Live Respectfully! While you cannot arrange to always feel loving toward your partner, you can make a commitment to never treat anyone, including yourself, with less than respect and to never allow others’ behavior towards you to drop below the level of respect. For instance, consider the difference between saying “That’s not true!” and “I see that differently from you.” The first respects only my point of view. The second recognizes that people who see the world differently are not necessarily right or wrong. They may be only different. Living with respect means respecting both yourself and the other. It means holding a position of valuing each person’s thoughts, feelings, needs, wants and unique experience of the world, even when these are in conflict.
The question arises, “Who defines what is respectful and what is not?” Most of us know intuitively what constitutes respect or disrespect for us. However, it is also important that you and your partner share with each other your own definitions of respectful or disrespectful behavior. To a great extent, respect is in the eye of the beholder. Respecting each other’s sensitivities around what feels disrespectful, even if you do not perceive it the same way, is a powerful move that puts your relationship on a firm foundation of respectful living.
However, you may find that you and your partner have some intense conflicts over what constitutes “disrespect.” For instance, if your partner grew up in a proper New England family where voices and energy are always kept low and calm, they may feel disrespected when you, who grew up in a boisterous Italian family, raises your voice and energy in a “discussion.” On the other hand, you, as the more high energy partner, may feel disrespected because when your partner refuses to engage with you at this level. So now what?
This is an excellent time to practice respect! Both of you can let go of defining your way as “the respectful way” and work to value the merits of the other’s style. You can work together to find a “middle ground” that incorporates both the “peace and quiet” of the “New England” style and the energy and engagement of the “Italian” style. Develop “our” style – one that fits for both of you.
There are a couple of other important points about living respectfully.
Blatantly disrespectful behavior, e.g. lying, cheating, screaming, name-calling, disregarding agreements, poisons your relationship in several ways. First of all, in behaving in these ways, you move to a position of disregard, even contempt, for your partner. From this position, there can be no love or connection. Secondly, when you treat your partner in these ways, they will inevitably build up resentment at being regarded as unworthy of respect. There also can be no love or connection when one is filled with resentment. So, your chance for loving connection takes a double hit.
Lastly, behaving respectfully towards your partner is a critical piece of maintaining your own self-respect. When you allow yourself to be blatantly disrespectful of your partner and/or your relationship, you cannot feel good about yourself. So, refraining from such behaviors is a great way to support your own sense of being a good human being.
We never outgrow our need to feel loved by the people with whom we are in a relationship. The best way to grow a committed loving relationship is by working to help your partner feel loved by you. Love is the grease that allows the wheel of life to rotate smoothly.
Being a loving partner takes intention and skill. Intention involves the internal commitment to yourself to be kind, considerate and respectful in all of your actions and communication. Skill means that you have been willing to break old self-defeating habits and have learned some new ways to demonstrate the loving side of your nature.
Here are some skills you can practice:
1. Give your partner a verbal appreciation every day! Remind yourself of your partner’s best traits and behaviors and tell your partner how much you appreciate that aspect of his/her personhood. Be explicit and be concrete. “You are a good Mom” is a nice start. “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out” is more concrete, specific and personal. If you want to learn how to make your appreciations even more powerful, practice telling your partner how you interpreted his/her excellent behaviors. For example, “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out. When I saw you do that I realized how you are teaching him self-soothing skills even as you are giving him a consequence for his bad behavior. What a great move!”
2. Give your gifts from your heart. Gifts that have strings attached are likely to blow up in your face. When your partner senses that you are being nice because you want something in return, an alarm goes off in your partner’s survival brain that says, “Danger! Danger!” Instead of closeness, you get distance and wariness. And you wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Gifts, (i.e. both verbal appreciations and material presents) must be given freely with loving kindness and without expectations.
3. Use the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is an excellent principal for treating others with consideration and respect. It is often referred to as the ethic of reciprocity. However, it can backfire in relationships. If you use your behavior in the relationship to attempt to signal to your partner what you secretly want given back to you, miscommunication often results. Take, for example, the anniversary where the husband (who wants more touching in the relationship) gives his wife a fancy electric massage machine. At the same time, the wife (who privately wishes they would spend intimate time reading aloud to each other) gives her husband a book of love poems. They pretend to appreciate what they received from the partner, but secretly feel disappointed and misunderstood.
In place of the Golden Rule, we suggest an updated version for love relationships. Harville Hendrix has called this the Platinum Rule. The Platinum Rule says, “Do unto your partner as your partner would have you do unto them.” Take the time to learn and to remember what your partner likes to receive. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, can help you and your partner understand each other’s primary and secondary love receptors. To become the best lover you can be, you need to give your partner what they most long for, not what you think they ought to appreciate.
Learn the art of loving yourself at no one else’s expense. This skill is not as easy as it might sound. It means that you hold yourself in warm regard without feeling that you are better than others. And, that you can acknowledge your faults and imperfections without feeling that you are less than others.
One of the most destructive things to self-esteem (and relationships) is the subconscious belief that your personal worth is negotiable or that some people have more intrinsic worth than others. While it is true that people have different levels of wealth, ability, intelligence, motivation, beauty, and so on, you need to avoid the trap of believing that these surface differences determine your core value as a human being.
No matter how much money, ability or friends you have or don’t have, your spiritual value remains the same. All of the surface characteristics can change. Who you are remains the same and that is your value.
Our culture, unfortunately, teaches us that everything is comparative and competitive, including the intrinsic worth of persons. Those with more ability, wealth, achievements, beauty, etc. are looked up to as superior human beings. It tells us that, if you are born a member of a privileged group, you are entitled to more respect than those in less favored groups.
This cultural myth is toxic to everyone’s well-being. Those who, by some accident of birth, have less of the attributes considered valuable, or are members of a less valued group, most often struggle to feel worthy. Those who are born with more tend to base their sense of their worth on these things that are not intrinsic to their humanity and often lose touch with the things that give humans their core value.
If you really want to build your sense of your own intrinsic value you can do this by focusing on developing the qualities that make us truly human.
Love. Take time daily to contact the love you feel for others.
Appreciate beauty. Pause frequently to appreciate scenes of natural, and/or humanly created beauty…. i.e. things that awe and inspire you.
Connect with the spiritual. Regularly bring to mind whatever it is that connects you the spiritual in life.
Cultivate compassion. Take time to reflect with compassion on all those who are suffering or struggling in their lives.
Practice kindness. Regularly make a point of doing small acts of kindness.
Value relationships. Work on improving all your relationships by following the suggestions in this booklet.
These qualities or activities are what are unique to us as human beings. They make us most human. And only we are in control of whether we possess them. We can forget them or lose connection with them but no one can take them away from us.
“To err is human.” We all make mistakes. However our personalities are programmed by our early life experiences so be overly critical and harsh on ourselves. You must learn, as an adult, to practice forgiveness and compassion within yourself. When you fail or behave badly, you practice self-esteem by holding yourself in warm regard while acknowledging what you have done that didn’t work well. When you realize that you have hurt someone, you regret your behavior and decide what you will do differently in the future. You refrain from beating yourself up and indulging in feeling like a loser.
Develop and use a personal mantra to remind yourself of your essential value as a human being. Repeat it in your thoughts throughout the day until it becomes a basic stone in the foundation of your thinking. You might read a book on affirmations to explore how to create a personal version that is individually constructed for your life at this moment in time.
Some examples of personal uplifting sayings other people have used are: “I am a blessed child of God!” “I am no better or worse than anyone else!” “I deserve love and happiness.” “I’m enough and I matter.” Repeat your personal message to yourself twelve to twenty times a day. When you do this you are actually building new neural pathways in your brain. You are re-programing your inner mind to believe in those parts of you that are human, decent, compassionate, humble and virtuous.
You begin the journey to a better relationship by learning to TURN TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER.
This is not as easy as it sounds. You have learned to protect yourself in times of strife with a variety of healthy psychological defenses. These are your basic survival mechanisms. In the animal kingdom, this is often referred to as “fight or flight.”
In the relationship world, it is called “the distancer-pursuer dance.”
Turning towards your partner involves the creation of different behavioral steps depending on whether you are a pursuer (i.e. emotional, excitable, easily hurt, moving into your partner’s personal space to pursue an argument, etc.) or a distancer (i.e. pulling back, saying very little, shutting down, feeling overwhelmed, etc.)
To understand the differences, look at the following diagrams:
(Two diagrams: Pursuer/Distancer on left and Two Healthy Adults on the right)
This drawing indicates that there is an imaginary line or boundary between you and your partner. Honoring this boundary is a very important thing to learn to do. As a pursuer, you have a pattern of barging across this line when you are upset as if to say, “I am angry, and we are going to talk about this right now.”
Withdrawers tend to respond to that behavior as creating a feeling of danger; therefore, as a withdrawer, you pull back a great distance and say, “We can talk about this when you have calmed down, and we can both be civil.” Unfortunately, both of these behaviors are misinterpreted by the partners, and your behavior elicits the exact opposite of what you really want. The distancing inflames the pursuer into more forward action, and the forward action scares the distancer deeper into his/her personal space.
Understanding this dynamic with hopefully allow you to meet in the middle. That meeting constitutes the first step. The pursuer must move up to, but not over, the boundary line and must modulate his/her voice, tone and posture. The distancer must move forward, up to the boundary line, and show his/her partner through eye contact, voice and posture that you are available for a discussion and not going to run away.
The reason this works to calm the situation down is that your new behavior is speaking to the underlying fear of your partner. The modulated pursuer is saying, “I do not want to overwhelm you with my emotions and energy.” At the same time, the emotionally available distancer is communicating, “I do not want you to feel abandoned by me.”
This is the beginning of the joint creation of SAFETY in the relationship. When you change your behavior while your partner is changing his/her behavior, a deeper sense of comfort and connection will begin to grow. Both of you will benefit from the renewed intimacy that follows.
Our first tip is called PRESUME SANITY.
Your relationship will benefit from assuming that you are in love with a person who is sane, reasonable, thoughtful and different from you. Viva la difference! If your partner always sees things the way you see them, your relationship would be boring and dull.
Often when we are in the middle of a fight with our partner we think to ourselves something like: “What you just said does not make any sense at all.” Then we argue our side of the fight even stronger trying to convince the other person of the wisdom or rightness of our point of view.
We dispute the relevance or accuracy of what our partner just said to bolster their viewpoint. This kind of fighting is like skeet shooting, i.e. let me see how many of your ideas I can shoot down.
When using this strategy you are invariably infuriating your partner even as you are trying to settle the dispute. Why? Because you are saying to them (in words or attitude) “You are not making sense!” At its core this statement is a gigantic dismissal of the other person’s intellect and thinking. It tends to elicit anger and renewed attacks from their side of the battle line.
When we look closely at the deeper message in the communication, what we find is that you are non-verbally communicating to your partner, “You are not believable because you are not making MY sense.” When viewed through this filter, it becomes evident that you have become arrogant and pompous and that you are passing judgment on the other’s ideas because they do not agree with your own. In short, you have become an ass.
Imagine how different your behavior would be if you thought to yourself: “Everything that you say and do is always making sense from inside your world view. If I knew more about what you were thinking I could understand why you just said that.” We call this PRESUMING SANITY.
Indeed this is completely true. Your partner is always making sense to themselves. You are in love with a sane, reasonable, thoughtful and considerate person who is currently dealing with a problem in a manner that is different from yours.
Viva la difference. If we married someone who thought just like us life would be stale and boring. The hidden function of marital disagreements is to bring the partners closer together through improved self-esteem, healthy adult negotiation skills and excellence in communication.
One primary skill that needs to be mastered to become a competent partner is the skill of sustaining two subjective realities simultaneously. There will always be your view and your partners view operating at all times. Viewing your partner as “the opposition” and shooting down their ideas is a losing strategy. It sets up a winner/ loser posture and guarantees that even when you “win” the argument, you create more distance and competition inside the relationship.
We work to be respectful in order to uphold the adult functions of equality and mutuality. You know that you are always making sense, right? You think it should be obvious to the people around you. Why not extend that same privilege to the people with whom you are talking? When you both presume sanity in the other, gentle mutual conflict resolution occurs almost all the time.
Written by Howard Lambert, PhD