The following is based on an essay written for my Marriage class as part of my masters degree. The content and style was influenced by the assignment.
We understand marriage as based primarily on the love between a woman and a man. So the first important thing to say about Christian marriage in our time is that it’s an interpersonal relationship created and sustained by the energy generated by mutual love. … Their love for each other energizes them, deepens and expands their humanity, and sanctifies them as persons before God.
Clearly love is important to marriage. That is why love is central in the marriage vows: “I take you to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you all the days of my life.” At least, that is what it would seem based on this reading and based on my own experience in my marriage preparation. However, as I was reading and reflecting this week, I was struck by another word in the vows: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” There has been hardly any discussion of what it means to honor your spouse.
I’m a big proponent of the theology of the body. At the center of the theology of the body is the passage from Ephesians 5 and at the climax of this passage – at least for me as a husband – is the belief that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the Church. This was the central focus in my mind throughout my marriage preparation. Christ loved the Church by giving himself to her completely, and therefore I need to love Kathy by giving myself to her completely. I read books, discussed with our mentoring couple, talked to Kathy, and journaled about what it meant to love my wife. Looking back now I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t have asked about the other words in the vows, but it had never occurred to me to ask what is meant by ‘honor’.
I searched the texts from my Marriage class a little bit and could not find any ideas. The books included the word ‘honor’ only a handful of times, and only a few were in reference to the vows and none explored the meaning of the word. I tried searching Google for any articles which might shed light on the meaning of the promise to honor one’s spouse, and I could not find anything relevant. I checked the dictionary and found honor means to “regard with great respect” and respect means “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”, but this is general not specific to marriage.
There is a plethora of examples of complementary aspects of love that have been explored in various writings. I’ve read about the bodily and the spiritual dimensions of love, the receiving and the giving dimensions of love, the passive and active dimensions of love, etc. When beginning to reflect on the relationship between loving and honoring, I thought there was perhaps another complementary relationship to be explored. Based on the dictionary definitions above, we may understand honor to mean to admire someone because of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. If to love means to give all of my best abilities, qualities, and achievements to my wife, then to honor may mean to recognize her own abilities, qualities, and achievements which she brings to our marriage. To honor her is to recognize that she is not a purely receptive person ready to receive my greatness in my gift of self, but she possesses her own greatness which she is able to give in her gift of self.
Another possible understanding of the commitment to honor is to understand it as placing the others desires above your own. When I give of myself in love, I may be inclined to give of the parts of myself that I think are best to give. Perhaps honoring my wife would mean giving the parts of myself that she most wants me to give. To love may be to live by the golden rule of treating my wife as I want to be treated while to honor may be to live by the “platinum rule” of treating my wife as she wants to be treated. In the vocabulary of love languages, it could mean that I love my wife through my love language so that I feel that I am being loving, but I honor my wife through her love language so that she feels that she is being loved.
 David M Thomas, Christian Marriage: The New Challenge (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2007), 2017, accessed September 7, 2015, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=x7QCgs6KrusC.