Posted on October 20, 2015


Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  Romans 13:7

Show proper respect to everyone. 1 Peter 2:17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Romans 12:17

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me. Otis Redding, actually (I know you thought it was Aretha Franklin)

My former pastor (now retired) used to maintain that “Love is not something you feel, but something you do.”  You can’t rely on your feelings to be your impetus to be loving.  If you do, your marriage is going to have a lot of bad days.  You need to be loving even when you don’t feel like it.

When couples come in for marital therapy, a common complaint is “He/she doesn’t respect me.”  Sometimes when you get to talking to the partner, it becomes apparent that he or she really doesn’t respect their partner.  This begs the question whether respect is something you feel or something you do.  If respect is something you do, what does it look like?  Do you owe your partner respect regardless of how you feel?

My assertion is that like expressing love, if you rely on your feelings before you show your partner some respect, your marriage is going to be in trouble.  Feeling disrespected by the person in your life who matters most is a really painful experience.  In the research from John and Julie Gottman, the most damaging pattern of interaction to a marriage is contempt.  Contempt attacks your partner’s sense of self.  It is difficult to imagine how one would communicate a lack of respect for your partner without communicating contempt.  Basically, if you want to stay married, you need to not communicate contempt.

As always, let me put a few caveats on this.  This does not mean that you do not have boundaries.  You certainly do not need to be on the receiving end of abuse.  It also does not mean you have to agree with and admire everything your partner says or does.

Let’s get back around to what respect looks like.  First, you want your partner to feel heard and understood.  Back in the 80’s when I was a young banker, I was at a sales rally where they were teaching us sales techniques.  One of the techniques the main speaker shared was handling objections with “You must have a reason for saying that, do you mind if I ask you what it is?”  The idea was to get down to the essence of the customer’s concern.  The same applies here.  Both you and your partner have reasons why you do and say the things you do and say.  Human beings may be emotional creatures, but we really are not irrational.  Even the most seemingly mindless behavior turns out to have an underlying reason once you take the time to understand it.

Second, you need to keep the four horsemen[1] in the barn.  In marriage you need to be able to complain.  It is hard to live with another human being without having some complaints to voice.  The problem comes when we move into criticism and contempt.  You move into criticism when you move from discussing the problem to talking about your partner’s negative character traits.  Words like “selfish” or “irresponsible” are markers that criticism is happening.  These will cause your partner to feel attacked when what you want is for your partner to understand why you are upset.  If you start the complaint with “you always” or “you never,” you have again moved into criticism.  It is rare that anyone “always” or “never” does anything.  Contempt, as mentioned earlier cranks up the damage even more.  How can you tell when you are communicating contempt?  Sarcasm, name calling, or rolling your eyes dismissively when your partner is talking all communicate contempt.  A tone of voice can produce the same affect.  If your tone is such that “you idiot” would seem to fit well on the end of your statement, that’s contempt.

Respect is not just something you feel, but also something you do.  Its absence is devastating to a marriage.  You do not have to feel respect to act in ways that make your partner feel respected in the relationship.  It isn’t how much you argue, but how you argue that determines whether the relationship lasts.  You cannot control your partner, you can only control your own responses.

Still stuck with both of you feeling disrespected?  Find a therapist to help you get out of the negative cycle and get connected again.

[1] Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.