Unavoidably, the English words themselves have extremely negative connotations.
For example, norah [נורא] (as in "gadol v'norah"—"great and awe-instilling") is often translated as "terrible."
Eimah and pachad are often translated as "fear" or "dread."
But when Judaism speaks of the fear one should have within what should be a loving and nurturing relationship (i.e. the "fear" a person should have for Hashem, the "fear" children should have for their parents or teachers, the "fear" a wife should have for her husband, it means a healthy and beneficial fear of displeasing that entity)—it intends a fear derived from love, and not necessarily from what horrible consequence Hashem, the parents or teachers, or husband have in store for you if you dare displease them.
Furthermore, the Hebrew terms for fear often indicate respect and honor more than actual "fear."
In fact, all the entities which we are required or advised to "fear" are the very entities who are obligated to nurture us and strive for our best:
- Hashem obviously nurtures us and pays attention to even our most trivial and fleeting thoughts every minute of our life, orchestrating every millisecond for our best possible benefit.
- Parents and teachers are required to do what is absolutely for the child's best, even if it means going against their nature to do so.
- A husband is supposed to provide for his wife's material, emotional, and spiritual needs as much as realistically possible, even if she is difficult.
How this is expressed varies from community to community. And yes, a wife also certainly has firm obligations toward her husband.
But if you read any of the classic ("classic" meaning NOT originally written by English-speakers who have been unconsciously influenced by Western culture and the current status quo of many parts of frum society) halacha or mussar books that discuss the marital relationship, you'll see that Judaism consistently places seemingly impossible standards upon the husband in this regard.
In other words, this cultural and social negation isn't halachically correct. The husband's halachic obligation still stands, even today.
And it's not me saying it.
The truth is, "husband" should not really be on this list.
The fear commanded by the Torah regarding Hashem and one's parents is interconnected as is made clear by Chazal, in that honoring one's parents is considered a mitzvah between God and Man, and not a mitzvah between Man and Man.
As far as I know, there is no such comparison regarding a wife's obligations toward her husband. But because the Kli Yakar mentions all three relationships below, I included "husband" along with "parents" and "Hashem."
Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand:
Healthy "fear" comes from a such a strong and loving desire to do the right thing, that one dreads doing the wrong thing.
On a lower level, there is also the fear of punishment.
There are several different kinds of fear, and Judaism certainly provides several different words for fear.
OCD behaviors, depression, low self-esteem, hysteria, rage, irritability, masochism, paranoia, self-flagellation, doing things that are harmful or forbidden, etc.)
- Why does "his mother" precede "his father"?
- Why doesn't the verse say, "Every man shall fear his father and his mother"--as it does in the commandment to honor one's parents (i.e., "You shall honor your father and your mother")?
- Or why doesn't it say, "Every man shall fear his parents"?
(There are other valuable explanations, such as Rashi. But right now, we're just looking at the Kli Yakar.):
Why does the fear of his mother precede the fear of his father, while concerning honor, the father precedes the mother?
This is because the man is also obligated in the honor of his wife, as it says in Chazal (Yevamot 62b): "A man should always honor his wife more than himself."
You may have thought I'd say that it wouldn't be so severe if you were to be lenient with his [your father's] honor for, behold, also the father is obligated in the honor of your mother.
Therefore, it [i.e., the Ten Commandments] places the father first to tell you that his honor shall be as great upon you as the honor of the mother, even though both of you [i.e, you and Dad] are obligated in the honor of the mother.
And with regard to "fear" [מורא]: Because it should be that the fear of her husband [אימת בעלה] is upon her [i.e., the wife/mother], you may have thought I'd say that the [commandment of] fear of her isn't so crucial.
Therefore, it [this verse] places the mother first to say that, in all events, the fear of her should be upon you.
Not all women felt a certain eimah toward her husband (whether healthy or not), but many did, so he comments on it.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.