Love and respect are intimately connected–but respect comes first
Respect and love are not things we think of much in our marriage until they aren’t there anymore. Neither of these things disappear in a single day, and the drain can be so slow that we are surprised when they’re gone. You find out your spouse has been doing something behind your back, or your spouse treats you so badly that you are shocked, hurt, and overwhelmed. Some of the ultimate acts of disrespect are 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 acts of disrespect can take a marriage past the point of no return. 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.
Your Spouse is Not to Blame
The main thing to understand about respect is that respect is earned. To illustrate this, think for a moment about someone you disrespect. Maybe it’s a coworker, family member, or an old classmate. Then, think about why you disrespect that person. I think you will find that the reason you don’t respect him or her is because of the way that he or she talks or behaves. Perhaps that person frequently lies, nags, or mistreats others. 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.” And, you would find it hard to love that person. You might be able to have some nice behavior toward him or her, but internally it would be a struggle. Most likely, you would avoid him or her as much as you could. This is precisely what happens in marriages. If you tell me your spouse avoids you, I will know right away that he or she doesn’t respect you.
How You Lost Your Spouse’s Respect
Ironically, you don’t need to have done anything bad to your spouse to lose his or her respect. You can lose respect merely from allowing him or her to do something bad to you. 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 patiently loving 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 his/her Facebook 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.
Another Way to Think About How to Get Respect
Sometimes it’s easier to understand how respect is earned if we use the example of parenting. If parents are loving and patient while their children are misbehaving, children’s behavior will get worse and worse. Eventually, the parents will act, but there will be so much disrespect for them at that time that there will be a terrible struggle. Parents who set and maintain rules, while still being loving, get respect and love from their children. Parents do not get respect from their children by getting revenge on their children or by threatening their children. If you love your parents, it’s likely that they showed you love, but set limits that you couldn’t violate. And, if you don’t love your parents, it’s likely that they either let you do whatever you wanted (i.e. they didn’t care), or set limits without giving you love (i.e. they didn’t care). Isn’t it interesting that either all love or all rules ends up making it seem like people don’t care? To get and maintain your spouse’s respect and love, you need to earn his or her respect with healthy boundaries and loving behavior.
Beware of Bad Advice Like Being Patient, Giving Space, or Making Him or Her Jealous
Because you must be loving and have healthy boundaries, much of the popular advice about dealing with spouse’s misbehaviors is terrible. I have heard all kinds of ridiculous things that people have learned from the internet or their friends. For example, some people believe that if their spouse is having an affair, they should date people too, to make their spouse jealous. Well, even if they succeed in making their spouse jealous, they lose their spouse’s trust along with the respect they already lost. After such foolish actions, reconciling may not even be possible. Another popular belief is that giving space is the way to go. Giving space will calm things down, but because there is no healthy boundary and no loving behavior (giving space is not loving), disrespect grows, love fades, and the marriage gets worse. If you think that giving space is loving, go back to the parent-child example. What loving parent would give their child space if he or she was doing something destructive?
Building Respect 101
Every teen girl or boy should learn this basic example for building respect. If you are on a date and 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, etc.), 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). What typically happens for teens and adults, single and married, is that they may 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 complaining? That’s right–they complain about their husband’s behavior, but they put up with it every single time. Do you think their husband’s love them more for it? Or respect them less? Who is more likely to flirt online behind his wife’s back? When you lose respect in one area, you lose it in all areas.
A Question to Help You Get Respect
It’s interesting to note that usually people know what healthy boundaries are, even if they don’t use them. To test this out, just ask yourself one question, “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 and then let it go if the cheating spouse threatened to leave? 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 him or her, the way you use your time, and the way you treat him or her. You need to treat him or her like he or she is the most special person in the world to you. A truly loving partner is not one who puts up with whatever their spouse does. 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. 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.
Coming Back from Zero Respect and Love
As you can tell, 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 20 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. Eventually you will fall out of love with your spouse and give up. At one level your spouse probably wants that, but at another level your spouse may not want that at all. Helping people to reach that part of their spouse (which is usually behind a strong emotional wall), to reconnect, and rebuild the love is what I do. I want to urge you not to use the harmful methods of being patient, giving space, or making him or her jealous. Just get help. If you want help from me, you need to choose a marriage coaching package which fits your situation. With my packages, your spouse doesn’t have to participate. One package is for people whose spouse is leaving or has left (whether there is an affair or not). Another is for people who are treated very poorly in a marriage that is secure, but unhappy.