The Importance of Mutual Respect in Intimate Relationships

An underrated ingredient that successful couples have plenty of.

Posted Mar 25, 2019

There is a very simple concept that I believe many couples and the professionals who treat them undervalue--one that may be a vital ingredient to a successful relationship: “mutual respect.” By respect I mean a certain admiration or perceived value for who our partner or prospective partner is as a person; what this individual has accomplished, conquered, or tolerated with grace. This might include the achievement of high academic status, overcoming or struggling with a physical malady, parenting admirably, or a combination of many factors. In all, if we consider ourselves lucky to have found a person of such quality, I believe that it would serve our relationships well over time.

We do not have to respect every aspect of our significant others to have such admiration or to value them.  And one can certainly admire an individual and yet dislike or disrespect them intensely for legitimate reasons. But the weight of the respect and the extent to which we value them should override any relatively minor irritants that exist. Partners do not necessarily need the exact “same” level of respect for each other to thrive—although this would be optimal.

The main thrust of this article is to suggest that when choosing a partner, serious consideration be given to the concept of respect. And while it is not the only factor in a successful relationship: physical attraction, emotional connection, shared interests, and trustworthiness are also important. But respect should not be given short shrift. I would even go as far as to recommend asking the following questions before engaging in a relationship: How much do I respect this person? What is it that I respect about them? Why do I respect this aspect?  

Case Examples of Respect

This is an example of respect from the onset of a relationship: A 59-year-old woman commented about her husband: “He was thoughtful from the beginning. I could always tell he was in love with me—that he valued me. To this day if he sees something that he thinks I would like he will get it for me without hesitation. He has always been a gentleman to me.”

Here is an example of realized potential: A 60-year-old woman commented that her husband turned out to be a better life partner than she ever expected: “We met in our 20s and I was really taken by him. But I never thought that I would feel even more attracted to him 40 years later. I love being near him and doing things with him. He’s not only been financially successful but he’s a great listener and my best friend. He still turns me on.”

This is an example of mutual admiration and respect: A 63-year-old man claimed that he admired his wife’s intellectual capacity and her musical talents as well. “No matter how mad she might make me on a given day, she is my hero.” The wife responded: “I admire my husband’s disciplined nature. He gets things done when he says he will. And it helps that he keeps himself in great shape and attractive to me.” 

Case Examples of Disrespect 

This is a case of disrespect from the onset of a relationship: A 43-year-old man complained that he never respected his wife. “I always found her to be intellectually inferior. Quite frankly, I was physically attracted to her but that’s about it. I should never have married her.”

This is an example case of unrealized potential: In treatment, a 52-year-old man complained that since he was fired from his job his wife has demonstrated a lack of respect for him. “My wife looks at me with disdain. I can see it in her eyes. She is disgusted with me. It as if she is telling me that I am no longer a man to her.” The wife responded: “This is not the first time my husband has been fired. And he has been a poor provider for years. It is true that I thought he had more potential when I first married him. How am I supposed to see him?”

Here is a case of mutual disrespect: A 61-year-old man bitterly complained that his wife “let her looks go” and that he was embarrassed to be seen with her. “I hate to go anywhere with her. She seems to have forgotten how to dress. And she could at least go to a hairdresser.” The wife responded: “He has become so critical of me and the children that I have lost all respect for him as a husband and father. I don’t even care to be around him either, so I dress for comfort, not to please him.” 

You can tell by the case examples that respect and disrespect can shape a relationship for good or bad. And while this is somewhat common knowledge, when I bring the concept up in treatment I am often looked at by couples as if I had just stumbled upon something very new. Elegant and beautiful in its simplicity…yet functional and practical. Choose someone who you admire, value, and respect--you will be proud that you did. Your connection or bond should be strong and most likely stand the test of time. You will feel better about yourself and your relationship should suffer less stress and be more representative of a team. You will feel loved for who you are and in turn, reciprocate that love. Consider a great line from “The End” by the Beatles: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”