor our efforts, but it may not always look exactly like we want it to, or happen in our time frame.

Do you trust one another?

Depending on your marital history, things don’t change overnight when there has been a pattern of unloving and disrespectful behavior.

Do you trust one another? If trust is lacking, this will take more time. In fact, in some cases things appear to get worse when love and respect is applied. The receiving spouse is skeptical and even angry that his/her spouse is switching behavior and then expecting immediate forgiveness for all the past pain. Or he/she is afraid to believe in the change for fear of being let down and hurt even more.

Be honest. If your spouse has hurt you for 5, 10, 15 years and then suddenly changes his/her behavior, would you trust that he/she has changed overnight? Or even in a month? Probably not.

You need to learn to trust one another again, and this takes time.

We all fail at this.

May I challenge you even further? In those cases when you feel unconditional love or unconditional respect has failed to impact your spouse, can you honestly say you were consistent in your behavior? I am not suggesting perfection…none of us can do this perfectly! But think of it this way: are you consistently making more loving and respectful deposits than unloving and disrespectful withdrawals?

None of us are loving and respectful all of the time – not even me and Sarah. When you fail, seek forgiveness from your spouse, then get back up and try again. Your spouse will eventually trust your heart.

Crisis of faith, not marriage.

If you struggle to be consistent, ask yourself if you have a crisis of faith,  rather than a crisis in your marriage. Remember – love and respect is God’s design for marriage (Ephesians 5:33). If you love Christ, do this unto Him and He will reward you, either here on earth or in eternity.

Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that He can heal your marriage? Focus on doing your part, and trust God to do what only He can do in the heart of your spouse and in your marriage.

Don’t give up too soon.

Consider this

  • Could your breakthrough be just around the corner?
  • Can you trust God to give you the strength to act in obedience no matter how your spouse responds?

The question on the table is: Will you give up too soon?

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