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respect

My Valentine’s Day blog gave tips about firing up the passion in your relationship. This week, I want to talk about something a little less romantic but perhaps even more important: the connection between respect and love.

Just as we want the passion to continue in our relationships, we want the loving feelings, caring and sweetness to go on, as well. Too often we assume that these things take care of themselves. But just like passion, emotional intimacy needs maintenance in your relationship.

And the way to maintain a loving atmosphere in your marriage is to maintain a respectful atmosphere.

In my book, Strong Women, Strong Love, I note that respect is, in many ways, even more important than love in your relationship. Respect is the very soil from which true love sprouts.

In long-term relationships, it’s quite normal for feelings of love and passion to wax and wane over time. If partners have maintained a deep respect for each other, in time, these feelings can be rekindled. However, when there is a serious breakdown of respect, relationships inevitably end up deeply troubled.

Respect in a relationship can be lost unintentionally if we’re not being mindful of it. It’s all too easy to shift into “autopilot” with our spouses and slip into disrespect over time. We get so used to having each other around that sometimes we don’t truly “see” the other person any longer, and we don’t think about the impact of our words and actions. We might end up talking to our spouse without the same common courtesy we’d show a neighbor or colleague. How would your co-workers react if you rarely listened and talked to them mainly to point out what they weren’t doing or what they were doing badly? Your marriage can’t thrive that way, either.

Rebuilding Respect

If you’re ready to strengthen the respect in your marriage so that love can flourish, here are a few fundamentals:

  • Respect means valuing and holding each other in high regard. You can still express your needs and even argue, but you can’t attack your spouse’s dignity if you want your marriage to last.
  • Respect creates feelings of safety and trust in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how clearly you communicate, you’ll never achieve deep emotional intimacy if you say hurtful things when you express your true thoughts and feelings. When there is respect, it’s much easier to get emotionally closer, so don’t be brutally honest.
  • Respect is also about accepting your natural  differences. The fact that the two of you are different is not a problem, unless you devalue each other based on those differences. For example, maybe your husband doesn’t emotionally disclose as readily as you do. If you think you’re a better human being because you’re more in touch with your feelings, that’s a disrespectful stance that can hurt your marriage.
  • Respect is a verb. Show respect and love regularly through your words and actions.
  • Respect and contempt can’t co-exist. According to the Gottman Institute, contempt is the No. 1 predictor of divorce. Treating each other with disrespect will eventually destroy your relationship.
  • Respect for yourself is as essential as respect for your partner.

I write much more about the relationship between respect and love in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. This week, look for ways to build respect in your marriage, whether that means choosing your words more carefully when you want your husband to do something around the house, or exercising your own self-respect by setting boundaries on disrespectful behavior.

Aretha Franklin was right: It really all does come down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T.