All of us are unique. Therefore, every couple is different. And so are our relationships.

In the previous contribution on marriage and relationship we discussed the relationship as a partnership between two individuals. In this paper I want to shift the focus a little to the individuals in the relationship and more specifically to the place respect should take within the relationship.

Respect is generally understood in terms of the value of something or some-one. It is a positive feeling or action. Simply put, in a marriage or relationship respect is about viewing and treating ourselves and our partner in a positive light, as someone who brings value to me as person but also the relationship we share.

When we choose to commit in a relationship with our partner, we choose to love each other. This decision implies that we care for each other even when we at times may find it difficult to like each other.

Let’s start this conversation with a saying about respect that we often hear or even use ourselves: “Respect is earned, not given…” But what does this mean? Although we may not find consensus on an interpretation, it implies that we can/will only respect another person if they “deserve” it. We take on a moral high ground and judge whether the other person is worthy of our respect; they must prove their worthiness. The implication of this reasoning is that we have the right to decide whether we want to respect another person – we set the terms and conditions for respect. By default, we choose to disrespect until we decide otherwise. This cannot be. I would not want to be in a relationship with someone who perceives respect in this way. It is in fact disrespectful.

Respect for me is about value. It starts with me. When I respect myself, then it will become easy and safe to respect others and for others to respect me. I cannot bring regard into a partnership if I do not value myself. Do I equally hold my partner in high esteem? Can I allow my partner a safe space to be herself/himself by complimenting and not criticizing at home and/or in public?

But I cannot regard myself as being my best friend, when I feel ashamed, hurt, insecure, when I am angry or defensive and when I constantly try to prove myself as (more) important. I may feel I always need to be right or be in control. This will make me feel I do not deserve respect and others will not respect me. Feeling sorry for me or enforcing respect is not respect.

It helps when we risk being more honest with ourselves, when we learn to identify our strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge we are a “work in process”.  We all come with our good points and imperfections. We should not expect perfection from ourselves or our partner but try to accept ourselves as well as our partner by creating a safe space to communicate. This will help you build respect in a relationship.

Respect in a relationship is based on communicating care and consideration for ourselves and our partner. It allows for sharing feelings safely but does not accept destructive behaviour. Respect is about communicating needs but also setting boundaries of what is acceptable to both partners. Respect is about value and has no room for belittling ourselves or our partner.

The last words; respect yourself. Respect your partner.