All You Need Is Respect

Why love is not enough in romantic relationships.

Posted Jul 29, 2019

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay
Source: Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

In a book published a number of years ago titled, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. the title sums up the entire message. While it offers a simplified and stereotypical view of gender and emotional needs, the author was able to correctly articulate the need for respect, at least for men.

But I would go further to say that for romantic relationships to survive, respect must be given to both parties. In the book, the author felt that respect was the most important aspect for men in marriages while women need love as a priority.

From my work as a therapist but also having been in relationships myself, I know that lack of respect can be the death knell in any romantic relationship. Noted relationship researcher John Gottman describes the problem in a number of his books. But instead of designating it "respect," he itemizes disrespect as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and contempt).

One of the four areas that I want to highlight is that of contempt. A pattern of displaying contempt by one partner towards their other most fits the general description of lack of respect. In contempt, one partner belittles the other partner by mocking them, tearing them down with name-calling or sarcasm.

Contempt can be verbalized or expressed via body language (e.g. rolling of the eyes). In his research, Dr. Gottman has been able to predict with 90% accuracy which relationships will lead to divorce after watching couples argue; contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce!

Expressions of contempt include:

  • Mocking 
  • Speaking with sarcasm
  • Using hostile humor
  • Name-calling
  • Mimicking
  • Eye-rolling
  • Sneering or smirking

Here's a scenario to drive home the point:  

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid. Could you be any more pathetic?” 

This example cuts to the heart of respect or disrespect in a relationship. With contempt, a partner takes a position of moral superiority over the other and communicates it to the other. The receiver is more than discouraged. He or she is disparaged, humiliated, and made to feel worthless.

Because contempt means that one person is looking down on the other, any shred of confidence is stripped over time in such a caustic environment. While some people stay in contempt-filled relationships in the short-term, most people eventually realize they must be courageous enough to leave the relationship no matter how difficult the circumstances—which can include children finances, and co-dependency—for their own sanity, dignity, and self-respect.