I was recently talking with a client about how love CANNOT exist without relationship respect. Yet I often hear terrible stories about couples behaving disrespectfully toward each other. I know these stories are true because in couples counseling I see disrespect all the time!
- Calling names
- Talking over each other
- Being passive aggressive
- Making cutting or purposely hurtful remarks
- Refusing to talk or listen
- Physical violence
When I see or hear about this disrespect, I wonder what it must be like to be on the receiving end of these behaviors. I know for sure it doesn’t feel good! Most of us react poorly…
What happens to you when you feel disrespected?
- Get mad
- Feel hurt
- Emotionally shut down
- Lash out
- Become defensive
- Something else?
I know when someone is disrespectful toward me I have an initial moment of what I can only describe as shock. I feel off balance for a second, almost like I have to process what just happened. After moving through this moment my instinct is to retreat, to not say anything or enter into a conflict. However, I have learned that this instinct is not helpful, especially if the relationship is important to me. I therefore push myself to respectfully talk about how what the person did or said affected me, how it made me feel.
When working with couples like you in marriage counseling I see many different reactions to disrespect, but the one that comes up most frequently is defensiveness. Your partner says something disrespectful, you become defensive, and then you begin behaving disrespectfully as well. It is actually an extremely common pattern for almost all couples (I’m familiar with it in my own relationship!).
Let’s take the classic “you never….” example. Have you ever become involved in one of these?
- Put the kids to bed
- Do the dishes
- Clean the house
- Initiate sex
- Take me out
- Tell me you love me
- Do this right
- Do that right
And BOOM! It’s on! Feelings are hurt, defenses are up, and off you go….. There is pretty much no way this is going to be a productive and respectful conversation.
So returning to what I said earlier: if you experience disrespect in your relationship, does this really mean that the love is lost?
Momentary Loss of Relationship Respect = Momentary Loss of Love
Instead, it’s easier to think about these as temporary moments of not loving each other. If you are constantly disrespecting each other, of course you are going to lose your love as well. Most couples, however, are able to recover from occasional feelings of disrespect from their partners.
But take for a moment to think what it would feel like to be fully respected ALL THE TIME by your partner. This does not mean you would never fight, but instead you would know that in conflict your spouse would completely respect your opinion, even if he/she disagreed. What would that be like? How would that change your relationship?
Respect changes EVERYTHING.
If you know that your point of view will be accepted and you do not have to fight to be heard or understood, you can relax and stop defending yourself. Isn’t this the whole point of being in a romantic relationship? To have a person you can trust to support you?
Yes, of course it is. It’s what we all long for. Whether we can achieve that place of respect and support is an entirely different question. This is not an easy thing to do as we all become drawn into hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and unhealthy patterns. This is where something like couples counseling is extremely useful. One of our main goals at the Salt Lake Relationship Center is to teach you how to interact respectfully. You learn how to shift away from conflict as something to be avoided/feared to something that is okay because you KNOW you will feel understood.