respect in marriage

Get More Respect and Love from Your Spouse

Helping your spouse to respect you again is an important step in rebuilding a loving partnership

respect in marriage
Respect is essential to a loving relationship

If you are not treated by your spouse like an equal or are treated as though you are not valuable, you are being disrespected. You may feel controlled or like you are not good enough for your spouse. Worst of all, you won’t feel loved. For most people their relationship did not start off that way. So, what went wrong?

Four ways respect is lost

Possibility 1: You made a big mistake

Did you do something that was very hurtful to your spouse or damaging to your relationship? Affairs are an obvious example, but other examples are bankruptcy, keeping your spouse from a career, waiting until it was too late to have a child and other possibilities.

If you did, you may have allowed your spouse to treat you badly because you felt you deserved it. Regardless of what you have done, allowing your spouse to treat you badly will never fix it. It will just lead to your spouse feeling that you never deserve to be treated well, although what you did may have been many years before.

Revenge is never a solution to relationship problems. Allowing your spouse to abuse you, cheat on you, or to misspend all of your money will not result in an evening of the score. It will just make your relationship worse.

God makes it clear that we don’t get to do evil to others because they did it to us. Never give your spouse permission to mistreat you. Also, don’t feel you get a free pass to treat your spouse disrespectfully because you are treated that way.

Possibility 2: You are afraid of being abandoned or rejected

No one likes to be rejected. However, many people have a fear of it. They are anxious in their jobs because they may be fired. They are anxious talking to others because they may not be liked. And, they are fearful of upsetting their spouse because they might be divorced. Not only do fears take the fun out of relationships, they also promote disrespect.

The person who is afraid of abandonment/rejection rarely uses boundaries. If they do use boundaries, they drop them if their spouse becomes upset. As a result, their relationships are poorer and they are more dissatisfied. They do not behave in loving and connecting ways, but also don’t use good boundaries to improve their relationships. As a result, their spouses often use threats or anger to control them, have less fear about being unfaithful or abusive, and will often reject them.

The nature of fear is such that it makes us behave in ways that make our fears come true. The person who fears rejection behaves in ways that lead to being rejected.

Possibility 3: Your spouse has a personality disorder

Personality disorders are overdiagnosed. Many people like to say their spouse is a narcissist if they are treated badly. Most of the time this is not true. If your spouse has a history of being disrespectful to you and others, even when it brings bad consequences for him or her, then it probably is a personality issue.

But, if your spouse is mainly disrespectful toward you or just a few people, it is not caused by a personality disorder. Also, if for most of your relationship, your spouse was not this way, it is not the result of a personality disorder. In these cases, your spouse can behave better and usually does, but chooses not to with you. There is little risk to your spouse to treat you badly, probably because you don’t have good boundaries.

On the other hand, if this is the way your spouse is with everyone and always has been, then it is a pervasive problem resistant to consequences from others. You either overlooked it or had false hope about improvement when you got married.

Possibility 4: A values mismatch

If you like to do things that violate your spouse’s values, he or she will look down on you. True Christians, who follow their beliefs and don’t just call themselves Christians, will certainly have this problem married to people who are not Christian. The Bible tells us to avoid such relationships so as not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Exactly when is respect lost?

Respect is earned by:

  • Living according to your values,
  • Doing what you say you will do, and
  • Not allowing others to mistreat you.

So, respect is lost when we:

  • Don’t live according to our values,
  • Don’t do what we say we are going to do, and
  • Allow others to mistreat us.

The more we do these things, the more we lose respect.

Criticizing, complaining, and arguing are good ways to lose respect because they don’t effectively stop other people from mistreating us. If you think you are not allowing your spouse to mistreat you because you get upset, you are wrong. Getting upset without having effective boundaries promotes other people continuing to mistreat us.

Treating your spouse well, having good values, and good boundaries will not only earn you a lot of respect, it will promote a close and loving relationship.

Protective thinking, reactive thinking, and proactive thinking

The way you think influences how you feel and how you behave. How you behave then has an influence on how you are treated by your spouse and others. Let’s look at the result on respect of three different types of thinking.

Protective thinking

Protective thinking mainly results from fear of what could go wrong. The goal of protective thinking is conflict avoidance which could lead to abandonment. Protective thinkers go along with others even when it violates their values. They allow others bad behavior to slide until they get too upset. Then they use partial boundaries that they give up if the other person gets very upset.

They also will often explain their reasons for doing things, for fear they will be misinterpreted or misunderstood. They will often apologize and promise to change without doing so in order to appease the other person. Dissatisfaction, distance, and divorce often follow the lives of people who are protective thinkers.

They don’t try to make friends because it might fail and so guarantee isolation. They don’t use boundaries because it could cause conflict, so allow behaviors that erode and end their relationships.

Reactive thinking

Reactive thinking protects the ego at the expense of the relationship. Reactive thinkers are blaming and vengeful and will not admit to any bad behavior even when it is obvious to others. Such people are disrespected in close relationships. They can maintain good relationships only up to the point of conflict, so will cut people completely out of their lives if things go badly.

Some examples of reactive thinking:

  • “Well, I’m just going to do the same to him/her and see how he/she likes it,”
  • “He/she makes me so upset, I’m just going to withhold (talking, money, sex, time, etc.),”
  • “If he/she can’t talk to me nicely (or do what I want), then I’m just not going to talk at all.”

Using reactive thinking is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Being vengeful enough may get your spouse to be more submissive, but at the expense of emotional connection. Reactive thinkers create roommate style relationships with mutual disrespect.

Neither protective thinking nor reactive thinking can get you the respect which is important for your spouse to feel in love with you. The alternative to protective thinking and reactive thinking is proactive thinking.

Proactive Thinking will Get More Respect

Proactive thinking is neither concerned with avoiding conflict or making our spouse feel wrong and inadequate. Proactive thinkers seek improvement and closeness. They deal with problems rather than avoid them, and they accept responsibility for creating change rather than waiting for their spouse to change.

People who are proactive ask themselves questions like,

  • What can I do?
  • How do other people deal with this?
  • What’s going to be best in the long term?

Proactive thinkers are not afraid of short term difficulties if it leads to long term success.

I like to ask my clients,

  • “What would a secure person do in this situation?” and
  • “How can you help your spouse desire to treat you better?” Also,
  • “What could you do to earn your spouse’s respect?” and
  • “How can you help your spouse to feel loved and important?”

Sometimes they know the answer and just need to do it. Other times they need help with the answers. For your relationship, ask yourself these questions. If you know the answers, but are afraid of upsetting your spouse, you are a protective thinker. If you know the answers, but don’t think you are the one who should have to work on things, you are a reactive thinker. If you can get to work on any of the answers, then you are a proactive thinker.

Proactive people learn what works and do it. Their main concern is creating a good outcome and reaching their goals. Proactive parents learn many skills for raising children, love their children, foster their self esteem, and use boundaries when necessary to maintain respect.

Find the respect leak and plug it

Are you losing respect by not living according to your values? Not doing what you say? Or by allowing bad behavior to continue without using good boundaries? Earn respect by doing better on these things.

Is it possible that you are not doing something even more fundamental like helping your spouse to feel loved and valued? If so, then it will be better for you to start there and leave boundaries until your spouse enjoys you enough to care about your boundaries.

If you don’t know how to get started or would like step by step guidance, I would be happy to work with you as your relationship coach.

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