HOW TO SHOW YOUR PARTNER RESPECT
Love is Respect: The happiest and most stable relationships are those in which respect is present. As a marriage counselor in the Denver area and online, I have found this to be true time and time again.
Respect is a word that most of us hear from the time we’re very young. We are taught to respect our elders, to respect people in positions of authority, to respect people that have taught us valuable lessons, to respect our mentors. Why isn’t our partner on this list?
When we respect our partner we tell them and show them that they matter to us, that we see them, that we hear them, that we value them not only as our partner but as a human being.
Love is Respect: What Does It Mean to Respect Someone?
The word respect can feel very non-romantic, especially when it’s paired with authoritative relationship dynamics. Not only that, but it can mean something a little different to each person and depending on the situation that it’s present in.
Respect is built over time; It develops and diminishes based on the interactions or experiences that you have with another person. What makes respect special is that if lost, it can be rebuilt and repaired. It’s ever-changing and growing with the relationship.
I think if I were to ask you if respect matters in your relationship, most would say that it does. Over my years of working with couples, I have come to notice 2 trends that may arise in regards to respect and love with my couples clients:
- Couples will express to me how much they love their partner, but how they lack respect.
- Other couples will talk about the immense respect they feel for their partner, but also share that they have lost the love they once felt.
There seems to be a disconnect in these relationships between love and respect. If couples are able to bridge the gap between respect and love, respect can be a powerful tool to enhance love within a relationship. So how can we use respect to enhance love? How can we work to increase the respect we show to our partner?
[When your relationship is in distress, it can be difficult to connect on the emotional and physical level you once did. This can play a big role in respect. Read: The Healing Power of Marriage Counseling]
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How to Increase Respect in Your Relationship
It is not easy to identify a universal formula for respect that applies to all couples. Sometimes, the longing for respect can feel one-sided, or perhaps each partner may have a different and individualized answer of how respect in the relationship should look.
While we are all entitled to our definition of respect, there are seven things that every couple can practice to build and encourage respect in their relationship. I’d like to share these seven things we can all do to start increasing the level of respect we show to our partner:
1. Ask for Your Partner’s Opinion
When you ask for your partner’s opinion on any given issue or event that you are dealing with, you are essentially showing your partner that you value their advice. By asking your partner for their opinion and opening up dialogue on something that you’re internally wrestling with, you are actively and intentionally asking for your partner’s help.
This is not to say that you couldn’t figure it out on your own, but that you truly value what they have to say and what they offer the relationship – especially in times of need.
2. Accept Your Partner’s Influence in Your Relationship
Accepting influence is about sharing power in the relationship. This can be for decisions and beliefs that impact your relationship as well as individual decisions and beliefs. When we accept influence we take our partner’s opinions and feelings into account. Accepting influence doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your partner says or feels. By accepting influence we show that we believe our partner adds value to our life.
3. Seek to Understand Your Partner
As a marriage counselor, couples who struggle to show respect will enter our beginning sessions expressing that their partner “doesn’t understand me” or “doesn’t understand why/how this affects me” or even “doesn’t understand what I put up with.” It can be easy, especially in long-term relationships, to think that we know everything that’s going on with our partner but to never actually ASK the other person “how are feeling about this” or “what does this mean to you?” or “can you help me understand?”
As we seek to understand our partner better, there are two main listening skills we can use. First, we can ask questions to better understand what it is that our partner is feeling or experiencing.
Secondly, we can rephrase what we are understanding (“what I hear you saying is…”) rather than using the phrase, “I understand.”
I often see couples skip the step of understanding their partner and jump to finding a solution or critiquing. I like to encourage my couples clients to take the time to slow a conversation down and work to understand what their partner thinks, feels, believes, values, etc.. In doing this, we show our partner that they’re important to us – We show them that they’re worth our time, and isn’t that the most powerful form of respect and love?
[Here’s more on: Communication that Connects]
4. Express Gratitude Towards Your Partner
A powerful tool that is on the tip of your tongue is gratitude. By expressing gratitude you are acknowledging that the efforts your partner puts into the relationship has a positive impact on you and that you notice them. Expressing gratitude shows that you value their efforts.
Instead of “Happy to see you finally took the trash out” try, “I appreciate you taking the trash out.” It doesn’t have to be a grand expression, it can be as simple as, “I appreciate you…” When your partner feels appreciated, they feel seen. Is gratitude the fix all for marital strife? Absolutely not, but it does make a lasting impression and provides encouragement through the growth process.
5. Show Your Partner Love that is Meaningful to Them
Be intentional about how you show your partner love. When your efforts match what your partner perceives as love it will be more meaningful to them. This often requires practice because how your partner accepts love may not be what comes most naturally to you. We naturally like to give love the same way that we like to receive love, but we all receive love differently. If you are unsure of how your partner feels most loved, ask them.
Intentionally loving your partner shows them that they matter to you, that you’re willing to think about and act in ways that are most meaningful to them. It shows that you’re willing to put in extra effort that they find meaningful.
6. Use Care and Consideration When Providing Feedback
Every relationship requires feedback from time to time. A romantic partnership though requires a level of care and consideration when providing feedback. I like to remind couples that this is the most precious relationship that they have, and it should encourage vulnerability and openness. However, when feedback is expressed in a negative, angry, or disrespectful way – that vulnerable and open relationship reacts by throwing up walls and reflecting that negative, angry, and disrespectful behavior back. This cycle can be damaging to the relationship beyond repair if not kept in check. [To learn more about the destructive cycle of criticism and defensiveness, check out this article on The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse.]
By expressing feedback in a caring and considerate way, you’re showing that you are aware of the impact you have on your partner and your relationship and that this impact matters to you.
When you are kind and considerate in the way you provide feedback to your partner, you are showing that you believe you are equals. When we don’t use care and consideration we create an unhealthy power dynamic in which we send the message that we believe we’re superior to our partner. Whether or not you actually believe you are, that precedent can then greatly impact your connection down the road.
7. Tell Your Partner That You Love Them and Why
Not only is it important to tell your partner how you feel about them and your relationship, but also it’s helpful to tell them why. I often hear couples say, “Well, it goes without saying.” More often than not, a partner’s response to that statement is something along the lines of, “I had no idea!” If you ever feel that something positive about your partner goes without saying, say it anyway – they would love to hear it (as I’m sure you would too!).
As we do these seven things we will begin to not only show more respect but also have the ability to deepen the level of love we actually feel towards our partner. Respect is something we can always work towards deepening to enhance our relationship. As we show more respect we will have happier and more stable relationships.
Meet Hunter: an experienced licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping people just like you reach their highest potential both individually and in their most important relationships. He provides couples counseling, family therapy, individual therapy, and life coaching that focuses on creating understanding and fostering strong connections that support healing, compassion, and personal growth.
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