Self-help books and television shows are riddled with references to “respect” and how foundational it is to a healthy relationship. But for all this talk, the word is rarely defined in practical terms. What does respect look like in a romantic relationship? And how do you go about establishing respect, especially in a relationship where it has been lacking?
Showing respect to your partner
We often focus on what we should be “getting” from our partner in terms of respect. But respect has a giving component as well:
-Choose your words carefully: Words come out quickly and can be hard to take back. So before launch a verbal tirade against your partner, consider the desired outcome of your words. Do you really want to “punish” your partner – or are you simply longing for him/her to be more considerate of your needs? If so, a diplomatic approach is more likely to achieve this goal.
-Acknowledge contributions: There’s no way around it: Your partner is going to let you down sometimes. But most likely, he or she is also making some positive contributions to the relationship. Be sure to affirm these qualities, even amid other frustrations. Doing so will help your partner lower his/her defenses and lead to a more constructive partnership.
-Honor boundaries: Understand and respect your partner’s personal boundaries regarding time together/apart, physical contact, etc.
-Be willing to compromise: Being respected doesn’t mean your needs always take priority over your partner’s. Compromise gives a relationship the flexibility it needs to keep from ripping apart.
-Show consideration: Help with the housework, give sincere compliments and be generally thoughtful toward your partner.
-Be strong enough to admit when you’re wrong: When you are confident in your self-worth, apologizing shouldn’t make you feel threatened. We all make mistakes; admitting so when it happens allows your relationship to move forward, rather than back.
-Protect your partner: Never compromise your partner’s physical or emotional well-being. If your temper is out of control, seek professional help immediately.
Being respected by your partner
-Understand your worth: Self-esteem isn’t about thinking you are better than others; however, you should have an unshakeable conviction that your thoughts, feelings and physical person warrant respect. If you are truly convinced that you are worthy of respect, others are unlikely to doubt it.
-Act honorably: While our fundamental human dignity calls for respect, being a person of character makes it easier for people to respect you. People who act with integrity rarely do anything to harm another person; accordingly, such people are more likely to be respected by others.
-Set and uphold boundaries: When you love someone, it’s easy to let certain things slide. “He or she didn’t really mean it.” “It was just that one time.” “I know, but he/she has been working really hard lately.” If you find yourself regularly making excuses for your partner, he or she may be taking advantage of your poor boundaries. It is up to you to protect your worth and your boundaries from anyone who would undermine them.
-Be a man or woman of your word: When you lie to your partner or break promises, you undermine trust in the relationship. And lack of trust often leads to a lack of respect.
-Show respect: To be truly respected, we must also respect. If you can’t find anything in your partner worth respecting, consider why you are even in the relationship. If just a few of your partner’s actions or attitudes are causing mistrust or resentment, actively address those issues. Taking a marriage/relationship education workshop can help you resolve conflict more efficiently and respectfully.
Respect means recognizing our own worth – and the worth of others. When we respect our partner, we are able to rise above pettiness, jealousy and cruelty. When we respect ourselves, we are able to transcend insecurity, defensiveness and fear. And respecting both ourselves and our partners enables us to build strong, lasting and mutually-supportive relationships.