Respect is not included in the marriage vows. No illustrated books show
how to achieve it. And yet it is central to a lasting, satisfying
Yes, respect. It seems a quaint, almost formal, word today. But it's a
feeling that successfully married couples mention with impressive
For her book
Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce
(Bantam), author Francine Klagsbrun interviewed 87 couples who had been
married 15 years or more. She hoped to identify the factors that had
enabled these marriages to survive and thrive in a time when almost half
are expected to end in divorce. Respect turned out to be a key ingredient.
"The vast majority of people I
interviewed said, 'I respect him' or 'l respect her," says Klagsbrun.
What is this thing called respect? It is not the same as admiration.
"When you fall in love, you admire the other," says Dr.
Alexandra Symonds, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the New
York University School of Medicine. "You look up to someone - much
the way a child idealizes a parent."
Such romantic admiration thrives and even depends on the illusion that he
or she is “perfect for you." That's why it doesn't last.
come to see that the person you married isn't exactly what you expected," says Francine Klagsbrun. "There are differences of
personality, of approaches to life, different ways of doing
You can try to change your mate back into your fantasy. But
marriage to last and grow it's better to agree to disagree, to
learn to let each other be. Only by taking this path can you begin to develop real respect toward each
other. For respect is between peers. It is for something tested and
proven, solid, really there.
"I have one patient whose husband loves sports, especially tennis,''
says Dr. Symonds. "She would prefer to go to the theater, or to stay
home and read. She could simply say, “We have different tastes.”
Instead, she says, ‘How can he waste his time and money that way?’ She
puts him down."
The put-down is the chief symptom - and weapon - of lack of respect, or
contempt. "Contempt is the worst kind of emotion," says Symonds.
"You feel the other person
We've all seen marriages in which one or both partners attack the other
quite savagely in the guise of "It's for your own good." Any "good" is
undone by the hostile tone. A wife nags her husband to be more ambitious
and makes him feel like a failure because he prefers craftsmanship or
community projects to the competitive business world. Or a husband
accuses his wife of wasting time whenever she gets together with
a friend: "Why isn't she doing something productive?"
In good marriages partners nurture each other's self-esteem. They may
express humorous incomprehension of one another's preferences, but they
never make the other person feel like an idiot. "Marty's idea of a
vacation is to go down to the basement on a sunny day and spend time
woodworking," says Dr. Alexandra Symonds of her husband, psychiatrist
and surgeon Martin Symonds.
But there's fondness in the gibes and firm support for the other's right
to be himself. Respect is expressed in words like, "I don't want to
go to the concert, but you have a great time." And occasionally,
"Sure, I'll come with you. Just don't be mad if I fall asleep."
Respect, then, is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of
the ways in which he or she is unique. These things take time to discover
and accept. That's why respect is a quality of maturity in a marriage, not
of the first heat of romance. But this doesn't mean that married couples
who respect each other are simply saying, "You go your way, and I'll
go mine." On the contrary, respect is "what pulls you closer
together," says Klagsbrun. "Often it helps you to learn from
each other, to accept the other's outlook and make it part of
My husband and I are from different worlds and generations. He is a
European survivor of World War II, eight years my senior. And sometimes we
do clash. But we've learned to respect each other even for some of the
differences that once annoyed us most. As a result, we have grown more
alike. I've absorbed some of his tendency to take strong stands on issues;
he's absorbed some of my tolerance of others' points of view. I've gained
a genuine appreciation for jazz; he can now hear the life in rock 'n roll.
That's the paradox of a good marriage:
only by respecting each other
as you are do you open the
door to change. The root meaning of the word
respect is "to
look at." Respect is a clear yet loving eye. It sees what is really
there, but it also sees what is potentially there and helps bring it to
fruition. Respect is the art of love by which married couples honor what
is unique and best in each other.
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This is sound, superficial advice. Most readers (like you?) would say
"Of course respect is essential (in any relationship)." The article
is simplkistic because it doesn't acknowledge or tackle some primal questions like...
What causes disrespect
between mates (or anyone)?
If you lose respect for
your mate, what can you do?
Can respect for your mate
be intentionally improved?
What role does self-respect
play in marital satisfaction?
How does communication
affect marital respect?
In my years of doing therapy with hundreds of troubled couples, several themes
stand out: Typically, such couples...
don't know how to
identify, discuss, and resolve relationship
are unaware of carrying
psychological wounds from early-childhood trauma. One common wound
is excessive shame - i.e. lack of self respect; and...
because of their
wounds and unawareness, troubled couples have made up to
three unwise commitment