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How to Establish Respect

The first and most important aspect of building respect is discovering exactly what it is to each of you. Have an honest conversation about respect (ideally, early on in your relationship). You might find that your definitions differ. For example, you might view the dirty dishes your partner left on the table as a sign of disrespect—and an expectation that you'll clean up—but your partner might've simply forgotten them or planned to clean up later. Delineate the boundaries of respect clearly for each other so you have a common yardstick by which to measure.

Some definitions of respect are universal, however—like showing courtesy, involving your partner in a big decision that affects you both, and agreeing to disagree without insults or condescension.

Consider the following:

  • If you have different definitions of respect, how will you manage this?

  • What are your boundaries? What are your partner’s?

  • Do you feel comfortable opening up to your partner about your feelings?

  • Do you trust your partner? Discuss what trust looks like on a daily basis.

  • What are clear signs of respect and disrespect? Discuss specific examples.

  • What happens if a partner is disrespectful? How will you handle this?

  • What behavior is considered non-negotiable? 

How to Show Your Partner Respect

You can exhibit respect through positive behaviors, such as , honoring their boundaries, supporting their passions, and talking kindly about them to others. When you respect someone, you hold them in high regard through your actions, behaviors, and words.

As mentioned above, respect looks different to everyone. Imagine someone buys their partner a vacuum for their birthday, thinking it’s a nice, expensive gift. The recipient, a stay-at-home parent who handles most household chores, might consider this gift disrespectful.

If the issue goes unaddressed, resentment can build, significantly straining the relationship. Ongoing and open communication can help. For example, the couple might decide that household appliances are not respectful gifts but rather shared household purchases.

Even if you have that discussion early on in your relationship, remember that people evolve and situations change. Give each other permission to open up freely, without judgment and whenever necessary. You should both feel comfortable communicating your changing thoughts and feelings. If you’re not, then some underlying issues might need attention. 

Be Honest and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Being in a relationship is sometimes difficult, even for the happiest, healthiest couples. You’re bound to disagree, make poor decisions, experience mood changes, and cross boundaries. Even if you don’t intend to, you may end up disrespecting your partner.

Maybe you've agreed not to go into the bathroom while your partner is showering, but every morning you’re running late for work and have to sneak in to get ready. Even if the intention is harmless and the boundary to you is ridiculous, you’re still knowingly disrespecting your partner regularly.

This can cause significant issues. Rather than asking your partner to give up this boundary, you could apologize and work on setting an earlier alarm so you don’t have to disrupt their shower. 

“Everyone has stressors, challenges, and difficult situations to navigate in their day-to-day lives,” says Lurie, who suggests being honest and taking responsibility for your behaviors, responses, and reactions.

Remain aware of how much tension you’re bringing into the relationship and how your stressors affect your ability to show up for your partner.


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