R-E-S-P-E-C-T Not feeling respected in your relationship? Does your voice carry no weight? Learn how to be heard and get the respect you deserve in your relationship. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Take steps to receive the respect that you deserve in your marriage.
Why do I… feel like it’s my fault when my spouse disrespects me. We’ve been married for six years and it seems like it’s starting to get worse. It becomes, "my way or the highway," and I regret to say, but I let it go. How do I make it so I feel respected again without starting WWIII?
If you ask couples what qualities go into making a happy marriage, you’ll hear things like love, trust and shared interest. Almost always, though, the list will include "respect."
Let’s take a good look at what respect means and how such a simple word weaves its way in and out of relationships. As children, we were cautioned that, at all times, we must "respect our elders." In our evolving brains, we figure that means something like, "Don’t talk back to someone who’s older than you, even if you think he is wrong." And remember those high school assemblies where guest lecturers came and tried to teach you (and the guy who was shooting spit balls at the back of your neck) about how to get along with your peers? Yup, sure enough, it was the R-word all over again.
So what message have adults been trying to jam down our throats since childhood? They’ve been selling on the idea that fellow humans should be treated as if they matter. That means showing interest in them, allowing them to speak their mind and valuing their thoughts, actions and words.
The problem with the "respect" concept is that we think we know when it’s there, but it’s hard to pin down. It’s pretty obvious that when the Pope walks into the room, and a cardinal bows and kisses his ring, that’s respect! Alternatively, we all know that when someone flips us the bird and tells us to blow it out our behinds, that they are showing disrespect. But we’ve also heard stories about kids shooting each other on street corners because they were wearing the wrong color, or prisoners stabbing one another because one didn’t look down quickly enough. The reason for the violence: "disrespect."
Respect in Marriage
When it comes to marriage, feeling disrespected may take many forms. It may mean that when you have an opinion, your mate doesn’t pay attention. It may mean that when you have an opinion, your mate disagrees with you. It may mean that when you voice your opinion, your mate goes into a tantrum and says you’re the dumbest human being to ever walk the face of the earth. In all cases, depending on who you are, and in what situation, you may feel disrespected. (Although, if your mate’s response results in dangerous behavior, you ought to clear out!)
In most cases, feeling disrespected is really about not feeling heard. Studies show that when one mate makes a bid for attention and the other consistently misses it, it could spell trouble for a marriage. So before you flash this article in front of your mate and say, "See here, bozo, you’re just not listening," consider some of these steps to regain the feeling of respect that you deserve. And, you’ll notice, my tips start with what you should do… not what you should expect from your mate!
1. Are you doing your best to let your partner know that you understand what he or she is saying before you try to respond? Rather than jump in and with a counterpoint, try asking clarification questions and restating what it is that you thought you heard. When someone feels listened to, that leads to a drop in defenses.
2. Remember what linguistic experts say: on average, men communicate to establish power and women communicate to build alliances. Women shouldn’t take it personally when men talk excitedly and men shouldn’t dismiss their wives perspective just because it’s not as direct than they’d like. If you misinterpret these cues, you may misperceive your partner’s style as disrespect.
3. Whenever your mate makes good points, acknowledge and agree. Verbal acceptance of positive interactions softens the blow for when you have different opinion of things.
4. Once your partner feels understood, take some time to think things through. Is this a really important issue for you or is it one that really won’t make a big difference in the long run? That gives you a chance to let it go even before the argument begins.
5. When you want to be heard, approach the issue clearly and lovingly. Rather than pointing out blame, say what you need. When you express things warmly, it’s a lot more difficult for your mate to be defensive.
There are lots of bad guys and gals in the world who have no respect for anyone. But there are lots of caring and loving folks who make others feel disrespected because of how they communicate. Try working on your communication style; you’d be surprised to find that when someone feels heard (and respected) he or she’s a lot more likely to treat you with respect in return.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of the newly released "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com