LEARNING TO RESPECT YOUR PARTNER
No matter how much love there is in your relationship, treating each other with disrespect is inevitably a road to unhappiness. On the other hand, an underpinning of respect allows love to grow and flourish. Respect is an acknowledgment of positive qualities, a well-intentioned wish to allow those qualities their rightful significance in the way we regard each other and behave toward each other.
A necessary basis for respect is the way in which you treat your own self. If you have low self-esteem, true respect for another is difficult to muster, because you are always going to be making an inner comparison between yourself and the other person, possibly with a tinge of envy. You might even find yourself reacting against the positive qualities your partner shows by belittling them in some way – either openly or just in your own mind. A healthy sense of self-worth, however, gives you a clear perspective in which to appreciate your partner’s merits without being affected by any emotional backwash. You simply admire this person, and your admiration becomes an inextricable part of your love.
One common form of behavior that runs counter to respect is the put-down, by which one partner tries to make the other feel smaller. Put-downs are difficult to deal with because they often come unexpectedly in the presence of other people, who then witness an embarrassing skirmish if you should choose to counterattack. Furthermore, they often take the form of a joke, which gives them a defensive shield: if you get angry or upset, you will sometimes hear, “Oh, can’t you even take a joke?” – Thereby, adding a further level of injury against you. It is worth stating unambiguously that put-downs are not an acceptable part of dialogue between people who love each other: indeed, the put-down is not a dialogue at all, and reflects badly on the perpetrator. Such aberrations are best dealt with firmly. You might try saying, in a reasonable tone of voice, “That put-down hurts. Please excuse me now,” then leave from, wherever you are. It is not unreasonable to do this even when friends are there to witness the scene, as the message that this is intolerable will then be driven home.
Nevertheless, in this or other situations, you might choose instead to save your comments until you and your partner are alone together. Be clear, that the boundary of acceptable behavior has been crossed, and that you will not tolerate this again. Teasing, though related, is usually distinguished easily from a put-down, and if you do not enjoy being teased (many people do), you can make your point in a milder fashion.
Developing respect for a partner means focusing on what is good in their character or achievements. It is possible to spend time deploring this or that habit or aspect of personality: nobody is so perfect that he or she is immune from this kind of criticism. True it is much healthier to concentrate on the positive. You might feel that the ideals you attributed to your partner in the first flush of love are starting to peel off. On the other hand, perhaps you find that one of the characteristics, that originally attracted you, has become irritating in some way: to take an extreme case, people who fall for geniuses often find out very soon that the great person is maddeningly self-absorbed. To gain a fresh perspective, ask yourself what are the gifts that your partner’s difference from yourself brings into your life. This question is especially interesting and important when you apply it to the character traits you find most difficult to handle.