Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Need for Mutual Respect in a Relationship

This may be the obvious-but-overlooked key to a relationship's success.

Key points

  • It may seem obvious that mutual respect is key to a relationship, but it's too often forgotten.
  • Mutual respect both makes it easier for you to solve problems and to accept your differing values.
  • Nightly two-minute check-ins can be a potent way to build mutual respect.
Andrew Lozovyi, DepositPhoto, Free to Use
Source: Andrew Lozovyi, DepositPhoto, Free to Use

Many factors contribute to a long-term relationship’s viability: for example, net equal contributions to the relationship, reasonable emotional stability, and similar sexual appetite. But maybe most important is mutual respect. That facilitates so much in a relationship:

Problem-solving. If both people respect each other’s intelligence, common sense, and benevolence, disagreements are more likely to be solved, bringing the couple closer. Conversely, if mutual respect is lacking, the discussion is more likely to devolve and, after the smoke clears, there's likely even less respect and resilience to the relationship's slings and arrows.

Acceptance of difference. If there is a foundation of mutual respect, we’re more likely to accept our partner’s differences in values: for example, regarding physical appearance, materialism, religion, politics, charity, or a fun- vs work-vs family-centric approach to life.

Resilience. Not every conflict can be solved. Couples with mutual respect can more easily agree to disagree on an issue and then not hold a grudge but move forward. In contrast, if one partner lacks foundational respect for the other, not resolving a dispute can feed confirmation bias: the feeling that the partner is inferior. Cumulatively, that can lead to prematurely ending the relationship or accepting it as limited. Indeed, even many married couples complain that their relationship lacks depth.

Building mutual respect

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re looking for a new long-term relationship, try to see through the infatuation fog to assess how likely you are to respect the person after the fog has at least started to lift.

If you’re already in a relationship, might one or more of the following build your mutual respect?

Accepting difference. You may be smarter, more attractive, harder working, or more loving, but in a relationship worthy of mutual respect, your partner also has a portfolio of strengths and weaknesses, although one that’s probably different from yours. Do you want to be more accepting of your partner as-is rather than trying to get him or her to be more like you? For example, you may prize a neat home while your partner is, at best, indifferent to appearances. Don't let the tail wag the dog—rarely should such a factor be a deal-killer. Maybe it’s sufficient to accept improvement in just the one or two aspects of neatness that are most important to you: for example, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, not on the floor.

Another example: Let's say that one of you is more work-centric, the other more play- or family-centric. Rather than trying to convert your partner to your way of being, should you honor each other’s difference by more often doing what you prize and allowing him or her to do what s/he prizes? Of course, compromise is necessary but mutual acceptance is more likely to build mutual respect.

Having nightly two-minute check-ins. With your statesman's hat firmly in place, you present a fixable problem and propose something that you are willing to try. That’s more likely to build respect and to solve problems than if you suggest what the other person should do.

For example, if you’re concerned that your partner needs to contribute more money to the family income, rather than say, “Get a job. We need the money,” point out the cash-flow problem and ask “What does the Wise One within you think we should do?” Another example: You want to have sex more often than your partner does. Rather than say, for example, “We have to make more time for sex,” it’s better to ask, “Our sexual appetites differ. What do you think would be the wise thing to do: accept it, I change something, you change something, or we change something? What do you think?"

Seeing a counselor. What if you think that the foregoing suggestions are unlikely to succeed enough but that the relationship is worth working on? Consider trying a session, yes, just one session, with a relationship counselor who’s highly recommended by a friend or on a review website. Why just one session? Because while your problem is unlikely to be solved in one or even three sessions, that first session should yield enough to give you reason for hope. If not, you may be wiser to try a session with someone else until you’ve left a first session more optimistic.

The takeaway

As usual, one size doesn't fit all, but if your relationship could use a boost, trying to build mutual respect is often a crucial and perhaps under-considered factor. And if you’re looking for a new relationship, consider putting mutual respect at or near the top of your selection criteria.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today