When you think about what makes a relationship successful, your answers would probably be similar to others: chemistry, timing, sexual attraction.
But what about respect? Have you stopped to consider how important respect from your partner is to you?
I got into a relationship in college that quickly turned emotionally abusive. A common theme amongst my ex’s actions—criticizing me, name-calling, dismissing my feelings—was a lack of respect.
That might be an extreme case, but I hear friends talk about doing the same sort of actions on smaller scales. Then they point fingers at what is going wrong in their relationship when, really, a finger should be pointed back at them.
Researchers Jennifer R. Frei and Phillip R. Shaver at UC Davis surveyed college students on the topic of respect. They found that people who felt more respect from their partner also felt more satisfied in the relationship.
Lack of respect in a relationship is more likely to erode at a relationship. It’s a vicious cycle that once you feel disrespected by a partner, you start to lose respect for them as well.
But a lot of actions of disrespect are so small they can easily go undetected. It can be as simple as a gesture or phrase that makes your partner feel like you don’t appreciate them.
The most common ways partners show disrespect are:
Calling your partner names. There’s never a just time to call someone an “idiot” or “jerk.” Name-calling does no good for a relationship. All it achieves is making your partner feel distanced from you.
Criticizing them. This includes when you’re in front of your partner and also what you say about them to others. Disrespect doesn’t always happen in-person; bad-mouthing your partner when they’re not around is a sign you’re not on the same team.
Showing contempt through body language. This looks like rolling your eyes, crossing your arms, refusing to look at your partner, etc. They’re simple gestures but ones that create a barrier for healthy communication.
The bright side of all of this is, there are easy ways to show your partner respect. Aside from cutting out the above, try changing your behavior in these ways:
1. Accept that you both have different opinions/ways of doing things
The man I dated in college berated me over the littlest of things: how I cleaned the bathroom, the way I ate, and my political beliefs.
He had no respect for the fact I wasn’t just like him.
If your goal in a relationship is to find someone you never disagree with, you’re going to be on that journey for the rest of your life.
No two people share the exact same views and opinions, and that’s not a bad thing. Being with someone that has opinions different from yours means you have a chance to widen your perspective and learn a bit about acceptance.
Instead of trying to make your partner see things your way, respect that you both see things differently, and that’s a beautiful thing. Let your partner be who they are.
2. Practice trusting
Respecting someone includes trusting them until they give you a reason not to.
But this is hard for people, especially when their trust has been broken in the past.
This aspect of my current relationship is one I struggle with. After having men threaten to leave me and lovers cheat on me, I am wary of giving my heart to someone new.
And I know I’m not the only one. Relationship expert John Gottman cites trust issues as being the most prevalent amongst couples.
If you’re like me and trust doesn’t come easily, you have to build it up. Communicate with your partner your experience with trust. Take note of moments when your partner was there for you. Consider the beliefs you hold around romantic love and whether they’re logically based on your current relationship or not.
Creating trust with your partner is a process you can only do for someone you respect.
3. Listen to what they say
Actively listening to your partner is more than just the everyday listening people do. It involves actually hearing and understanding what the other person is saying.
When you actively listen, you’re telling your partner, “I very much care about what you’re conveying to me. I am here for you.”
All too often, people are so caught up in what they’ll say next, they don’t actually hear what their partner says. You might overstep their words or completely miss their point.
But actively listening strengthens relationships. Researchers in Switzerland found that couples who felt heard by their partners also felt happier about their relationship.
So next time your partner wants to talk about something serious, sit down with them. Put away your phone. Make eye contact as they speak to you. Focus on exactly what they’re saying and ask questions if you don’t understand.
Respect your partner by giving them your undistracted time and attention.
4. Don’t play games
There’s a lot of reasons people play games. I used to because I felt insecure. I didn’t want to come off as eager, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to text first.
Whatever the reason, playing games is ultimately disrespectful and deeply hurtful to a relationship.
If a couple gets into a fight, one of them not texting the other person back does a few things: it prolongs the fight and doesn’t respect the time of the other person.
The same goes for other forms of playing games, like guilt-tripping, withholding affection, giving too much affection, etc.; they’re all going to cause you and your partner pain.
Instead, practice healthy communication. It not only shows respect to your partner, but you’ll be happier in the long run, too.
5. Validate your partner’s feelings
Don’t dismiss your partner’s feelings as “irrational” or “dramatic.”
What someone feels is what they feel, no matter if you agree. The fact is, when your partner is upset, they’re upset. And you telling them not to be isn’t going to help.
As psychologist Carl Rogers said, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”
That’s because when a person validates your feelings rather than dismissing them, they’re entering your world. They stay with you in the moment and try to see things from your perspective.
Respect how your partner feels by validating their feelings. Statements like, “I can see you’re upset” or “I understand why you’re mad” go a long way.
Respect is an easy thing to give that means a lot to someone, your partner included.
If you think your relationship lacks respect, start with changing your actions. Sometimes, we think we aren’t part of the problem, and most of the time, that’s not the case.
Your partner is most likely a top priority, so show them the above and beyond respect they deserve.