Experts are going to disagree on the most important thing in a relationship. Is it affection, love, respect, a shared sense of humour, complimentary values, support, or chemistry? I would argue that all of these are necessary, plus a little bit of magic and the ability to sometimes not tell someone they’re turning into their mother. For me, there are two kinds of respect: that which is given, and that which is earned.
I believe that everyone is deserving of some kind of respect and basic dignity as a human. They shouldn’t be tortured, starved or left in poverty, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done. This is the bare minimum. Earned respect is when you actually take the time to learn about a person and come to value their achievements, values and abilities.
To be in a relationship with someone you need to be able to go from, “hello stranger, I believe you have a right to basic human dignity” to “I think you’re an interesting person who has done things I think are important and cares about things which matter”.
Long And Short-Term Relationships
Healthy relationships obviously require the latter. I’m not the only person who’s had a fling with someone they don’t especially like because the sex was good, but there was no way it was ever going to work out long-term. I could look at this man and know that we didn’t appreciate each other’s views and choices, but order another cocktail, end the date and go back to his place, with the mutual (but unspoken) understanding that we would not talk in a year, or ever share a home.
It wasn’t a healthy relationship, but much like occasionally eating chips, it wasn’t going to do anything awful for me in the long run. It’s when relationships get serious that you know you need to have some kind of respect and shared values. Long-term relationships do not function without earned respect; flings can work with basic respect.
Can Disrespect Lead To Abuse?
So even with the “chips” guy I was dating, there had to be basic respect. I wasn’t going to hurt or abuse him, and he wasn’t going to treat me with disrespect. It’s when you don’t even have that where your relationship goes from unhealthy to abusive. What this disrespect or abuse looks like will vary from relationship to relationship, but here are some examples of disrespect: cheating, refusing to take an interest in the other person, and avoiding helping out with shared tasks.
Abuse is much more serious, even if it stems from the same emotion: sexual violence, physical violence, emotional manipulation, deliberate destruction of property etc. Obviously, none of this is acceptable from a partner. If you’re seeing your partner treat you with disrespect, then leave. Even if it doesn’t escalate to abuse, it’s still not worth being around them.
Sort Out Communication
I feel that relationships can almost always be improved, and it’s worth taking the time to listen to your partner and see how you can support them better. They should be doing the same thing for you. Together, you have the option of making something great – or you can break up. Make sure you’re taking time to be kind when they signal they’re experiencing negative emotions, and in turn expect emotional support when something goes wrong at work or within a friendship. You both need to find a way to meet each other’s needs. If your partner isn’t taking the time to be respectful, leave them like a bad date.
External Relationship Respect
Part of respecting a partner comes from the actions you do outside of your relationship. For example, if your partner has told you something private, you need to keep their secrets. Unless someone else is at risk, of course, you should make sure that any areas of sensitivity stay between you and your partner and aren’t used for gossip fodder between your friends or ever made into the butt of a joke. Doing something like this will destroy your communication, build up walls and ultimately make your relationship less healthy and disrespectful. You’re part of a partnership, so make sure you act like it.
Basic respect is something that everyone deserves, just because they do. Earned respect takes longer, and needs to be present for any relationships to work out long-term. Although I’ve been talking about romantic unions, this is also true for the bonds between family members and friends. People are nuanced and complicated, so view them this way. It’s a simplification to suggest that you should treat people how you would like to be treated, but it’s a good place to start. Then take the time to learn and understand who they are, and grow from this place.