Respect is one of the most important aspects of any relationship. It means that you and your partner are equals. No one stands above the other and everyone’s voice is heard. When couples have respect, it frees them up to be their own person, having their own interests, opinions, and feelings without fear of rejection or reprisal. Respect is key to a marriage’s success, as it often ranks higher than love in terms of what’s most important. This makes sense. After all, it’s difficult to have one without the other.
But respect can be hard to quantify, especially when you become parents and roles change and ideas of self-respect shift. So, what does respect actually look like in a loving relationship? It varies, of course. But partners who respect one another are sure to do these things.
1. They Validate Each Other
Validation is one of the most important things couples can do for each other. Having your partner hear what you’re saying, appreciate you, and understand you speaks to a basic need for connection. It’s okay to disagree, as long as you can respect where each other is coming from. “Healthy couples know that feelings aren’t right or wrong or true or false,” says Thomas Gagliano, a social worker, speaker and the author of The Problem Was Me. “This is a very important message to give to your children as well. It helps resolve conflict instead of doing a destructive dance feeling that we don’t matter to each other.”
2. They’re Curious About Each Other
Couples that have mutual respect ask questions about each other. They want to know how the other person is feeling and what they need. In order to develop more respect in your relationship, Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Aware Parent, encourages couples to be curious about each other. She advises asking the other person questions that require more than a one-word answer. In other words, she says, don’t simply ask, “How are you?” You will likely get a quick response of “Fine.” Instead, ask thought-provoking questions including, “Tell me how you’ve been spending your time”; “What are your hopes, wishes, and dreams over the next five years?”; “What are some of the challenges you’ve been up against lately?”
3. They Play To Each Other’s Strengths
The two-way-street idea of marriage makes sense, but it doesn’t always hold true. There are times where one partner has to give a little more than the other, or there are times when one or the other has to step up and handle more, from household chores to child care to emotional support (such as in the wake of the loss of a loved one or an illness). “Successful couples know that every situation isn’t a 50/50 deal,” says Gagliano. “In some situations one partner can give more and expect less as long as it isn’t the same partner doing all the giving. That’s okay as long as both parents are on the same page.”
4. They’re Not Obsessed With “Winning”
The compulsive need to be right can be incredibly destructive in a relationship, with spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle describing it almost as a form of violence. The need creates fear and resentment between couples and will eventually wear the relationship down over time. When couples respect each other, they can accept not being right in favor of maintaining a healthy balance. “Successful couples know how to choose their battles knowing that closeness means more than being right at times,” Gagliano says.
5. They’re Unafraid Of Honesty
The truth can be uncomfortable, but a couple that has mutual respect is one that isn’t afraid to put it out there. They can deal with the feelings of anger that might come from discussing harsh truths because they have the bigger picture in mind. If you want respect, then don’t be scared of the truth. “Be brave,” urges Walfish. “Honesty in a relationship is extremely important because it is the fundamental thing that makes a person feel safe. Even if you think truth will be hard for you partner to hear, they will appreciate it in the long run.”
6. They Do Little Things For Each Other
Small gestures carry a lot of weight, and for couples who have mutual respect, those small gestures are second-nature. A simple love note, a slightly longer hug or kiss goodbye can make your partner feel validated and appreciated. “One short and sweet text or email per day can make your lover’s heart pitter-patter — without causing his or her head to spin from electronic overload,” says Walfish. “Be sure to include an intimate and heartfelt detail in your notes as a key way to boost your bond.”
7. They Know How To Give One Another Space
It’s important to be supportive and engaged with your spouse. But you also can’t hover over them and try and solve all their problems for them. Couples who have mutual respect believe in each other’s strengths and have enough faith in each other to know when to step back and let them handle something on their own. “They realize they can’t fix their partner’s problems more than their partner wants to,” says Gagliano. “They know when they need to let go of control and let their partner figure things out for themselves.”
8. They Take Care Of Themselves
“Successful couples know that they need to take actions of self-care,” says Gagliano. “This affirms that it’s important to work on the relationship you have with yourself.” In other words: It’s not enough to take care of your spouse. You also have to look after yourself. That means exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep. Even making regular doctor and dentist appointments is important. By investing in yourself and your own well-being, it shows your partner that you want to be at your best for them.
9. They Are Good Models For Their Children
When couples have respect, they set good examples for their kids. They don’t argue in front of them or talk badly about the other person to the children or try and manipulate the children against the other. Healthy couples also make time for date nights and time together so that the kids can see that mom and dad make each other a priority. Lastly, they’re not afraid to make mistakes. “Healthy couples need to show their children that it’s okay to make a mistake and apologize when this happens,” says Gagliano. “Also, if you need help it’s okay to ask for help, no one is perfect.”
10. They Want To Talk To Each Other
When you’re running from job to job, game to game, and recital to recital, you might feel like you don’t have the time or patience for a more in-depth conversation with your spouse. But when there is mutual respect, you want to have those conversations and you want to hear what your partner has to say and be heard yourself. “Talk, talk, talk with each other,” says Walfish. “Taking turns listening and talking with each other is the seed that grows passion in relationships.”
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