More often than not when couples find their way to my office their number one complaint is dissatisfaction in the way they communicate with one another. I would go as far as to say 95% of couples I meet with are unhappy with the way they talk and/or disagree with each other. While I don’t want to discount the complaint of communication, I find that often times it is not the communication that is the biggest issue, but rather the level of respect between partners.
Respect and healthy communication tend to go hand in hand. When you respect someone, you tend to be kinder, more thoughtful with your words, and less abrasive or argumentative. Respect is often something you give freely to strangers or authority figures, but when it comes to the person who is closest to you, the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with…well then respect often falls by the wayside.
When communicating with those closest to you, respect tends to take a back seat to your desire to speak freely, without filtering your responses. Don’t let your reluctance to filter lead to the unnecessarily hurt feelings of your spouse. Increasing respect within your relationship does not mean you can’t disagree or even argue with your spouse from time to time. What it does mean is that the way you disagree and argue will change for the better.
Your mindfulness around the ways in which you show respect and your willingness to continually show your spouse respect will lead to better communication and a healthier relationship. The following are a few tips to help you on your journey to better respecting your spouse.
Think Before You Speak
The idea of thinking before speaking is one that has been permanently implanted in many of our brains since childhood. I can still hear my mom’s voice ringing in my ears. While the idea of thinking before you speak may seem familiar, there are times when you don’t heed that advice. So I urge you you to take a moment to think about the intention of your words and what you want the other person to hear. Choose your words carefully and be mindful of your tone. When you speak from a place of calmness, kindness, or compromise you have a better chance of your partner feeling respected and in turn hearing and understanding you.
No “I” in “Team”
Like many of us, you have probably become accustom to disagreeing or arguing with your partner. Afterall, it is normal to disagree in relationships. Unfortunately, what happens all too often is that we take a simple disagreement and make it a mission to win. Focusing on winning the disagreement puts your focus solely on your needs and on being right, often at all costs. Remember, for you to win you have to force your partner into a losing role. Even when (and maybe especially when) you know you’re right, you have a responsibility to your spouse to be respectful. In sports or at home, being a sore winner will not build healthy relationships. Respect and graciousness will go a long way.
Honor and Protect
Remember the vows you spoke that beautiful day you agreed to share your lives. Whether in times of joy, neutrality, or anger it is important to respect your spouse’s boundaries and do your part to protect his/her emotional and physical well-being. When you refuse to compromise your partner’s emotional or physical health you are demonstrating your respect for him/her. Protecting your spouse can look like many things, but most notably it refers to the absence of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. Threats, name calling, and aggression are forms of disrespect that put your partner’s well being at risk and go against the idea of protecting. Making a commitment to respect your spouse means you consider his/her needs as well as your own. That you will protect instead of attack.
Respect can mean different things to different people. If you are in doubt of what respect could or should look like in your relationship, the old adage, “treat others as you would like to be treated” is always a good place to start. If respect has slipped away in your relationship it can be difficult to revive it. Do your best to commit to demonstrating respect towards your partner. As you make the necessary changes I encourage you to first request and then require your partner to do the same.
When you genuinely respect and demonstrate that respect to your partner – communication improves and many other relationship difficulties tend to heal as a result.
About the Author
Amber Groves is a Marriage and Family Therapist and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler and a new little baby.