This is part of a series on Common Marriage Issues where we answer, ‘What are some of the most common problems in marriage?’
In this installment we deal with disrespect in a relationship.
“When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be.”Thomas S. Monson
“R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me.” So sang the great Aretha Franklin.
I’d venture to suggest that we all know how it feels to be respected, and equally, how it feels to be disrespected, in our close relationships. Some couples are happy to kid around, and maybe even be a bit rude to each other, but if no-one is hurt, then, that is just part and parcel of that relationship. (And we should never forget that all relationships are different.)
Mutual respect is fundamental to any happy marriage. It’s not surprising that I find, as a couples’ counselor, that disrespect is a very common factor in unhappy relationships.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”Aristotle
There is a lot packed in that short statement. The one thing I want to drive home is about excellence.
Read his statement again and focus on that last sentence: Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
John Forde spins Aristotle this way:
If you want to make good stuff happen, the best way is to make sure what’s happening is good stuff.(John’s Newsletter 9/29/2020)
This applies to all of life. Work. Personal growth. Relationships. Especially relationships.
If you want a great marriage, you have to do great marriage stuff. One of the best places to begin is respect.
In This Article
How Can We Define Disrespect In A Relationship?
It’s not always simple to identify problem areas in a marriage, but disrespect is often quite easy to see from the outside. Other people notice, and that is part of the hurt. When you are being disrespected, you are being treated as a person who is “less than”. Your partner criticizes you, often in front of other people, in a belittling kind of way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Gentle and fair criticism is not disrespect. It’s actually part and parcel of a healthy marriage.
For example, a wife might say to her husband, in private, “I know that you are having trouble with your teeth. I do wish you’d pluck up the courage to go to the dentist. I hate you to be in pain.”
That is critical, yes – she’s letting it be known that he shouldn’t be such a baby, but should get himself to the dentist’s office! But if she was at a dinner party, and her husband turned down corn on the cob, and she said, “Oh, Gerald can’t eat that. He has such terrible teeth, and he’s too scared to go to the dentist,” I think we can agree that this would be disrespectful.
Disrespect can also be expressed as contempt. Contempt for a person’s opinions, needs, appearance, earning ability, sexual performance – you name it. The old saying that familiarity breeds contempt is, unfortunately, true in some cases. Even a simple eye roll can be contemptuous and can hurt.
If you want to do a little test, think about someone you respect. Maybe your pastor or priest, maybe your mother or father, your grandfather or grandmother. Imagine something, well, a bit harsh, you might say to your partner, and then imagine saying something like that to your respected person. If you cringe, and think, “No, I could never say that to Mom” then perhaps you should check out whether you are treating your partner in an inappropriate way.
How Does Disrespect Affect A Relationship?
To put it bluntly, it just grinds the person who is being disrespected down. Disrespecting a person is hurting them, devaluing them, and making them feel that they are not important. It’s a barrier to a healthy relationship. A person who is disrespected continuously and for a long time just kind of shrivels up inside.
“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”Maya Angelou
I was counseling a middle aged couple recently, and despite all my skills it was very hard to get the guy to just shut up. Every time I wanted to hear his wife’s thoughts and feelings, he answered for her. I watched her body language carefully, and she literally, physically shrank down in her chair as he dominated the conversation. it was like watching a slug being sprinkled with salt. He was disrespecting her by not allowing her a voice of her own.
(Eventually after several joint and individual sessions I was able to help them get on a more even footing. The guy had had a very conservative upbringing, and he really believed that women were unable to do anything much for themselves. Part of the solution here was to empower the woman to speak out. When she did, things improved. )
What Are Some Signs Of Disrespect In A Marriage?
It’s sometimes helpful to look at the opposite of a behavior when we are trying to define it. So let’s look at respect. When we respect someone we:
Honor them greatly, and show it in our behavior
We allow them to have their own space and time when they need it
We expect them to have the right to a full input into decision making
We are positive and caring about their friendships, family and possessions
We consider their needs as being equal to, occasionally more important than, our own
We listen carefully to their feelings
We are honest in everything – we share how we feel
We value their beliefs and opinions even if they are different from our own
We do not place others on a higher pedestal than our partner
We spend quality time with them
If you look down this list and think, my partner isn’t doing this, then perhaps you are suffering from a disrespectful partner.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Want more? Check out our list of 20 common signs of disrespect.
Practical Ways to Deal With Disrespect
Respect begins with this attitude:
I acknowledge that you are a creature of extreme worth.Gary Chapman
How do you deal with a partner that demonstrates disrespectful behavior?
I’m certain that it isn’t a new idea to you, but the key to just about every single relationship issue is communication. Dealing with a disrespectful partner is no different.
Choose a time to talk when things are nice and calm. (It’s never a good idea to use those words, “And another thing…” when you are in the middle of an argument!) Explain honestly how you feel. PLEASE don’t use the phrase, “You make me feel…” Instead, phrase it along these lines:
- “When you laugh at my weight in public, it makes me feel ashamed and humiliated.”
- “When you pay so much attention to John, it makes me feel as if you are sidelining me, and it hurts.”
- “My religious beliefs are very important to me, and I wish you would show them more respect.”
- “You know when you speak badly about my mother, it really hurts my feelings. I know she has her faults, but she is my mother – please respect that.”
Your partner may be shocked to know how you feel. It may come as a complete surprise. Sometimes we slip into bad habits when we are very familiar and comfortable with people. (Think how young siblings often fight, but will defend each to the end).
Need more tips? Check out ‘How to Communicate Better With My Spouse” (Free Downloadable PDF).
Stay calm, and express yourself with love. Remember it’s not your partner you are criticizing; it’s his or her behavior. You need to express how the behavior makes you feel. Behavior can change, even though change is often hard to achieve!
If your husband or wife continues disrespecting you, then it might be time to find marriage counseling. Counseling can often be very helpful. But if this isn’t possible, or doesn’t go well, then it’s up to you to consider if you can tolerate this kind of behavior, and that is a question that only you can answer.
The key to a successful relationship is mutual respect.
Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.Laurence Sterne
We could say it this way: Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our actions, attitudes, and intentions.
If respect is one of the major building blocks of a satisfied marriage, disrespect in a relationship is the thing that will topple it. We must work hard to create an atmosphere of acceptance, love and forgiveness.Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our actions, attitudes, and intentions. Click To Tweet
Learning to recognize and deal with disrespect will keep your marriage moving in the right direction.
We’ve seen how disrespect is damaging to a relationship.
- How Can We Define Disrespect In A Relationship?
- How Does Disrespect Affect A Relationship?
- What Are Some Signs Of Disrespect In A Marriage?
- Practical Ways to Deal With Disrespect
To get more help creating the marriage you desire and deserve, check out these resources:
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
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The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
Books, Courses, Programs and Tools designed to help you create the marriage of your dreams.
Healthy Marriage Courses
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.
Magic Relationship Words by Susie and Otto Collins
The Devotion System This free video will show you why men pull away and what you can do to enhance your relationship.