Why Mutual Respect is the Key to Relationship Success

Yes, it is common sense! No surprise that respect is an important part of any healthy relationship. Yet the concept of respect and the impact of respect (or lack thereof) on intimate relationships haven’t been the focus of very much research. Fortunately, there is some research that allows us to form a working definition of respect. There are also clear signs to notice when respect is lacking in a relationship and ideas for steps couples can take to begin respecting each other more.

A Research Study in Respect

In one set of studies, Jennifer R. Frei and Phillip R. Shaver of UC-Davis surveyed college students regarding respect and their relationships. What they found was a high correlation between respect and satisfaction in a relationship. There was also a close association between respect and moral integrity. Respect was considered a positive trait for a person to possess. They were able to determine the following keywords that corresponded with respect:

  • Honesty
  • Not being abusive
  • Loyalty
  • Trustworthiness
  • Sensitivity to others’ feelings
  • Following the Golden Rule
  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Non-judgmental

The Respect for Partner Scale

The study used a tool called the Respect for Partner Scale (RPS). Students rated 45 items on a 7-point scale as to how each item applied to a current or previous romantic partner. The responses ranged from “disagree strongly” to “agree strongly.”  

A Definition of Respect

By analyzing the responses, Frei and Shaver were able to determine that respect can be considered this way:

“an attitudinal disposition toward a close relationship partner who is trustworthy, considerate, and accepting, and this conception holds across a variety of close relationships.”

Furthermore, the researcher indicated that the students felt respectfulness was connected to moral character and integrity. Frei and Shaver note that such research into morals and ethics would have been unheard of previously, but that further studying these concepts can help better understand what makes successful relationships. One aspect to note about the research was that they were unable to determine whether the participants had respect for their partner at the start of their relationships, or whether that respect developed over time.

Contempt Leads to a Lack of Respect

If a relationship is lacking in respect by both or either partner, it can be difficult, if not impossible for a relationship to last. One word, contempt, plays a pivotal role. If we have contempt for our partner (think of contempt occurring when someone rolls their eyes at their partner), or for our partner’s actions, it becomes next to impossible for us to respect them. Here are some warning signs to watch out for include:

  • Frequent criticisms that over time can lead to contempt in a relationship.
  • Having disdain for your partner, such as interrupting or partner or not listening to their perspective.
  • You and your partner frequently struggle to comprise over troublesome issues.
  • Your partner always has to have it their way.

Left unchecked, contempt can quickly spread like a cancer in a relationship, permanently damaging it beyond repair.

What Can Couples Do?

Couples struggling with very little mutual respect, but want to improve their relationship can:

  • Learn to improve communication skills.
  • Better understand each other.
  • Participate in couples counseling. This can make a big difference for couples, improving their listening skills and empathizing with their partner’s feelings and perspective.

A critical part of gaining respect is gaining the ability to see things from your partner’s point of view. If you remain fixated only on how you see any given issue and tune out your partner’s viewpoint, it can be difficult to respect them. Also, if respect did not exist between the two of you at the start of the relationship, it can be harder to increase it later on.

Respect does not have to be considered a vague concept. There are definite examples of what constitutes respect and how respect can manifest itself in a relationship. There are also clear warning signs when either one or both partners doesn’t respect each other. Couples counseling can help, and is most effective, when couples seek help early on before criticism or contempt have a chance to fester in a relationship. If each person is motivated to see things from the other’s perspective and learn new communication tools, then the relationship is not doomed to fail regardless of when a couple seeks help.

Category: Couples · Tags:

Comments are closed.