In our national survey of more than 700 couples, a majority of both men and women told us that unconditional love is their number one love need from their marriage partner. No doubt many would expect the number one need for men to be sex and the number one need for women to be communication, but that was not what we found. Instead, as different as men and women can be, both agreed on this one truth: We all need to be loved unconditionally by our spouses.
Unconditional love is the commitment that says, “I will stay with you no matter what. I will always love you. I will affirm you and support you.” Acceptance means, “I will receive you even in the midst of tough times.”
Barb and I have found that our love for each other is glorious in the good times But when our marriage comes under intense testing, we need unconditional love. Love that won’t quit. We need to know we are accepted even when we come up short, even when we can’t see beyond our own pain and failures.
When a husband receives that unconditional love and acceptance from his wife - it doesn’t get any better than that for a man. When the wife God has given him reminds him that she will always be there for him, that’s when he knows the power of unconditional love and acceptance.
When I was dating Barb, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What finally convinced me? It was the simple yet overwhelming truth that God loved me unconditionally. Completely. Without reservation. Unequivocally. Just as I was. No matter what. That describes agape love. His great love. His mercy. His grace. These words took on a whole new meaning as I began to come to a true understanding of just how much God really does love me. And that is the heart of Christ’s love for me: He truly loves me without limit.
The Power of Unconditional Love and Acceptance
Unconditional love is powerful stuff. After a particularly difficult situation at work, Barb showed me unconditional love.
Her response helped me feel safe in the midst of a lightning storm. Her love allowed me to be honest. It established a comfortable environment for open communication between us. Her love reminded me that I wasn’t ultimately in charge—the Lord was. It reminded me that her commitment truly was for bad times as well as good.
Don’t misunderstand. Barb certainly had to deal with her own share of fear and uncertainty during that time in our life. But if she had rejected me or, maybe even worse, been neutral and unresponsive to me, I would have felt lonely and isolated. Her rejection would have built a wall that would have weakened our intimacy and trust.
What You Can Do to Meet Your Husband’s Needs
Your response, initiative, and connection to your husband are crucial to the health of your marriage and family. Your expression of your unconditional love and acceptance is the very force that will drive you together in the midst of the testing times in your marriage. Your standing with him in the painful times, as well as the good times, is one of the primary elements of a great marriage.
At times this means putting aside your own needs in order to meet his. It means resisting your tendency to be selfish and self-protective. But if you love unconditionally in the hard times, you and your husband will become one in the kind of intimacy the Lord desires for you. If you don’t, you will end up living like two immature children, each trying to get your own way and resenting the other person when you don’t. You may still be married, but you will miss out on the joy of a great marriage.
Your husband desperately needs to know that you will accept him no matter what. Even when he fails or makes poor decisions. Even when he feels crummy about himself or disappoints you. Your love is a make-or-break reality. Your inability or refusal to love will cripple him and tear him apart. Your unconditional love and acceptance will build him up and free him to go on.
Okay, this all sounds good in theory, you may be saying, but how do I live this out in the nitty-gritty of real life? What does it look like?
Giving your husband the security of your unwavering love requires at least five elements: showing grace with his weaknesses; affirming him whenever you can; helping him feel safe; taking time to connect, and studying your husband.
1. Show Grace in His Weakness
All of us need grace. But we need it most when we are truly aware that we don’t deserve it—when we have failed, when we have made mistakes, when we have been selfish, when we have sinned.
If your husband has failed you or disappointed you or sinned against you, then he needs your grace. And when you express grace to your husband in his areas of weakness and sin, you love him as Jesus loves him.
2. Affirm Him Whenever You Can
Mark Twain once said, “I can live a whole month on one compliment.” Just think about the life we can bring to a marriage with an ever-flowing stream of affirmation. Strengthen your husband with comments such as
• “I am proud of you, honey.”
• “I love the way you love me when you …”
• “You are one of God’s richest blessings to me.”
Hearty affirmation is a key ingredient in unconditional love. It’s like a magnet: It draws us in; it attracts us. If you have a hard time verbalizing your affirmation to your husband, think about when you first met him. What drew you to him? What opened your heart to him? Now, as you have matured in your marriage, what do you appreciate about your husband? Write your thoughts down on a piece of paper.
From your own responses, make a list of at least five statements that you can grab onto and begin to repeat to your husband.
3. Help Him Feel Safe
When I know that Barb understands me, I feel safe. When I don’t feel understood, my insecurity increases. Normally, a man won’t recognize it in these terms. And we husbands don’t know how to tell you this, so instead, we blow up. Or we bury ourselves in some excessive behavior. Or we search for something we can control.
If you see any of these negative patterns in your husband’s behavior, something is missing in your relationship. I am not saying you are responsible, although you may be contributing to the patterns, something definitely is missing and needs to be addressed.
Where do you start? Get alone with him and assure him that you are not intending to criticize but that you are committed to him and want to help him work through any patterns that could be undermining the security of your marriage. As you do this, you begin to lay the groundwork for healing to begin. At some point, couples or individuals who are struggling with excessive behavior may need to seek the outside help of a professional Christian counselor and/or a pastor. But first, you need to approach your husband to begin the process.
How do we husbands know we are beginning to be understood? In two ways:
1. When you are truly interested in our mundane life to the point of fascination.
2. When we try to “fix” something and we know that you understand that we are just exercising the part of our masculinity that needs to “make things better.”
Just as you feel understood when we listen to your feelings, we feel better when you listen to our ideas.
For a marriage to become a great marriage, husbands and wives need to learn to partner with each other, accentuating each other’s strengths and helping to compensate for each other’s weaknesses.
4. Take Time to Connect
As unbelievable as it may sound, the first few minutes you and your husband connect at the end of the workday is critical.
Barb and I have a tradition in our home. Within minutes of greeting each other at the end of the day, we are sitting and talking—just the two of us. We talk about the kids, we review Barb’s day and my day, we discuss the highs, the lows - everything! Sometimes these are deep discussions, but often they’re just newsy, connecting talks. This connection sets the tone for the rest of the evening. It reminds us we are teammates who are absolutely committed to the same game.
When this doesn’t happen consistently, the atmosphere can become colder than a Dairy Queen blizzard. We get out of sync, disconnected, and that leaves room for coolness and selfishness to grow.
Unconditional love occurs only in the context of communication and true connection. Think about your own relationship with God. When do you feel most secure, protected, loved, understood? It’s when you’ve had a rich time of prayer, when God has spoken to you personally through his Word, and when you’ve reached the heart of the Father in worship. And when this connection happens every day, not only do you feel secure as a Christian, but you also develop a mature relationship with God, where everything is possible. That’s the way marriage is designed to work
5. Study Your Husband
One of the best ways for you to know how to meet your husband’s need for unconditional love and acceptance is to know your husband. This means you must become a student, getting to know your husband inside and out.
As a man, I can’t figure out sometimes how Barb knows things, but she just knows. The kids may be hurting, hiding something, having problems with a friend, or isolating themselves a little because of some insecurity or conflict. And Barb just knows.
Our household isn’t unique in this. You need to use that same womanly sensitivity to pick up on what’s going on with your husband—which means not only reading his moves but also his moods.
Men often don’t know how to verbalize what they are feeling. So it’s essential for you to use your instincts when you’re trying to understand what’s going on in our heads. Timing is always important, even when dealing with the most even-tempered male. So learn to read our moods. If you do, you’ll soon find you’re learning more about your husband every day.
Grace. Affirmation. Safety. Time. Study. All are keys to unconditional love and acceptance.
Building a great marriage is not easy. As Barb says, true love doesn’t always take place on a romantic balcony. Sometimes it takes place on a battlefield.
Unconditional love is the real thing. The genuine article. It is the kind of love that is given when it isn’t deserved. Jesus models it, Paul writes about it, and our Father gives it to us.Will you love your husband unconditionally? This is the number one love need men have in their marriages. This is the way a great marriage is designed to work. God said so.