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How to Build Mutual Respect in Your Relationship

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Mar 12, 2024

A healthy relationship is built on a mutual respect. Respect means a mutual feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements as well as positive regard for the feelings, wishes, and rights of others. There are times when toxic patterns and ineffective communication can lead to people feeling disrespected by the people they care about the most. This is a very painful experience. As human beings we all deserve respect and positive regard however, when we are wounded, lack self-awareness, or lack self-esteem we can unintentionally allow disrespectful behavior into our relationships which may ultimately cause immense hurt and sabotage the relationship.

Why is respect important in a relationship?

A respectful relationship is one where each partner honors the boundaries, ideas, and feelings of the other person. They do not have to agree on everything, however they can create space for the other person to be themselves. When there is any kind of mental, physical, or emotional disrespect or abuse you cannot thrive and be your best self. Attachment relationships such as the relationship between children and their parents, other family relationships, friendships, or romantic relationships are places where we expect to feel safe and a sense of security. When that expectation is not met due to a lack of respect it can be damaging to one’s self-esteem and mental health. It also can create challenges for people when they try to create healthy bonds and respectful relationships in the future.

Mutual respect is key to a healthy relationship

We want to partner with people who are uplifting and support us when life gets hard. There are many reasons that a partner might show disrespect to their significant other that has nothing to do with their significant other. Attachment wounds, past trauma, and mental health issues can lead to an individual not being able to emotionally self-regulate, cause them to engage in anxious or avoidant behaviors, or feel insecure in the relationship. It is important to recognize that disrespect may be rooted in many things but should not be tolerated because it is toxic to both people involved. Fear of being alone often keeps individuals locked into accepting abuse or disrespect. It is human to desire connection and companionship, however we can not change others. Continuing to engage in toxic relationships will deteriorate your sense of self-worth and make it difficult to feel worthy of healthy relationships in the future.

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10 ways to show respect to your partner

There are many basic ways to show your partner you care for them and demonstrate respectful behavior. Appreciate your partner by allowing them to be the very best version of themselves while still honoring your own needs and maintaining your own identity.

1. Validation

You do not need to necessarily agree with your partners stance on a certain issue. In fact you may vehemently disagree and that is valid. There are no two people in the world that will always agree on everything. However, validation and listening are basic ways that we can offer respect to our partners. Really listening and expressing to your partner that you hear, understand, and empathize with their experience demonstrates that you see them.

2. Feelings & Needs

Talk about your feelings. Understand your partner’s love language and express your own needs. Honor that people have different needs and do not diminish your partner when their needs are different than your own. You can show love and respect by valuing both the similarities and differences between you and your partner.

3. Give Space

Do not treat your loved one’s desire for autonomy or space as an act of hostility. It is normal that in a relationship we will desire space to engage our own individual interests and process our emotions. Respect means creating space for your partner to feel safe to explore and accommodate their own individual interests and needs.

4. Support & Encouragement

Support your partner’s dreams and goals. Encourage them to be free to explore their own interests and live their best life. This shows that you respect who they are are individuals outside of the relationship or your own needs and desires.

5. Maintain Honesty

Speak the truth even when you fear rejection. Words matter. You can speak your truth while still practicing kindness and love.

6. Compromise Willingly

Power struggles and an unwillingness to compromise will result in you or your partner feeling disrespected. You can maintain boundaries while still being willing to compromise, find common ground, and validating your partner’s needs.

7. Honor Boundaries

Your personal boundaries are what empower you. When you honor these boundaries, you are respecting yourself while showing the world the most authentic version of you. When you honor your significant other’s boundaries you demonstrate love by respecting the most authentic version of them.

8. Share Fondness & Admiration

Expressing contempt or perceiving contempt in a relationship is a fast track to feeling disrespected and unloved. The Gottman Method identifies sharing fondness and admiration as the antidote to contempt. Shared gratitude and appreciation for your relationship and significant deepens your connection and cultivates mutual respect.

9. Balance Expectations

Expectations are attitudes and behaviors that we expect from other people. It’s healthy to have expectations for all of our relationships, especially our love relationships. It means that we value ourselves and we want to be treated with dignity and respect. Excusing disrespectful conduct in others leads to low self-esteem. However, having unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and upset. Balance is key.

10. Take Care of Your Own Self

We are responsible for our own self-care and happiness. You can show respect for your relationship by respecting yourself and being responsible for your own wellbeing. It is not your partner’s job to make you happy or heal your past wounds or trauma. Individuals who engage in respectful relationships cultivate positivity within and show up for your relationship as the best version of you.

How do you develop mutual respect?

Developing mutual respect in a relationship begins with fostering open and honest communication, where both partners feel heard and valued. It’s essential to actively listen, showing genuine interest and understanding in each other’s feelings and perspectives, without judgment. Practicing empathy, by putting oneself in the other’s shoes, can lead to deeper comprehension and appreciation of their experiences. Consistently showing appreciation for your partner’s qualities and contributions nurtures a culture of respect. Lastly, acknowledging and respecting differences, whether they pertain to opinions, needs, or boundaries, reinforces the importance of individuality within the partnership, fostering a healthy, respectful dynamic.

Can a relationship work without respect?

It is hard to accept not being respected by the people we value and love. People can stay in abusive relationships that lack partner respect however, it will not allow for a healthy connection. Relationships without respect are not emotionally safe. Respect means you are safe to be vulnerable with your partner which is required for intimacy. When you are struggling to gain respect or get someone to see your value, cultivating a safe emotional connection will not be possible. When someone is highly critical of who you are or does not appreciate your boundaries you will not be free to be yourself or express your identity.

What is lack of respect in a relationship?

The are many ways that lack of respect in a relationship can manifest. Some examples of disrespect are overt, such as harsh or critical words, physical abuse, and betrayal or infidelity. Other examples of lack of respect in a relationship are more challenging to identify. If you perceive that your partner is not making you a priority or if they overmanage or try to control you, this can also be a sign there is a lack of respect. They may not include you or avoid communication. They may also demand your attention or get angry when you don’t accommodate all of their needs. Refusing to talk about issues that are important to you, attempting to control the way you interact with your friends and family, or being dismissive of your needs can all point to a lack of respect.

10 signs of disrespect in a relationship

There may be times when the below feelings may show up even in the healthiest of relationships. However, if these states begin to become normal occurrences it may point to a lack of respect in your relationship. Just like it takes time time to learn negative or toxic patterns, you can also invest in personal growth and unlearn them. Learning healthy behaviors and more effective ways of communicating will help you build respect and trust in your relationship.

1. Conflicting Priorities

An intimate relationship is an consensual entity two or more people create that requires energy, presence, and time to maintain. Disrespect can stem from a person neglecting the needs of the relationship to provide overarching preference to other items. This can lead to an imbalance in which one person places more effort into the relationship than the other, which can lead to resentment or a sense of rejection. Preferring to spend time with other people than your partner when at an outing together can lead to disconnection and low cohesion in the relationship.

2. Dismissal

Minimizing your emotions and attempting to tell you how you should respond to a situation can convey dismissal. Lack of respect is also demonstrated when partners use the “silent treatment” to manipulate or when they refuse to take responsibility and label you as “overreacting” when a boundary or expectation was violated.

3. Criticism & Contempt

Targeting your character through critical remarks can be their defense mechanism to shield discomfort from deeper emotions and vulnerabilities. Regardless, when this happens leads to disrespect and blame if partner is unable to take responsibility for their part in the dynamic. If unmanaged, this behavior can lead to a split as they are two of Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and predictors of divorce.

4. Becoming Adversaries

Looking to win arguments leads to both partners losing their ability to work as a team and validate each other’s perspectives. When you focus on being right, it diminishes the ability to clearly listen to the other’s needs and more vulnerable emotions which reduces the level of safety and openness in the relationship.

5. Resistance to Compromise

Refusing to compromise leads to gridlock which increases dissatisfaction and can reduce the likelihood that future issues are addressed in a reasonable time-frame. When this happens it may reflect lack of understanding or an willingness to understand each other’s values and opinions. As a result, you may feel powerless and as if you don’t matter in the relationship.

6. Lack of Recognition

This may present as lack of interest in your accomplishments or lack of gratitude for your contributions to the relationship. With time, this type of treatment may lead to decreased motivation to maintain the relationship and low self-esteem due to beliefs that you are not good enough for your partner.

7. Trust Issues

Trust issues can form as a result of previous offenses in the relationship. However, if there is sincere remorse and continued commitment to the relationship or no evidence for lack of trust, it may be disrespectful to question your partner’s integrity.

8. Lying

Both overt lies and lying through omission can reflect disrespect. Fabricating details of an event to cover up behaviors that could offend partner, denying factual events, and concealing encounters with people who could pose potential threats to the relationship are some examples.

9. Poor Consideration & Communication

A lack of communication and not taking your partners needs into consideration when making life decisions big or small can leave your partner feeling excluded from your life. Failing to communicate plans, where you stand on certain issues, or your future goals and intentions can be disrespectful to your partner. We all need to maintain a sense of personal agency and autonomy in our relationships, however, partners also need to have access to one another and their inner narratives to experience their partner’s respect and emotional connection.

10. Lacking Value & Desire

Sensing that you are not valued or desired by your partner feels disrespectful because you may feel you don’t matter or that you can be replaced. One way we experience safety in romantic relationships is by knowing that our partner’s value efforts and accept our influence. It is important to communicate appreciation and love to one another and this can take many forms.

What do you do when your partner doesn’t respect you?

It is important to make the distinction between behavior from your partner that feels disrespectful at times versus a partner that doesn’t respect you as an individual. When your partner lacks respect for who you are fundamentally, it is time to move on from the relationship. We can not thrive in relationships with people who do not support our well being, speak to us in ways that are demeaning, or devalue who we are individuals. However, if you know you are loved and supported by your partner but at times their behavior leaves you feeling disregarded or hurt in some way, it is possible to identify and work through these issues by talking through these experiences and finding ways to improve communication. Working with a couples therapist can give you the tools to improve your relationship, assuming that your relationship is grounded in mutual respect.




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