An American singer and author Amy Grant once said, “Every good relationship, especially marriage, is based on respect. If it’s not based on respect, nothing that appears to be good will last very long.”
So what is respect in marriage? In a marriage seminar where the same question was asked, some of the responses were:
- Treating one’s spouse or partner in a thoughtful and courteous way.
- Avoiding behaviours that are rude and impolite, such as name calling and/or anything that insults or demeans one’s spouse.
- Not talking sarcastically or condescendingly to one’s spouse.
- Not ignoring or avoiding one’s spouse.
- Putting one’s spouse above one’s friends, extended family and others generally.
- Viewing one’s spouse’s opinions, wishes and values as worthy of serious consideration.
- Not taking one’s spouse’s love or affection for granted.
- Treating one’s spouse as an equal partner in the relationship.
- Being faithful to one’s spouse.
Simply put, much more than being the absence of negative behaviours, respect in a marital setting is treating your spouse as you would like to be treated. As a matter of fact, the dictionary defines respect as “a feeling or show of honour or esteem for someone or something; to consider or treat with deference or dutiful regard.”
In a lot of ways, respect for your spouse would also mean taking an active interest in his or her life (work, daily activities and interests), and compromising and negotiating with him or her on important issues that affect both of you as well as your family.
Now, to maximally benefit a relationship, respect would have to be necessarily mutual. Although it may not always guarantee a trouble-free or flawless marriage, mutual respect opens the door for effective communication which is the mortar that holds every relationship together. Without respect, couples are not likely to be able to solve marital problems or resolve issues amicably.
It was Jack Ito who once said, “The loss of respect in relationships is probably the biggest reason that people fall out of love. It is difficult to feel love toward someone we don’t respect….” In the words of George Best,“Love is about mutual respect, apart from attraction.”
The truth is, respect is a choice; it is deliberately given. And one thing that can greatly hinder it or disturb its flow is argument. If not curtailed or managed properly, arguments can lead to disrespect and negatively affect your marriage.
Even in situations where a couple have an established culture of respect for each other, it has to be deliberately and consciously sustained as it can slowly erode due to life’s numerous stresses and strains. If you or your spouse are stressed or are struggling with your individual issues, it is possible to become irritable and negative, and vent your frustrations on the other party. This can set off a vicious cycle in which spouses are increasingly negative and disrespectful to each other. It is therefore important that we constantly watch out for little breaches in our relationship that may escalate into serious issues of disrespect and nip them in the bud.
You need to understand that sustaining respect in the course of a marital relationship requires serious and conscious efforts. As human beings, we are likely to respond in kind if someone consistently treats us negatively, inconsiderately, or disrespectfully. This pattern of mutual disrespect therefore feeds on itself. The more one spouse is rude and inconsiderate, the more likely it is that the other spouse will start behaving likewise. Disrespect can then continue to grow in the marriage until virtually all interactions are characterised by sarcastic, inconsiderate, blaming, critical, and demeaning behaviours.
The truth is, a marriage where couples are in the habit of repaying an act of disrespect with another act of disrespect is not likely to be blissful or survive the many stresses and strains of life.This makes forgiveness a must if couples are going to continue to respect each other. Offences will always come, but we have to form the habit of being the first to forgive.
To establish or re-establish respect therefore, each spouse should as much as possible work on changing his or her own behaviour and not try to police his or her spouse’s behaviour. Once some level of mutual respect has been established, couples can then begin to work on how they can communicate more effectively, make requests, solve problems, accept differences and forgive easily.
Now, one mistake often made in dealing with disrespectful spouses is undue accommodation or even acceptance of the acts of disrespect which could be verbal abuse, physical abuse, or threats. Unfortunately, this will not make your spouse come to his or her senses; it will only make him or her get worse. There is therefore a need to confront the issue without necessarily being confrontational. If you know it is damaging to your relationship and you accept it, it will ultimately destroy it.
If you have a spouse who is habitually insensitive and disrespectful in spite of your best efforts, there is definitely a need to see a professional counsellor and be very prayerful. Be assured there is still hope for your marriage as the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. He is able and will touch the heart of your spouse, no matter how insensitive he or she has been or seems to be.
Remember, your marriage is a blessing.