respect in marriage

Are You Confusing Love and Respect? Respect Comes First

Love and respect are intimately connected–but respect comes first

respect in marriage
Respect is essential to a loving relationship

Respect and love are not things we think about much in our marriage until they aren’t there anymore. Neither of these things disappears in a single day, and the drain can be so slow that we are surprised when they’re gone.

Then, you are surprised to find your spouse has been doing something behind your back. Or you get some shockingly bad treatment from your spouse. You feel hurt and overwhelmed.

Disrespect can come in big ways like affairs and abuse. But, there are many lesser acts of disrespect such as secrecy, lying, misusing money, flirting with others, not listening, and not caring. Done repeatedly, these small acts of disrespect can end a marriage as much as the big one’s can.

If you are feeling like your spouse is loving you less, it’s a pretty good bet that he or she is respecting you less, too.

Don’t start blaming your spouse for disrespecting you

The main thing to understand about respect is that respect is earned. To illustrate this point, think of someone you don’t respect. Maybe it’s a coworker, family member, or politician. Then, think about why you disrespect that person. I think you will find that the reason for your lack of respect is because of the way that he or she talks or behaves. It’s not because of a problem in you.

Perhaps that person you don’t respect frequently lies, nags,mistreats others, or has bad values. I don’t think you will say, I disrespect him because there is a deficiency in me. He deserves my respect, but I just can’t give it.

If you were in a relationship with that person, you would find it hard to love that person. You might be able to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself and behave nicely, but it would be a struggle. It’s not too hard to do that when we encounter people once in a while. But, if you live with someone you don’t respect, it’s hard to constantly maintain a nice attitude and behavior. So, you avoid. You distance. This is precisely what happens in marriages where there is a lack of respect. Feelings of love vanish and people avoid and distance.

If you tell me your spouse avoids you, I will know right away that he or she doesn’t respect you and is not in love with you either.

Have you accidentally lost your spouse’s respect?

Ironically, you don’t need to have done anything bad to your spouse to lose his or her respect. And, you might have really good values. But, you can lose respect merely from allowing him or her to do something bad to you. When parents allow their children to talk back or behave badly, we say rightfully that the children don’t respect the parent. This is the same for husbands and wives.

This is the number one reason that I am not a fan of the being patient, or wait and see method of dealing with problems. While you are being patient with his or her behavior, he or she is losing respect for you. It’s a little bit like standing up to bullies. If you effectively stand up to a bully, you will get respect and the bullying will stop. But, if you are patient with bullies, they will bully you worse.

It’s true if the bully is a coworker, and it’s true if the bully is your spouse. It’s true if the bullying is starting rumors about you or making promises and not following through. It’s also true for lying to you about social media activities, or making threats about leaving you. All of these things that your spouse does call for a response from you that will build his or her respect.

People pleasers are often disrespected since they are afraid of upsetting others–even when the other person is treating them badly. As a result, they have a higher rate of cheating spouses and divorce. It is your job to love your spouse. It is not your job to please your spouse or make your spouse happy.

Earning respect is pretty much the same for spouses and parents

Parents who have good boundaries, while still being loving, get respect and love from their children. Parents do not get respect from their children by complaining, arguing, criticizing or getting revenge on their children. That will just make them bad parents and do long term damage to their relationships with their kids.

The same is true for spouses. All of the needy behaviors, like criticizing, arguing, complaining, and so on, will lead to disrespect and distance.

If you are still complaining and arguing with your spouse, you need to ask yourself if it is helping or hurting your relationship. Once you realize that, although your intentions are good, your behaviors are making things worse, you will not realize you need to stop these behaviors. To work on these behaviors in yourself, I recommend my book, Overcome Neediness and Get the Love You Want.

Common mistakes people make to get respect and love

Because the way to build respect in marriage is to be loving while using good boundaries, anything that is counter to that will not work.

Keep in mind that wishful thinking neither defines reality nor makes good relationships. Only by seeing reality clearly and using skills that work can anything be improved. Popular opinion often is neither reality based nor effective. The Bible, good role models, and learning from experience are your best teachers.

Here are some examples of wrong ways to build respect:

Distancing, avoidance, and neglect. These behaviors are unloving and break trust. A needy person may come in closer, but it deepens their doubt and leads to long term problems.

Making your spouse jealous by dating others. Like distancing, this also breaks trust, and at best will result in temporary improvement at the cost of long term success. Making your spouse jealous this way will promote your spouse cheating on you at some point. And he or she will never forget that you cheated and will use it to justify his or her behavior. An immoral person has no moral ground to stand on.

Shouting, threatening, and violence. These behaviors can create fear and submission causing your spouse to do what you want–until your spouse finds a way to leave you. And although your spouse may do what you want, you will lose your spouse’s love and their mistrust will make it difficult to regain it.

Criticizing, arguing, and complaining. These behaviors neither build respect nor promote love. They make your spouse feel unloved and very different from you. The more you do them, the faster your relationship will fail. Get my book on overcoming neediness if you have these behaviors.

If what you do to get respect damages love, it is a bad choice for your marriage; if what you do to get love damages respect, it is an equally bad choice for your marriage.

An example of respect building that promotes love

Every teen girl or boy should learn this basic example for building respect. If you are on a date, make the other person feel desirable and important. However, if your date says or does something disrespectful (calls you a bad name, flirts with someone else during your date, complains if you stop his or her sexual advances, and so forth), end the date immediately and go home by yourself. 

What that would accomplish is nipping the behavior in the bud, gaining respect, and becoming more valuable (rather than cheaper and more easily used/abused). Your date may become upset at first, but will have a stronger attraction and better behavior, and is much more likely to commit to the relationship. This is no different for marriage partners.

What teens and adults typically do is say they don’t like the behavior or what was said, but then just continue the date. Do you suppose their date, or their spouse, stops the bad behavior? They don’t. They actually feel a little more powerful by continuing to do it.

When women tell me that their husbands flirt with others when they go out, what do I know about the women who are telling me this? That’s right–they complain about their husband’s behavior, and may argue about it later, but they put up with it every single time. Do you think their husbands love them more for it? Or do they respect them less?

The same is true for many men who have wives who flirt with men on social media.

When you lose respect in one area, you lose it in all areas.

You may already know what to do to get respect

It’s interesting that usually people know what healthy boundaries are, even if they don’t use them. They know what a secure person would do, even if they don’t do it.

Does your spouse have any disrespectful behavior toward you? If so, ask yourself, “What would a secure man (or woman) do if their spouse was doing what mine is?” 

So, for example, if your spouse is misspending money, what would a secure person do in your position?

  • Would he or she also misspend money?
  • Would he or she repeatedly complain (nag)?
  • Would he or she get a separate bank account?

It’s pretty easy to answer each of those questions, isn’t it? Let’s try it again with another problem.

“What would a secure man or woman do if they discovered their spouse was cheating on them?”

  • Would they let it go on? 
  • Would they fight about it regularly without taking any actions?
  • Would they demand that the cheating stop and end the marriage if it didn’t?

Again, it’s pretty easy to answer those questions about what a secure person would do, isn’t it?

Don’t Forget the Love

Healthy boundaries without love will get you respect, but not love. Whether a parent or spouse, you must love too. In fact, you must love a lot. You need to make your spouse feel loved in the way you talk to him or her, the way you talk to others about your spouse, and the way you treat your spouse.

You need to treat your spouse like he or she is the most special person in the world to you. A truly loving partner is one who loves a great deal, but does not put up with behavior which is damaging to their spouse or the marriage. It’s just like good parenting.

Some people are great at boundaries, but poor at love. If that sounds like you, you really need to learn how to show your love more. Feeling it, without showing it, does not count.

Coming Back from Zero Respect and Love

As you can see, the things to do to build and keep respect are not so difficult if you do them before the respect and love are lost.

It is much more difficult to earn respect and get love when your spouse is fed up with your marriage and no longer cares what happens to it. For almost 30 years now, I’ve been helping people to rebuild love and respect from that point.

What makes doing this hard to do on your own is that when you try to be loving, you are going to get rejection in return. Continuing to get rejection from your spouse can lead to your loss of love for your spouse and your giving up on your marriage.

To have success, you must use non-pursuit methods of attracting and connecting with your spouse. You must give up all convincing and not show feelings for your spouse that he or she does not feel for you. Otherwise, you will get resistance, then distance, and then rejection.

You have to become the kind of person your spouse would not want to lose, validate without pursuing, and earn your spouse’s respect. The result will be your spouse turning toward you rather than away–giving you another chance to rebuild your relationship to the point where you can once again express love toward your spouse without being rejected.

If you would like my help with that, you can find my coaching services at

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