3. The Most Important Factor In A Relationship Is Not Communication, But Respect.
“What I can tell you is the #1 thing, most important above all else is respect. It’s not sexual attraction, looks, shared goals, religion, or lack of, nor is it love. There are times when you won’t feel love for your partner. That is the truth. But you never want to lose respect for your partner. Once you lose respect you will never get it back.” – Laurie
As we scanned through the hundreds of responses we received, my assistant and I began to notice an interesting trend.
People who had been through divorces and/or had only been with their partners for 10-15 years almost always talked about communication being the most important part of making things work. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts.
And there is some merit to that (which I’ll get to later).
But we noticed that the thing people with marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.
My sense is that these people, through sheer quantity of experience, have learned that communication, no matter how open, transparent and disciplined, will always break down at some point. Conflicts are ultimately unavoidable, and feelings will always be hurt.
And the only thing that can save you and your partner, that can cushion you both to the hard landing of human fallibility, is an unerring respect for one another, the fact that you hold each other in high esteem, believe in one another — often more than you each believe in yourselves — and trust that your partner is doing his/her best with what they’ve got.
Without that bedrock of respect underneath you, you will doubt each other’s intentions. You will judge their choices and encroach on their independence. You will feel the need to hide things from one another for fear of criticism. And this is when the cracks in the edifice begin to appear.
“My husband and I have been together 15 years this winter. I’ve thought a lot about what seems to be keeping us together, while marriages around us crumble (seriously, it’s everywhere… we seem to be at that age). The one word that I keep coming back to is “respect”. Of course, this means showing respect, but that is too superficial. Just showing it isn’t enough. You have to feel it deep within you. I deeply and genuinely respect him for his work ethic, his patience, his creativity, his intelligence, and his core values.
From this respect comes everything else – trust, patience, perseverance (because sometimes life is really hard and you both just have to persevere). I want to hear what he has to say (even if I don’t agree with him) because I respect his opinion. I want to enable him to have some free time within our insanely busy lives because I respect his choices of how he spends his time and who he spends time with. And, really, what this mutual respect means is that we feel safe sharing our deepest, most intimate selves with each other.” – Nicole
You must also respect yourself. Just as your partner must also respect his/herself. Because without that self-respect, you will not feel worthy of the respect afforded by your partner. You will be unwilling to accept it and you will find ways to undermine it. You will constantly feel the need to compensate and prove yourself worthy of love, which will just backfire.
Respect for your partner and respect for yourself are intertwined. As a reader named Olov put it, “Respect yourself and your wife. Never talk badly to or about her. If you don’t respect your wife, you don’t respect yourself. You chose her – live up to that choice.”
So what does respect look like?
Common examples given by many readers:
1. NEVER talk shit about your partner or complain about them to your friends. If you have a problem with your partner, you should be having that conversation with them, not with your friends. Talking bad about them will erode your respect for them and make you feel worse about being with them, not better.
2. Respect that they have different hobbies, interests, and perspectives from you. Just because you would spend your time and energy differently, doesn’t mean it’s better/worse.
3. Respect that they have an equal say in the relationship, that you are a team, and if one person on the team is not happy, then the team is not succeeding.
4. No secrets. If you’re really in this together and you respect one another, everything should be fair game. Have a crush on someone else? Discuss it. Laugh about it. Had a weird sexual fantasy that sounds ridiculous? Be open about it. Nothing should be off-limits.
5. Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust. And trust is the lifeblood of any relationship (romantic or otherwise). Without trust, there can be no sense of intimacy or comfort. Without trust, your partner will become a liability in your mind, something to be avoided and analyzed, not a protective home base for your heart and your mind.
4. Talk Openly About Everything, Especially The Stuff That Hurts.
“We always talk about what’s bothering us with each other, not anyone else! We have so many friends who are in marriages that are not working well and they tell me all about what is wrong. I can’t help them, they need to be talking to their spouse about this, that’s the only person who can help them figure it out. If you can figure out a way to be able to always talk with your spouse about what’s bugging you then you can work on the issue.” – Ronnie
“There can be no secrets. Secrets divide you. Always.” – Tracey
I receive hundreds of emails from readers each week asking for life advice. A large percentage of these emails involve their struggling romantic relationships. (These emails, too, are surprisingly repetitive.)
A couple of years ago, I discovered that I was answering the vast majority of these relationship emails with the exact same response.
“Take this email you just sent to me, print it out, and show it to your partner. Then come back and ask again.”
This response became so common that I actually put it on my contact form on the site because I was so tired of copying and pasting it.