The great comic Rodney Dangerfield was known as the guy who never got any respect and actually made a living and a career out of repeating this sad refrain, usually in reference to his wife with whom he made countless uncomplimentary comparisons with animals of all sizes and shapes. But in real life, Rodney’s marital history was mixed. He married his first wife, Joyce Indig, in 1949. That marriage lasted for 13 years. After their divorce in 1962, he remarried her in 1963. Their second marriage also ended in divorce in 1970. Rodney was finally able to find happiness (and respect) in his third marriage, to Joan Child who he married in 1993 and with whom he remained married until his death in 2004.
Rodney did learn about respect and while his jokes were unquestionably hilarious, they also taught and reminded us about the importance of giving and receiving respect, particularly in our most important relationships. The dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.” In our contemporary culture, it has become a cliche that respect should come from within yourself. Many people believe that you shouldn’t need to get it from the outside world. And while it may be true that self-respect is extremely important to one’s feeling of self-esteem and well being, when our relationships don’t include frequent and meaningful exchanges of mutual respect, their quality will suffer, as well as our overall quality of life. For many of us, the problem is a failure to adequately express or demonstrate respect on the part of one or both partners, often backed by a rationalization that the other person “knows that I respect him (or her) so why should I have to keep repeating it?”
Well, you don’t “have to” repeat it, but doing so more frequently is likely to improve the quality of your relationship. While eating a delicious meal may be satisfying, you’re still going to need to eat again in a while.You can’t just eat once and for all. Likewise, providing appreciation to our partner is a not one-time only event. We’ve heard from many of our clients and students that although they feel appreciative and respectful of their partner, they don’t express their feelings to them as often as they experience them. It takes very little time and energy to express feelings of respect and appreciation to others, and the rewards to both the giver and the receiver of that acknowledgment are great. Whenever we have a feeling of gratitude towards someone for what that they have done that has made our life a little easier, more pleasurable, or relieved a difficulty that we were struggling with, it is likely that we feel gifted by them, whether it be a meal that they prepared, a task they fulfilled, a few caring words they spoke when we felt alone or down, or anything that left us feeling a sense of gratitude. Giving the feedback through whatever form our sentiment may take gives the other person the message that they have made a difference in our lives, that they matter, and that they have value, not just because of what they have done, but because of who they are. Expressing these feelings outwardly rather than keeping them to ourselves can also promote a pattern of mutual acknowledgment which can greatly deepen and enhance the quality of connection in the relationship. Focusing on the positive aspects of our partner’s character and and behavior doesn’t mean that we don’t ever express disappointments or perspectives that differ from theirs, it just means that we express feedback that includes both sides of the equation. If you’re ready to find out how this might work in your life here are a few more examples of some things that you might consider that could bring more respect into any of your relationships:
- Tune in to your partner with the intention of understanding their needs, desires, and concerns.
- Be willing to take influence from them when they make suggestions rather than trying to show them why their suggestions won’t work.
- Seek to recognize what is right or helpful in their words or actions rather than fault-finding.
- When you agree to fulfill a request that someone has made of you, keep it. Doing so show is a sign that you respect them.
- If your partner shares intimate details that only you are privileged to know, don’t share them with others.
- When bringing a complaint, be careful not to go over the line to criticism.
- Replace sarcasm with gentle language.
- Speak directly to your partner rather than sharing your complaints about them with others.
- Listen deeply: give your full and undivided attention to your partner when they are speaking
- Break the habit of rolling your eyes in disapproval. Instead share your concerns and perspective with them.
- Cultivate forgiveness and compassion rather than criticism and judgment
- Validate the other person’s offerings and suggestions with encouraging words, like ”You’re full of good ideas.”
- Keep in mind that your way of doing things isn’t necessarily the best way. There are many ways to get things accomplished.
- Rather than trying to prove that the other person is wrong, seek to clarify why you see things the way that you do.
- Support your partner’s choices whenever you can.
- Acknowledge how much your partner contributes to you and to the lives of others financially, emotionally, and behaviorally.
- When you feel regret about something that you have said or done, apologize as soon as possible.
- Share your appreciation of your partner with others.
- Resist the temptation to badmouth your partner when you have grievances. Express them directly and respectfully to him or her.
- Let your partner know how delighted you are with the partnership you are co-creating.
Don’t be limited to these ideas. They are just a starter kit. Feel free to come up with some ideas of your own. If you follow these simple guidelines, it’s very likely that you will soon begin to reap the rewards of a greatly enriched partnership. Even a little respect can go a long way!.