What Does Respect in a Relationship Look Like?

“She doesn’t respect me, so why should I have to respect her?” Dillon leaned forward, certain I’d agree with him.

But Jayla cut in with a shrug of her shoulders, “I’d respect him if he started acting like a man instead of a teenage boy.”

Dillon looked to me, “See what I have to put up with?”

I knew that if I said nothing, they’d go straight into fighting over the same thing they always fought about. Outrage over what he did. Indignation over what she did.

An image flickered through my mind of another couple, sitting in the same place Dillon and Jayla were sitting now. On the surface, they seemed completely different. Honey was a big personality, and she kept her man in line.

“He don’t dare disrespect me,” she declared with confidence.

The man sitting next to her didn’t say a word, but I could see the tension in his hunched shoulders. Maybe Honey had trained him to respect her, but I wondered if his submission was hiding feelings of resentment.

Respect is a big issue in relationships. And for good reason.

There’s no love without respect.

Some psychologists even believe that respect is MORE important than love.

You can grow to love someone you respect deeply. But feeling disrespected by someone erodes the very foundation of your relationship.

So what exactly is respect?

We’d normally say it’s a feeling of admiration towards someone. You hold them in high regard. That doesn’t mean you think they’re perfect; sometimes they do or say things that are wrong. But their human imperfections don’t diminish the light you see shining in them.

Many spiritual traditions encourage respect towards all living beings. In this broader view of respect, you don’t even have to like someone to respect them. You choose to treat others with respect, regardless of how you feel about them personally.

It’s this view that I believe is most useful in relationships.

Dillon and Jayla believed that respect had to be earned, that you couldn’t respect someone who didn’t deserve it.

What I hoped to teach them was that respect was like love: best when it’s mutual, habitual, and as unconditional as possible.

If there’s disrespect going on in your relationship, don’t fight about it. Talk about it.

Here are the 3 Respect Principles you should be discussing.

Respect Principle #1:
Respect should be mutual.

You’re in a relationship because BOTH of you love each other.

If just one of you felt love—say, he loved you but you didn’t love him back—then you wouldn’t have a relationship. The feeling HAS to be mutual.

Same goes for respect.

If you respect him but he doesn’t respect you back, then what you have isn’t a healthy relationship. It’s a power struggle. Power ends up concentrated in the hands of the person who doesn’t respect the other.

Honey thought her relationship was great because her man didn’t disrespect her, but she never asked if he felt respected. Respect goes both ways.

Respect Principle #2.
Respect should be habitual.

People who get married believing they’ll love each other for the rest of their lives are in for a rude shock.

Feeling in love isn’t a constant. It comes and goes.

Solid couples quickly learn they can’t base their behavior on something as ephemeral as loving feelings. They learn to act lovingly towards one another even if they’re not feeling it at the moment.

Same goes for respect.

Feelings of admiration towards your partner will come and go. Some days, you’ll think he’s amazing. Other days, you’ll wonder why you’re with him.

That’s okay. You don’t have to FEEL respect for him every day for the rest of your life. You just have to treat him in a way that shows respect.

Respect, like love, is a habit.

Respect Principle #3.
Respect should aspire to be unconditional.

Most love in this world is conditional.

We don’t love people no matter what. We love people as long as they conform to our expectations.

That’s why the love between a parent and a child is so beautiful. At its best, it’s unconditional. Parents don’t stop loving their children, even if their children disappoint them.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get love like that from a romantic partner?

But that’s not always possible. If your partner disappoints you by lying or cheating on you, you don’t have to keep loving him. Your love has limits.

Same goes for respect.

Respect is never going to be completely unconditional. If he lies or cheats, you’re probably going to lose your respect for him—and rightfully so.

But most men aren’t liars or cheats. They’re good guys doing their best … just not always measuring up.

Respect is an essential condition of love. It shouldn’t be used as a reward for good behavior. So don’t withdraw your respect to punish him, any more than you’d withhold your love.

You might tell him, “You’re going to do things I don’t like, but I’m still going to try to respect you as the one I love.”

And make sure he makes the same promise to you.

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