Relationship advice is everywhere and you often hear in the poly community that the mantra is communicate – communicate – communicate… You will hear mention of making agreements, boundaries and of course the importance of love. Respect however is often mentioned in passing and yet respect is paramount in successful happy relationships, romantic or otherwise.
A few months ago, while channel surfing, I came across a biography interview with Reba McEntire. The interviewer was asking her about her long and successful relationship with her husband and if she attributed their success to love. She laughed slightly and said “no”. She explained that love while important had little to do with success in her relationship but respect for each other had been and still was essential.
Her answer intrigued me and set off my brain analyzing my relationships. A few days later I was on the phone with a client. She was lamenting her failed relationships and as she talked I remembered the interview I had seen. I asked her a question, “I know you have loved your partners but how many have you respected and have they respected you?” There was a silent pause for a minute and she replied “now that I think on it none.” She had been in a series of relationships with a lot of passion, drama and intensity but little to no respect. Many of us are enthralled with the idea that love will carry us through and if you just love someone enough you can overcome anything. As I looked over my own life and relationships I realized respect and not love was what has been the biggest difference between success and failure in my own relationships.
Why is respect so important and what is respect? Respect is a combination of appreciation, admiration and recognition of a person being worth something. It can feel at time esoteric but most people understand respect. In our modern world respect is sometimes confused with fear. Gangs kill and fight for respect but what they get is fear. Domestic abusers may also beat their partner and demand respect and again they get fear not respect. In these situations it can be a cycle because as fear of a person builds we lose respect for them as a human being. As regard and respect go down the need of the abuser to force respect goes up, leading to more abuse. We also can confuse the all encompassing feeling of being in love with respect. When we meet this amazing person and we set them up on a pedestal, they are perfect through our foggy vision of chemical reactions to NRE. We do not really see who they are but rather our projection of what we want to see. This can be especially challenging because it is so easy to confuse the pedestal of perfection as respect.
True respect is seeing someone, flaws and all, and still feeling appreciation of their unique talents, gifts and insights. It is not expecting perfection nor is it beating someone into submission. President Obama is to me a great example of a person who commands respect. Not by using his position but simply by his thoughtfulness, intelligence and presence, unlike past politicians who appear to believe people should simply respect them because of their position and not who they are. Obama, though I often am not happy with his policies, is a person I respect. I don’t have to like everything a person does or agree with them to respect them. On the other hand, I can really care for someone and not respect them.
Respect, like many things, begins with the self. Before we can truly respect others we must like and respect ourselves. If we feel we are worthless, dumb, a bad lover, too this or too that, we will often treat ourselves badly. We will beat ourselves up in our own mind. Then when we meet another person we usually fall in to one of two categories; the “I am not worthy” as we put our partner on a pedestal or the “there must be something wrong with this person if they like me.” At first when we are in the NRE stage, we are on cloud nine, all is right in the world and nothing else matters. The NRE can last a while and when we are in it we do not think about respect, we are consumed by passion. Over time, NRE wanes and if you do not respect or like yourself the questioning and insecurity start to undermine the relationship.
When we love and respect ourselves we treat others with respect and we receive the same respect in return. When you really take a moment to think about treating your partners with respect, it can solve so many issues. When we respect a person, we trust them to handle the truth in the long run so we are honest, we trust their judgment in other relationships and we will demand that other partners treat our partners with respect. We will let our partner know when we are running late, make a mistake, violate an agreement or just need time alone. When we give respect to someone we listen to what they have to say and do not blame them for our issues. So many relationship challenges would be easier to deal with if we just take a moment to think about the respect we have for our partner and demonstrate that in our actions.
This respect goes beyond primary relationships and extends to our partners amors. Respect of secondary relationships is just as important. Respecting time they have set aside for each other, giving room for their relationship to grow and supporting your partner’s choices. If we respect all partners involved and they respect us the same rules apply, communication, honesty and consideration are given out of respect and relationships can flow more smoothly. In my experience when my primary nesting partner is seeing/dating someone and that person treats me and our relationship with respect then things work smoothly and everyone is happy. When they ignore agreements, push boundaries and in general act with disrespect, it is hard and challenging to all involved.
When we withhold the truth, play games or manipulate, we are saying we do not respect a person whether a primary or secondary relationship. We do not feel they can handle the truth. We do not trust them to get through the challenges in a given situation so we try to protect them as if they are a child. This is also true when we put a person on a pedestal, and expect them to somehow fix us. If we feel they are better than us and we see them as above us somehow, then we do not really see who they really are. The challenge with this is that when they do not live up to our expectations we can become angry and blame them for not being what we thought they were. This can be crazy making, dramatic and passionate but it rarely leads to long term healthy relating.
Looking at relationships I have witnessed, including my own, the most successful were undeniably people who held each other with great respect. This is as true of business partnerships as it is of lovers and even parents with their children. This is not to say they don’t fight or face challenges in relationships but rather these relationships have a grounded base of respect to help get through the challenges. When you come from a place of respect you do not give ultimatums or make set in stone demands, you negotiate with consideration for your partners and your own needs and feelings.
In all this contemplation I had to ask myself did I respect my partners, their ideas, intelligence, and who they are deep inside? My answer is yes, though it has not always been true in past relationships. In the past I have dated people I loved but did not respect; usually these were people who did not really like or respect themselves and I was trying to be the hero and “fix” them. Now I prefer healthier relationships and helping people who ask for help and want to change their lives. I have found when I am with someone I love and respect, the challenges are still there but the tools to solve them are much easier to access.
Love is wonderful but respect is the glue that can grow lasting, connected and deeply lasting relationships; relationships that not only allow us passion but also give us companionship, understanding and support to make it through the challenges of life. Respect is crucial to lasting romance, to good partnerships, to good business and to build community.