“The most significant thing that a husband can give his wife is honour or value. No other quality, possession, or activity will insure a good marriage.” Gil Stieglitz

I have been to many weddings and heard couples declare their love for each other in ways that brought tears to my eyes. I have listened to words that have caused me to laugh out loud and, sadly, I’ve heard couples say things that have made me shake my head in disbelief. But one of the most powerful phrases that couples use in the ceremony goes something like this: “I will love and cherish you all the days of my life.”

Maybe you had this very line in your wedding vows. If so, you unleashed a powerful word that can help you build a strong marriage and honour your wife on Mother’s Day.

What is the word? It’s not what most people guess — it’s not the word love. Although love is important, I want to show you the amazing power of the word cherish.

Cherishing your wife

In Ephesians 5:29, the apostle Paul gives a powerful instruction to husbands: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” In this verse, Paul is explaining that as husbands cherish their own bodies, they should cherish their wife, as well.

To cherish your wife is to have a certain mindset or attitude toward her. Cherish means that you recognise your wife’s incredible value. And even in those moments when you forget how valuable she is, her value never changes. Look at how God sees your wife:

These verses are dripping with worth and value — they show the essence of the word cherish.

God desires for you to deeply grasp your wife’s value as well. When you cherish your wife, she feels “warm.” The Greek word for cherish is thalpó, which means “to warm.” This is the power of cherish — your wife is warmed when you recognise her value. Here are some ways to cherish your wife:

Recognise your wife’s value

Here are some of my favourite examples of how women are awesome.

Women are gracious with their words of affirmation. Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to encourage one another daily. I’m often amazed how women affirm and encourage one another when meeting: “I love your hair!” “That shirt looks amazing on you.” “You look like you’ve lost weight.” “Where did you get those gorgeous shoes? … I want a pair.”

Women are prayer warriors I love listening to my wife, Erin, pray for our children. When we were helping our oldest daughter move, we all joined hands in the empty new apartment and started to pray for God’s protection and blessings. I was moved to tears listening to Erin and our daughters pray such powerful words.

Women are tremendous helpers “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ ” (Genesis 2:18). But helper doesn’t mean someone to cook my meals, care for my children and clean my house. Adam wasn’t lonely. He literally walked and talked with God in the Garden. But Adam was “alone” — without help. God knew that Adam would need an equal partner to journey with him as they subdued the earth and multiplied. One of my favourite ways that Erin helps me is by carrying my burdens. This world is rough. There are plenty of times that I need help dealing with something that’s too big to carry alone.

Women are hard workers Research consistently shows that women spend two hours more each day doing housework, caring for children and doing other unpaid work than men — even when she also has a full-time job. During the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to working from home, many women became the homeschool teacher, nurse, chief germ inspector, entertainer and 3-meals-a-day short-order cook.

Women express more empathy and compassion Women’s brains simply seem wired to care more about how others are feeling.

Women are better at multitasking I’m amazed at what Erin is able to accomplish in any given hour. While I’m able to focus on one thing, she is able to plan an appointment with a client, coordinate a parent-teacher conference, plan a dinner menu and comfort a hurting friend.

Tell her how valuable she is to you

Recognising your wife’s incredible value is only the beginning. You need to tell her. You can do this by creating your own “cherish list” just in time for Mother’s Day. Think about why you value your wife. For example, it might be a character trait, spiritual gift, parenting skill, or role she plays that you appreciate. You could include things such as personality characteristics, how she treats you, physical traits, and so on. Here’s part of my cherish list for Erin:

– Beautiful — you’re gorgeous on the outside and stunning on the inside
– Funny — you have a wonderful sense of humour
– Extrovert — you love people
– Big heart — you love wholeheartedly
– Friend — you’re a great friend to women
– High capacity — you can multitask well and can accomplish a lot every day
– Compassionate — you love to help others when they’re hurting
– Counsellor — you’re a wise therapist and guide others into a deeper relationship with Christ
– Passionate — you love deeply, rejoice greatly and grieve deeply with a loss
– Loyal — you will stand by your loved ones, even when they’re difficult to love

Be sure to keep this list nearby so you can periodically add to it and revise it when you need to remember your wife’s value. Also, don’t keep this amazing list to yourself — share it with your wife. Let her know that you recognise her value.

Live with her in an understanding way

First Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

When Peter writes, “live with your wives in an understanding way,” the word understanding also means “empathetically aware.” Sympathy is when you feel bad for someone. But empathy is much deeper than sympathy. Empathy is when you feel bad with someone — you imagine what that person is feeling and place yourself into his or her emotions. When you deeply connect with your wife’s heart, it sends a clear message that she matters — it says “you are valuable to me.”

Was Peter just being misogynistic, suggesting that women are the weaker gender? Absolutely not! He isn’t saying that women are “less than” men or that they’re emotionally, intellectually or spiritually “weaker.” He is talking to men, reminding them that women are generally physically weaker than men, so husbands need to protect their wife and treat her with honour.

Peter is using the imagery as a way to counsel husbands to never use their strength to physically or emotionally harm their wives. Peter is challenging men to see them as “joint heirs” in the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter is telling husbands to stop dishonouring their wives and treat them as precious treasure — like how you would behave around a priceless vase.

It’s not that women are fragile or frail. Women are strong and competent. Erin is an amazing wife, mother, author, speaker, nurse and counsellor. She’s capable of doing anything that she feels called by God to do. Seeing Erin as a priceless treasure influences how I treat her.

Accept her influence.

Psychologist John Gottman is about the best marriage researcher on the planet. When he does a study, it’s worth listening to.

Gottman and his colleagues followed 130 newlywed couples for six years to find which marriages succeed and why. Turns out, happy, stable marriages had one thing in common: The husband was willing to accept his wife’s influence. In contrast, when husbands responded to their wives’ complaints by stonewalling or belittling them, the marriage was almost sure to fail: More than four-fifths of those relationships — 81% — imploded. That’s an astounding statistic!

But what does accepting your wife’s influence mean? When your wife says there’s something wrong with your marriage, guess what? There’s probably something wrong with your marriage. And for the sake of that marriage, we husbands need to listen.

Women tend to understand the nuances of relationships better than men. Neurophysiologists from Stanford found that women “catch subliminal messages faster and more accurately.” Their limbic system is more developed, which puts them more in touch with (and willing to discuss) their feelings. They’re better at reading non-verbal cues, everything from facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. “Women’s intuition” may sound like a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

My father, Gary Smalley, used to say that women have a “built-in marriage manual.” Intuitively, she knows what she needs, what the relationship needs and often has some good ideas on how to fix it. But you know what else she needs? A husband who has the courage to ask her to share that manual with him.

Husbands are supposed to lead the family. But husbands can forget how important getting input and advice from their wife is.

The Bible’s pretty clear that that’s exactly what we need to do. Consider Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Or Proverbs 15:22: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Husbands need to recognise and appreciate their wives’ perspective and be open to their ideas, desires and even criticism. Just listening and honouring her perspective paves the way for more productive, loving conversation. It conveys that you respect her thoughts, that her opinions are valued and that what she wants is really important to you. And when husbands listen to their wives, they should not belittle or respond defensively.

Why do some husbands reject their wives’ influence? Part of it is insecurity. He fears a loss of power. He doesn’t want to be controlled. Maybe he feels that, by listening, he’s failing at leading.

But the opposite is true. When a husband listens to his wife and accepts her influence, he’s more likely to win the right to influence his wife in turn — that is, to lead her. You’re not losing control by asking for and allowing input: A smart leader recognises the strengths and talents of his team. Remember Gottman’s study: “Men who are able to accept their spouses’ ideas are more likely to maintain a successful relationship.”

Treat her as an equal partner

In the book of Acts, we are introduced to an amazing ministry couple, Aquila and Priscilla. Their names appear six times in the New Testament, where they’re described as helping to strengthen the early Christian churches. What’s fascinating is that whenever they’re mentioned in Scripture, they’re always mentioned together, never separately. In a time in history when wives were seen as nothing more than her husband’s property, Paul makes it clear that Priscilla and Aquila are equal partners in ministry and marriage.

Husbands may lead the family, but they shouldn’t lead in a vacuum. It’s a team effort, and men should always approach it that way. Look for win-win solutions and maintain an attitude of cooperation. Remember, in marriage, we should pick “we” over “me.” A wife feels honoured and valued when you treat her as an equal partner throughout your marriage journey.

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© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

Dr Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.

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