Do you know any couples who appear to be just coasting in their relationship?
Or, more alarmingly, a couple that appear to be riding down a steadily declining slope of romance and passion towards thinly veiled indifference (or even contempt?)
What you’ll probably notice is that, even if on some level these couples love one another, they show signs of constant disrespect.
Why? Because respect isn’t the same as love.
Love is, “I need you. I want what’s best for you.”
Respect is something like, “I admire what you do and value what you say”.
You’d think the latter would be easy to uphold.
But everywhere you can observe how couples merely stand by while it gradually erodes, and even actively participate in diminishing their partner in public.
- the person who rolls their eyes constantly in company when their partner speaks about something they care about.
- the person who gives compliments freely to everyone else at the table but is dismissive of their partner, “Oh, don’t listen to him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
- the person who ignores their partner’s conversation while buried in their phone, or who makes decisions that affect the relationship without talking about it first.
All of these things little by little make us feel disrespected.
Even if we feel loved, an enormous part of attraction is feeling like the person who loves us also treats us as someone to be valued, honoured, considered, even looked up to.
When we lose that feeling, we no longer feel like the stable rock that our partner can lean on. We feel worthless, uninteresting, a part of the furniture. It’s hard for anyone to feel turned on from this place. It makes us feel unappealing and dependent, and in extreme circumstances, we thirst for that feeling of pride and validation from someone else.
So much hinges on respect, yet it is one of the first things to be taken for granted once we decide to enter a long-term relationship.
How To Keep Respect (So You Don’t Lose Attraction)
You can endlessly read articles about “how to get the spark back”, or “why passion fails in relationships”, but very seldom are features written about how to keep respect going.
And maybe that’s because it’s so difficult. Especially if that loss of respect is brought about by a steadfast endurance of all our partner’s annoying foibles and failures to deliver on promises, many of which can turn into deep-seated resentments.
When we have a partner whom we believed in who has let us down enough times, it becomes difficult to summon up that feeling of respect, perhaps even more so than it is to summon up kindness.
But let’s put aside today how to fix a broken relationship, and instead talk about how not to break it in the first place. Here are a few things we can remember to when we go into any new relationship:
1. Follow through on your word. Do what you say you will do. Nothing builds and maintains respect faster than showing we drink our own medicine. Be careful what you promise, and take every single one as though the relationship depended on you keeping it. As Hemingway put it, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
2. Uphold your standards of behaviour in other parts of your life. If we want respect from our partner, we have to show what we expect in our everyday world – from our family and career, to the way we look after our health, finances and anything else we value. It might be just having things that matter outside of the relationship, taking on responsibilities, or being dogged about executing on a plan that shows we are committed to growth and overcoming challenges.
3. Have The Difficult Conversation. People lose respect when they are avoiders. When they accept less than they’re worth. When they run away from conflict and problems instead of towards them. If you want respect, be the person who grows three feet taller when things are tough and takes charge of the situation. Be unafraid to fight for your needs in the relationship. Start the difficult conversation. Be honest about your own shortcomings, but make yourself heard when it’s time to stand up for what matters. (THEN repeat step 1 above – follow through on your word once you decide what needs to change).
The road to respect is a demanding one, but it’s just as important as passion.
It is by no means a demand to be perfect, but rather a demand that we strive towards being the sort of person who takes the image of who we aspire to be seriously, and being unafraid to confront difficult challenges head on when they arise.
Respect on it’s own isn’t a cure, but it’s the stone wall that protects the castle of a relationship, lest it succumb to the armies of indifference and contempt.