Being too nice or too tough can both result in you being respected less. Having the correct balance of love and boundaries will make your spouse both respect and love you more.
Why is respect important in marriage? Earning your spouse’s respect will help your spouse to see you as an equal and to take what you say seriously. It will also result in fewer arguments even when you and your spouse differ on what you want.
Without respect, you may be ignored, mistreated, and devalued. Your spouse will feel more able to talk you out of what you want and so will argue, intimidate, or manipulate you to get you to behave the way he or she wants you to–regardless of how important it is to you.
Does your spouse take your words and feelings seriously and treat you as an equal?
Although it is easy to blame our spouses for disrespecting us, the truth is that respect is earned. Although love is not earned and we are to love our neighbor as ourself regardless of how they behave, we simply cannot respect someone who is not behaving in a way worthy of respect. Taking ownership for your spouse’s lack of respect will empower you to change what you do instead of ineffectively demanding respect.
Let’s look at some ways you could have lost respect in your marriage
Respect can be lost in a number of ways:
- allowing someone to treat you badly (dependency)
- agreeing with behavior which damages your relationship (codependency)
- not living according to your own standards (hypocrisy)
- needy behaviors designed to control your partner (insecurity)
The fastest way to lose respect is by allowing someone to treat you badly, such as with verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, neglect, or threats. If you are doing what your spouse wants in order to avoid these things, you are losing respect. Also, if you allow your spouse to continue to treat you this way, you are losing respect.
Another way to lose respect is to agree or put up with things that you know are damaging for the relationship. If you agree with something damaging your partner is doing, it becomes apparent that you are either afraid of your partner, or you are afraid of losing your partner. This could include addictions, affairs, misuse of joint income, or mistreatment of the children.
Your fear of your spouse’s behavior, disapproval, or rejection will make you feel increasingly resentful for what you have to put up with. And, it will make your spouse increasingly disrespectful. The very same dynamic happens when parents fear their children’s behavior or disapproval. Their children become more and more disrespectful while the parents become more and more resentful.
If you are feeling resentful, there is a good chance you have failed to earn your spouse’s respect.
How to start earning your spouse’s respect
Before you got married and were first dating your spouse, it is likely that your spouse treated you very well. He or she was careful to treat you well, take your words seriously, and make you feel important. Looking at why that was will give you good clues about how to regain respect.
When we start dating someone, we are attracted to them and want them to like us. We know that if we behave badly, that person is likely to stop dating us. As the relationship goes on we feel less afraid of losing the other person. That is especially true if they seem very needy and fearful of losing us. We can come to disrespect them and lose a lot of our feelings for them.
The best partner is always one who treats us wonderfully, but who never lets us treat them badly.
Did you catch the clues for what you need to work on?
Make sure you are:
- Being an attractive and likeable person, just like you would if you were in a new relationship as a single person. Never take your spouse’s love for granted.
- Do not overcommit to your spouse. I will always love you and be with you no matter what you do is one of the most damaging things you can say to your spouse. Your spouse needs to feel that any seriously bad behavior toward you or cheating will result in your divorcing.
There are many small behaviors that go into these two requirements.
Some people need to learn how to behave like an attractive man or woman. For some people they gave up such behaviors when they got married, had children, or became more involved in their career. If your spouse stops being attracted to you and enjoying you, he or she is not going to care so much about losing you and will not be careful to treat you well.
It turns out that the same behaviors you use to start a relationship are also the same behaviors you need to keep one going.
My spouse has never threatened to leave me. She is a secure and attractive woman with very good boundaries (in fact, she also is a relationship coach). Although I haven’t stepped out of line much in our relationship, she has never put up with any bad behavior from me. I also see the good boundaries that she has with other people. I know, without asking, that she would divorce me if I was repeatedly disrespectful toward her, abused her in any way, or cheated on her.
She has the perfect combination of her behaving attractively, treating me well, making me feel loved and important, and having very good boundaries. She certainly has my respect. What do I have to do to keep her respect? The same things, of course. I must behave in an attractive way, treat her well, make her feel loved and important, but have good boundaries to not let her take advantage of me or mistreat me. She knows I certainly would divorce her if she repeatedly mistreated me.
Does this sound unloving or unchristian to you?
I hope that you can see that this way of behaving is actually very loving and contributes to enduring, close, and faithful relationships. I am so thankful that God permits divorce in the case of affairs. Just think how that must have been helpful in keeping many Christian men and women faithful. Knowing that a spouse could never divorce, no matter what, would not promote healthy marriage behavior.
God loves everyone, it is true. God is love, among other things. But, He still sends to Hell those who reject Him. He disciplines His children. He has better boundaries than you or I could ever have. He never has said that no matter what we do, he will just keep on blessing us. The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Why would it say that if we were just free to do whatever?
I do not fear losing my wife. But, I know that if I mistreated her, she would leave me. That is the essence of respect. For children, it is knowing their parents love them, but will discipline them if they misbehave. For employers, it is knowing that your employer treats you well, but would fire you if you stole from the company, didn’t do your job, or couldn’t get along with others.
Don’t threaten to divorce, just use good boundaries
Once you are sure that you are behaving like an attractive spouse, making your husband or wife feel important and treating him or her very well, then it is time to make sure you are using good boundaries. That will be the combination that both promotes love and gets you respect.
Did you catch that order of things? First you fix your own behavior, then you deal with your spouse’s behavior. It’s a principle that Jesus taught us. You can find it in Matthew 7:5. The Bible is the truth and God is never wrong.
Arguing will never get you respect, but boundaries will
You will never get respect by arguing, but neither will you get respect by giving in to anything bad. You will get respect by refusing to argue and by using boundaries to stick to healthy values. Boundaries are not threats and they are not attempts to control someone else’s behavior. They are what we do to protect ourselves or our relationships.
Boundaries are a reflection of God in us–the refusal to participate in any kind of evil or wrongdoing.
Two weeks of good boundaries will accomplish more than years of argument. Complaining, blaming, arguing, and even discussing may seem like the best way to stop your spouse’s damaging behaviors. They may have even become to feel like the normal and natural thing to do. But the fact is that they will never get you the love or respect that you want. You have to change to a better way.
“What are some example boundaries?”
- Leaving immediately every time your partner calls you a bad name, even if means taking a taxi home from a restaurant.
- Taking separate vehicles rather than riding with a spouse who has temper outbursts while driving.
- Having backup plans if your partner frequently makes promises that he or she doesn’t keep.
- Hiring a babysitter, if your spouse refuses to share the parenting, so you can have some time off.
For every damaging thing that someone does, there is a boundary you can use. If that person also feels loved by you, your boundary will be very effective in changing their behavior and getting you respect.
“If I do such things, my spouse will be upset.”
I have no doubt about that, but I also know that allowing such behavior to go unchecked can severely damage your relationship and maybe already has. Whether parenting or partnering, you have to do the right thing for your relationship, even if in the short term it upsets your child or partner.
What would be likely to happen for each of the example boundaries, if instead you argued or just let it go on?
- not using a boundary with a name calling spouse means that you will continue to receive verbal abuse from your spouse
- continuing to ride with a spouse who rages in the car means you will be stressed out whenever you ride with your spouse
- continuing to trust a spouse who does not follow through with promises will make you feel unimportant and erode all feelings of love you have
- continuing to do all the parenting although your spouse could help will make you become resentful and detach from your spouse
We absolutely need to submit to a spouse who is submitting to God. That is showing love for spouse and God. But, we must love enough to be tough with a spouse who is not in line with God’s precepts for the sake of restoring our marriage.
Coaching approaches that rely on submission only, work only with the godly and loving spouse. With all other spouses it perpetuates problems until the relationship is lost or until people are just roommates.
Why aren’t you doing this already?
I can think of only a few reasons. Either you are:
- Trying to get respect without first stopping your own damaging behavior,
- don’t have the skills for attracting and connecting with your spouse,
- don’t know how to use boundaries for your situation, and/or
- are too fearful of upsetting or losing your spouse to even try.
If you have a fear of abandonment and being alone, it is more of a counseling and faith issue. If it is a lack of skills, you will need to learn from someone who already knows how. I recommend you learn from qualified people who have books or other training materials on the subject. Be careful because some so called professionals will encourage you to leave your marriage. That is not the place to start, although there are times when it is necessary. Leaving is a last resort either because it is the most loving thing to do or to keep people safe.
If you would like to see what I could help you with in regard to earning respect and restoring a loving relationship, I invite you to look at my coaching package on how to restore a loving relationship with a difficult partner.