And I decided I was doing all of these things for God, not for my husband's response. It took my husband a few years to notice the changes in my behavior, but by then, it didn't matter. I had grown my relationship with God in the meantime, and I no longer had as great a need for my husband's affections. God filled the hole in my heart that I'd been trying to stuff my husband into for years.
And soon, my husband's behavior began to change as well. He started taking me out more often. He started doing more odd jobs around the house. He even hijacked one of my classes one night, and in one of the most romantic gestures I've ever heard of, gave a ten minute presentation to a group of nearly a hundred people about what a great friend and wife I was. He presented me with a beautiful bracelet filled with charms, and talked about what each one represented. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
At the risk of sounding anachronistic, subservient, and a traitor to my gender, I actually suggest to wives that they respect their husbands to improve their marriages. Our non-profit, Greater Impact Ministries, teaches a course to married women and I've written a book, The Respect Dare, that teaches women how to connect with God and their husbands on a deeper level, by learning to communicate respect. Many of the suggestions are fairly simple. We suggest women not criticize their husbands, but rather show appreciation on a daily basis, and pay attention to the things he does well. We teach them how to disagree without being competitive or arousing defensiveness. We encourage them to engage in life balance to reduce their own levels of stress, which in turn impacts all of their relationships. We encourage them to invest in themselves and friendships, also. We encourage them to be bold, brave, and find God's purposes for their lives - and pursue them. In doing these things, they find all of their relationships improving--not just their relationships with their husbands.
Many of them, like me, now have marriages where they and their husbands both seek each other's advice, make decisions together, and are happier. Neither is perfect, but marriage is better because of the continued effort on both parts.
I chose to give respect a chance because I am a Christian and try (emphasis on try) to follow the Bible's teachings on how to live. But even if I did not trust the Bible as much as I do, learning how to effectively communicate respect and love deeply impacts marriages.
We see these Biblical principles show up in marital success, as a recent (2005) study funded by a grant from the US Department of Justice demonstrates. The research shows "a substantially higher degree of marital success for respondents who are very religious than for even the fairly religious ones. It has long been known that highly religious persons are less likely to divorce than other persons... Belief in such an effect is buttressed by the fact that the values espoused by most religions should promote good marriages and good family relations in general."
Regardless of religion, however, to improve marriage, my belief is that a husband should avoid defensiveness and work on showing his wife love and respect to his wife. A wife should learn how to speak the language of respect to be perceived as a team player instead of a threat. I encourage all women to be the change they are looking for in their marriages. If we do, we can turn our marriages around, creating a place where our husbands are delighted to give us what we want or need to feel loved.