Yes, if you’re old enough to remember, or listen to the oldies radio station, you’ll recognize part of the title to this blog as the title of a popular song by Aretha Franklin.
However, more than the title of a hit song, this attitude—where I convey high regard for you—has long held a place of importance in the field of interpersonal relations. Without respect, there can be no love. Without respect, there can be no relationship. Without respect, I dare not risk sharing my intimate self with you. You are not safe to me and the beliefs and values I hold dear.
Respect is keenly tied to the feeling of safety. An attitude of respect builds a bridge of trust, where I know you value me, and this attitude must be prevalent in any relationship for it to exist. If I don’t feel respected by you, I certainly won’t risk getting close to you. If I don’t sense an attitude of respect from you, I may relate to you, but be sure that it will be from a distance.
Couples seek out counseling at my Marriage Recovery Center for myriad problems, but invariably beneath their symptoms of conflict and distrust is an attitude of disrespect. Beneath the emotional distance are feelings of disrespect. Years of conflict have eroded any sense of value these couples held for each other. Now, their disregard for each other permeates everything they say and do to each other.
A woman wrote the following email recently.
Dear Dr. David,
I have been married for seventeen years to a man and we have three children, two of them grown. My worst fear is coming true—my husband is no longer my best friend. He hardly talks to me when he comes home at night. He treats his friends better than he treats me. He never asks about my day, or about the things that interest me. I must admit that I’m finding it harder to share an interest in him, since he doesn’t seem to care about me. While I think he loves me, I’m not sure he respects who I am and what concerns me. What can we do to make sure the distance doesn’t keep growing? How can we regain the friendship we had for many years?
Without special care and attention, every relationship can slip into either overt conflict—and loss of respect—or disengagement and subsequent loss of respect. It is easy to begin ignoring the positive traits of your mate, failing to comment on them or cultivating them. Maintaining respect and appreciation for your mate will be one of the best investments you will make in your marriage.
What are some actions you can take to maintain respect for your mate?
First, check out your current attitude toward your mate. Do you value them, and do you show that value on a daily basis? This may take the form of commenting on something they do, or reflecting an appreciation for the values they hold dear. Or, have you let time and perhaps conflict erode the respect you held for them? It’s time to take an attitude check!
Second, talk to your mate about respect. Make the unspoken become spoken in your relationship. If you and your mate have become disrespectful of one another, invite him/her into a new way of relating. Agree on the ways you’ve allowed disrespect to slip into your marriage, taking responsibility for changing these destructive ways of relating.
Third, determine to restore respect to your marriage. Remember the reasons you married your mate, and make a special effort to comment on those qualities. Look closely at your mate, recognizing their special traits. Encourage the values they hold dear. Embrace the ideals your mate embraces. Take note of the qualities that made you respect them years ago.
Finally, don’t let conflict or negative feelings stop you from showing respect. While you may not initially feel like showing respect, you can do it. You can choose to show respect even if you harbor unpleasant feelings for them. In fact, this is a great way to begin changing the emotional climate in your marriage.
Scriptures repeatedly implore us to speak kindly to one another. The Apostle Paul tells us: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12: 16-18) A great way to begin this is to show respect, value, and appreciation to our deserving mate. Doing so is likely to bring respect back to us, thereby improving the quality of the relationship.
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Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.