In last week's blog post, I challenged the notion that women generally feel that "being loved" is more important than "being respected" in their marriages. In my clinical practice with couples, I have repeatedly witnessed the ways in which disrespect is at the core of many marital problems for wives as well as for husbands. To test my theory that respect is equally critical for many women as for many men, in 2008, I profiled a sizable group of well-educated females (The Lifestyle Poll). In my sample of 300 women, 75% reported that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate.
Since my results were in direct opposition to those observed by Emerson Eggerichs, the author of Love and Respect, I wanted to understand more deeply what makes respect so important to the women in my study. In a follow-up study, I wanted to understand whether respect or love feels more important to those my sample in the larger social context (outside of marriage).
So, in the supplemental open-ended questions of my survey, I probed further, asking, “In the Lifestyle Poll, there is a question that reads, …'If you had to choose between feeling alone and unloved by everyone in the world or feeling disrespected and inadequate by everyone in the world, what would you choose?’ Can you comment on which situation would be WORSE to bear and why?”
As a gut reaction, many Lifestyle Poll respondents pointed out the ridiculous nature of this question. That is, how can one separate the two? How in the world is it possible to feel loved when one is treated disrespectfully (and, further, in which parallel universe would anyone ever have to make such a depressing choice)?
The thing is that this question was not designed to evoke the state of things in the natural world—it was designed to illuminate a theorized difference between men and women in terms of driving psychological needs. To provide a fair sense of balance in the responses that were submitted, I have included some thoughtful responses from some of the women who would rather feel disrespected than unloved (in a way that mirrors Eggerichs’ theory of gender differences):
- I would rather be disrespected and made to feel inadequate. My biggest insecurity revolves around not being loved (particularly in a romantic fashion). I think I could not live without love and knowing someone accepts me as I am.
- I think it would be worse to be alone and unloved, unless of course the people who loved you also made you feel disrespected and inadequate. I hope I would somehow find the strength to bear the criticism of the world, as long as I thought I was on the right path, whereas the idea that no one loved me would be horribly isolating and life would have a lot less meaning
- They'd both feel pretty awful, but I think humans really need love to survive. Love from someone who disrespects you and believes you to be inadequate might be hard to take—I'd question whether that actually is love. But I'd still take lack of respect over complete lack of love.
As I’ve mentioned, the majority of the respondents in the Lifestyle Poll sample, however, would rather feel unloved than disrespected. Here are some of the thoughtful responses from participants who voiced this preference:
- Disrespected and inadequate would be worse to bear because it implies you're “useless” in the world. But if you were feeling alone and unloved, it implies that this is due to your own interaction with others and you can still be respected for something that you might have contributed to the greater good of society.
- Worst scenario for me: Feeling disrespected and inadequate by everyone in the world. I never want to not be an asset or of assistance to another or a group, especially if I have a talent or skill to elevate the group or project.
- Respect for yourself and others is key. My family has always valued education and independence. So being alone isn't that scary to me. It's not ideal, but I’d rather be alone, successful in my career, and making a difference in society than be with someone who disrespects me and makes me feel inadequate. I have worked too long and too hard, and I am proud of my accomplishments, so no one should make me feel bad about myself!
- This was a very difficult question! I think I chose to be alone and unloved, because I assumed that at least I would love myself in that situation. In the second scenario, there was a comment about “feeling inadequate”—I wouldn't want to have internalized others' disparagement of me.
- I feel like I would choose being alone and unloved, mainly because the situation of being disrespected and made to feel inadequate by everyone but being loved by them doesn't even make sense given my understanding of love. In other words, alone and unloved is inherent in both of those choices. So I'd rather be alone and unloved and respected and not made to feel inadequate (so that I can love myself).
- Feeling disrespected and inadequate is much harder...especially disrespected…I have a strong personality, so that one would be much harder for me.
- Though both situations are bad, I chose the first because it represents a bubble around you, which I think is easier to manage; the second situation represents a constant bursting of that bubble by people. In the first situation—being alone and unloved—you are alienated, but the second one—being disrespected—is intrusive, aggressive and also alienating.
- The worse situation would be being disrespected and made to feel inadequate by everyone. As a woman, I consider RESPECT to be an extremely important characteristic. If you don't have respect, people will always think of you as inadequate, not worthy, etc. Eventually this would impair your own sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
- That's interesting...I think I would choose to feel alone and unloved...because in my heart of hearts I know it could never be true because God is omnipresent and He loves me beyond what anyone in the world could fathom. I don't think I could tolerate being disrespected by everyone...
- Being disrespected and made to feel inadequate by everyone would be horrible. It would affect your career and self-esteem, and you'd get no satisfaction in life.
- I don't see how these are different. If a person is belittled, that person is not loved. And yes, I would rather be alone than be with others who made me feel like that.
- If you're being disrespected and made to feel inadequate, it doesn't sound like you're being loved, either. I don't mind being alone; it's not the best thing, but sometimes togetherness grates on me too. I don't think it's tolerable to be constantly belittled.
- This is a silly question because each choice can't exist by itself. Feeling unloved makes you feel inadequate. The only way I am informed to answer is that I've felt lonely at times and it didn't kill me, so I'd say the other thing—no respect—is worse.
- I think if the people who “loved” me made me feel disrespected and inadequate, I could not call that feeling “loved.”
These responses speak for themselves, illuminating many of the core reasons that respect is of primary importance to these well-educated women. In looking at all of the data, no matter which preference was indicated, the underlying message is clear: there is no love without respect.