Before discussing why respect is an intimacy skill, it’s helpful to start with a definition. Here are two definitions of respect:
a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others
These two definitions illustrate why respect can be confusing topic.
For example, it is possible to be respectful toward, or to show respect to, a person for whom you have no feelings of admiration. You may choose to act respectfully toward a person who holds a particular position of authority or who has an important role in your life — including a parent or elder — even when you don’t respect their behavior.
A sad fact about relationships is that we are most disrespectful toward those closest to us — family members, friends, or our intimate partner.
And that’s because these are the people with whom we have the most emotional attachment, and the most likely to stick with us even in the face of our own boundary-less or offensive behavior.
When you sense that an important relationship is threatened and you become anxious, angry, or fearful, you are more likely to become disrespectful, especially if you don’t know how to effectively process your thoughts and emotions, or you don’t fully appreciate the value of maintaining a respectful connection.
Examples of disrespectful behavior:
- Any form of verbal abuse such as constant interrupting, name-calling, or cursing directed at the other person.
- Eye-rolling or other nonverbal expressions of contempt while a person is speaking.
- Sarcasm, specifically when it is intended to hurt, put down, or shame another person.
- All forms of physical or sexual abuse.
- Making demands.
- Unnecessarily correcting or berating someone in the presence of others.
- Giving unsolicited advice or feedback.
- Being “helpful” with the intention of controlling the other person, or when help has not been requested. Helping an adult who has not asked for help sends a message that they aren’t capable or are lacking in some way.
- Attempting to control or shame another person.
- Treating an adult like a child or as if she/he is less-than, inept, or incompetent.
- Sending the message, either directly or indirectly, that the other person’s thoughts, beliefs, or opinions are wrong or deficient in some way.
- Attempts to deny another adult the right to privacy or the freedom to make their own choices.
Why is respect an intimacy skill?
Being respectful helps you:
- Maintain your own integrity
- Avoid “offending from the victim position”
- Protect yourself and your relationship
- Choose intimacy over disconnection
- Maintain your self-respect and dignity
When you become anxious, angry, or triggered and begin to act in a disrespectful way, you are harming intimacy in your relationship. On the other hand, when you are respectful even in the face of disagreement, disappointment, and the predictable ups and downs of a long-term relationship, you are creating emotional safety and maintaining intimate connection.
Signs that respect may be missing or lacking in your relationship:
- Your spouse actively avoids you.
- There is an uncomfortable and/or prolonged silence between you and your spouse, frequent arguing, or a combination of both.
- Your spouse rarely approaches you for sexual intimacy.
- There is very little humor or playfulness in your relationship.
- Neither person is willing to be vulnerable — emotionally, physically, or sexually. Both of you are behind a wall or a suit of armor.
While many of these characteristics are present in relationships where one person is in active addiction, it doesn’t mean that an addict’s partner is exempt from being respectful.
We are responsible for the respect we bring to our relationships and our part in creating and maintaining emotional safety.
If respect is “the minimum of love,” without respect there is no foundation for maintaining an intimate relationship.
Lack of respect is most often expressed verbally or nonverbally; therefore, one of the quickest ways to restore respect is to subtract rather than add. What does that mean?
When you’re tempted to be give advice, lash out, make your spouse wrong in some way, or be sarcastic, simply don’t do it!
Of course, this is easier said than done.
But when you understand the connection between respect and intimacy, you will be more motivated to refrain from engaging in disrespectful behavior so that you can experience deeper connection and intimacy in your relationship.
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2019)