Recently, I happened to be in the same room as a woman talking on the phone to her partner. The topic of the conversation held no real significance nor was it of a sensitive nature, yet her annoyance with him was very apparent. Just as like a row of toppling dominos, the more annoyed the woman became, the more aggressive her partner became until she eventually hung up the phone because he was shouting at her.
After she abruptly ended the highly charged conversation, I said to her, “I can’t help noticing over the last few days that you have mentioned several times how stupid or annoying he is.”
“Yes,” she replied in an irritated tone. “He drives me crazy. I just don’t understand how someone can be that dumb!”
“It sounds to me like you have completely lost respect for him.”
“Yes! I have absolutely no respect left for him anymore,” she said with more resignation than annoyance.
As gently as I could, I suggested that when we lose respect for someone, it changes how we speak to them; our tone of voice becomes condescending, our words belittling. Likely, his escalating behavior was the result of him reacting to those cues.
She looked surprised for a moment but then quickly agreed that she often talked down to him because his stupidity was annoying and she couldn’t respect anyone that dumb. She justified her feelings by insisting that he had become increasingly more stupid as the years had passed and listed other traits that caused her to lose respect for him like his laziness and inability to hold a job.
Since she was receptive to the conversation, I first assured her that I wasn’t blaming her for the situation she now found herself in, and then I put forth the idea that he hadn’t become increasingly dumb or lazy. Rather, he had always had these traits but in the glow of new love, she either hadn’t seen them or had made allowances for them because she wanted to be with him.
This is a mistake the majority of us have made at least once. We fall into relationships quickly and let infatuation and attraction lead the way rather than objectively looking at the other person and deciding if we are willing to accept them just the way are.
Relationships are really about “terms”; each person states their terms and the other can agree to them or not. It is easy in the beginning to establish a baseline of terms that allows the relationship to move forward. Things like smoking, level of fitness and activity, desire for a family, religious views, sexual proclivities and orientation are all examples of major “terms” that have to be agreed upon. Hidden in the mix are other less obvious terms that a person may not admit to outright. Sometimes there is an agenda to keep these terms hidden but often he or she may not even consciously realize they are bringing “terms” into the relationship that the other person may not want to agree to. They may be things like: I want to watch sports all weekend, I don’t want to help with the housework, I want to play video games in my free time, I need large amounts of alone time, I want to go out and socialize all the time or I want to stay home and never go anywhere. These are just a few examples of things that can make or break a relationship after the infatuation stage wears off.
If you find yourself annoyed, frustrated or losing respect for your partner, it’s likely because you can no longer tolerate some of their terms. The real question is: can you still love someone you don’t respect?
By its very definition, love is acceptance and admiration while respect means that we admire someone and hold them in high esteem. Therefore it would appear that love and respect are mutually exclusive; you can’t be in love with someone you don’t admire and you can’t admire someone you don’t hold in high esteem. You can never really be “in love” with someone you are not proud of.
Love is not black and white; it is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. Couples who have stayed the course have survived the lows and found love for their partner again.
However, respect is a totally different beast. It does not generally ebb and flow through the course of a relationship and once lost, it is very hard to regain.
If you find yourself falling out of love with your partner because you’ve lost respect for him or her, here are a few suggestions:
- Write down all of your partners “terms” as you see them and then separate them into two groups: negotiable and non-negotiable. If your partner is not willing to work on changing the non-negotiable terms, then you have to make some very hard decisions about whether or not you are willing and able to stay in the relationship.
- Loss of respect is not a one way street. Your belittling words and actions will cause a downward spiral in your partner’s feelings toward you. If you are serious about regaining respect, you have to ask your partner what you are doing to cause him or her to lose respect for you. You can only change YOU, not your partner.
- If possible, you and your partner should have a discussion about each other’s negotiable terms and see if compromises can be reached.
- Don’t focus on the negative traits because that will only cause you to find more and more things you dislike about your partner. Instead, set your alarm and three times a day write down 1-3 things you like about your partner. If you really can’t think of anything you like about him or her right now, write down the things you initially fell in love with.
- Life is like a mirror; what you put out into the world is reflected back to you. Make a commitment to yourself to compliment your partner on their appearance, personality or behavior three times a day. Leave a note on the mirror telling her how beautiful she looked, send a text message thanking him for mowing the lawn while you were grocery shopping, or tell him how much you admire him as a father. You’ll be amazed what comes back to you when you send out positivity rather than negativity.
If you have found ways to regain love and respect for your partner, I’d love to hear from you!