Want to know where a couple is heading? Look at how they treat each other. Listen to how they talk with each other. Especially when they are working on something or when they are (even slightly) stressed. You can tell quickly whether they respect each other or not. We’ve all been to the party and been embarrassed at the couple who argued, didn’t trust the other, criticized publicly, acted selfishly for all to see, didn’t open a door, didn’t help when the other needed it, etc. And we’ve all cringed. Couples that don’t respect each other are on a dangerous downward spiral that is very, very difficult to pull out of.
How we treat the other on the outside speaks volumes about how we feel on the inside. And if we don’t treat the one we love the most with respect…
Respect isn’t just something the other person earns. It is something we offer. And it isn’t something that magically appears. It must be cultivated. With our words. With our willing submission (putting their needs and wants above our own) to the other. We choose to respect our spouse. Or not. It is a pattern of interacting, a lifestyle and not a one time thing. It shows up in our words, our self-restraint, our body language. And practicing it is almost never convenient. It can take effort sometimes. Serious, intentional effort.
Because on our own, we lean towards selfishness, towards an inward focus. And it seems to me that on our own, we also tend to grow to in contempt of that which becomes familiar. I’ve seen this among many married people. As they walk through the challenges that life throws at them and their spouse makes mistakes (as we all do), they choose to remember rather than forgive. They make the choice to see the worst in their spouse, rather than the best. They choose not to see the person their husband or wife could be, but rather focus on the person they were.
Respect seems to have a link to believing in the future version of the person you are interacting with. It says, “I will treat you as I see you could be, not necessarily as you are”. And one of the amazing things about believing in the future version of someone? It helps them to become that very person.
Respect is so hard to reclaim once patterns of disrespect are set too. Feelings get hurt, emotional bruises form and they get pushed on over and over. People wince when they are in pain. And often disrespect is a form of relational wincing. Respect is much easier to develop in new couples who still have the extra energy of young love and the chemical charge of lots of physical interaction (i.e. sex) without some of the exhausting life stressors that come later in life.
But if you’ve ever seen an older couple, who have been in love for decades, who have obviously learned to talk and interact with each other respectfully…it is breathtaking isn’t it?