what is respect in a relationship

People have a lot of different ideas about what the word “respect” means. Sometimes, it is used to mean admiration for someone important or inspirational to us. Other times, respect refers to deference towards a figure of authority, like a parent, relative, teacher, boss or even a police officer.

In this context, it is presumed that respect should be given to those who have certain types of knowledge and power. And then other times, respect means upholding the basic right that every person has to make their own choices and feel safe in their own daily lives.

In this post, we’re talking about respect in the context of dating. In a healthy relationship, partners are equals, which means that neither partner has “authority” over the other. Each partner is free to live their own life, which can include deciding to share some aspects of their life with their partner.

Respect also means that, while we may not always agree with our partner/s, we choose to trust them and put faith in their judgment. This trust can be built over time as your relationship progresses and you learn more about each other.

Ways to Show Respect in Your Relationship

1. Demonstrate trust.

Trust is essential in any relationship, even non-romantic ones. But it means a lot more than believing that your partner won’t cheat on you, and feeling trust isn’t nearly as powerful as showing that you trust your partner with your actions.

You can demonstrate trust by not texting or calling your partner constantly. Instead, text or call them once. Leave a message saying that you’re thinking of them, and that you hope to hear from them soon. This shows that you trust them to reach out to you when they can, and that you know your partner appreciates your efforts.

This should go without saying, but don’t go through your partner’s phone or personal things without permission. If you have a weird feeling that they’re trying to hide something from you, talk to them about it. There’s no need to stir up drama if there’s nothing going on!

2. Be mindful of how you communicate.

Communication is one of the most important parts of a relationship, and one of the hardest. That’s because being open and honest with your partner means being open and honest with yourself.

Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. If you’re upset, it’s important to talk openly about what’s bothering you. Don’t be accusatory. Use “I” statements, like “I feel really ignored and unimportant when you cancel our plans at the last minute,” or “I feel annoyed when you keep asking me to hang out when you know I need to study.

I really appreciate it when others respect my time.”  Your emotions are always valid—don’t feel bad for feeling what you feel.

Everyone disagrees sometimes, and that’s totally ok. When you do, don’t disappear or shut down communication. At a minimum, tell your partner that you’re upset and need some time to cool down and process your thoughts before you talk.

This way they don’t feel like you’re disappearing on them, or ignoring their feelings. Validate your partner’s feelings by saying things like, “I understand why you feel that way,” or “I hear what you’re saying.”

Communication goes beyond words, though. You can tell your partner that you care by wearing the cologne they like, sharing a playlist with them, or bringing them flowers.

3. Be reliable and accountable.

A huge part of a relationship is trust, but how can you trust someone if they’re constantly canceling plans or, even worse, lying?

When you make plans, follow through. Don’t say yes to a dinner you’re not sure you’ll be able to go to. Instead, be accountable. Keep a calendar and check it when you and your partner are making plans.

Don’t say you’ll call and then don’t. Instead, set a reminder on your phone. Being dependable respects your partner’s time and emotional energy. After all, it can be stressful to have your plans change constantly.

Of course there will be times when you have no choice but to cancel—there’s a family emergency, you’re sick, you forgot about a big test that you have to study for. You shouldn’t feel guilty (or be made to feel guilty!) about these circumstances.

But it can help a lot if you show you’re aware of the effect that those actions (whether they’re within your control or not) have on your partner. Apologize, offer to reschedule, and make sure you check in with them when you’re free.

4. Encourage time apart.

When you’re in a new relationship, you may be so excited that you want to spend all your time with your partner. That’s totally normal. But it can be easy to ignore the other important relationships in your life, like with your family and friends.

No single person—no matter how awesome they are—can take care of all your social and emotional needs. And everyone needs a break from their significant other every once in a while. Spending time alone or with other people means that both of you can continue to grow as individuals.

You can both bring new ideas and activities to your relationship, keeping it exciting and engaging. It also gives you both a chance to talk about your relationship with your friends and family. Who doesn’t want to brag a bit about their new love?

5. Appreciate your differences.

Don’t criticize your partner for their ideas or interests. You can disagree with someone and still respect their opinion. Part of what makes relationships awesome is the differences! Your partner can help you see the world from a new perspective, even if you don’t ultimately change your mind.

You can show your partner you appreciate them by going to their baseball game or art show, even if you would never set foot in a baseball stadium or art gallery otherwise.

Accept your partner’s boundaries, even when they’re different from yours. If your partner doesn’t want to kiss in public, or have sex, or lie to their parents, don’t pressure them. This is coercive, and potentially abusive.

6. Get to know yourself.

In a relationship, you’re not just getting to know another person. You’re getting to know yourself better. Being in a relationship can help you figure out what you want and need from the people you’re close with.

What are you willing to compromise on? Which qualities complement your own? What are your core values that you can’t compromise on? Maybe you don’t care that your partner isn’t into R&B music the way you are, but you can’t stand that they’re mean to your cat.

Get to know yourself as an individual and as a partner. Knowing yourself helps you communicate better, and your partner will definitely appreciate that.

How to Show Your Partner Respect

1. Strengthen Your Communication

As mentioned above, respect looks different to everyone. Imagine someone buys their partner a vacuum for their birthday, thinking it’s a nice, expensive gift. The recipient, a stay-at-home parent who handles most household chores, might consider this gift disrespectful.

If the issue goes unaddressed, resentment can build, significantly straining the relationship. Ongoing and open communication can help. For example, the couple might decide that household appliances are not respectful gifts but rather shared household purchases.

Even if you have that discussion early on in your relationship, remember that people evolve and situations change. Give each other permission to open up freely, without judgment and whenever necessary. You should both feel comfortable communicating your changing thoughts and feelings. If you’re not, then some underlying issues might need attention.

2. Be Honest and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Being in a relationship is sometimes difficult, even for the happiest, healthiest couples. You’re bound to disagree, make poor decisions, experience mood changes, and cross boundaries. Even if you don’t intend to, you may end up disrespecting your partner.

Maybe you’ve agreed not to go into the bathroom while your partner is showering, but every morning you’re running late for work and have to sneak in to get ready. Even if the intention is harmless and the boundary to you is ridiculous, you’re still knowingly disrespecting your partner regularly.

This can cause significant issues. Rather than asking your partner to give up this boundary, you could apologize and work on setting an earlier alarm so you don’t have to disrupt their shower.

“Everyone has stressors, challenges, and difficult situations to navigate in their day-to-day lives,” says Lurie, who suggests being honest and taking responsibility for your behaviors, responses, and reactions.

Remain aware of how much tension you’re bringing into the relationship and how your stressors affect your ability to show up for your partner.

3. Support Your Partner’s Interests

Everyone has different interests, passions, and hobbies. Maybe your partner loves to hike, but you don’t. You don’t have to join them on hiking adventures, but you shouldn’t deter them from going. Acknowledging and accepting that your partner holds a certain value, even though you don’t share it, helps build respect in the relationship.

If your partner’s interests or behaviors are harmful to you or your relationship, then a serious discussion is in order. Your partner might love base jumping, gambling, or smoking cigarettes, and you might consider these acts disrespectful.

If you love and respect your partner, however, try your best to understand them. Rather than simply giving an ultimatum, explain where you’re coming from and see if they’re willing to compromise.

4. The Role of Trust

Respect and trust go hand in hand. If you trust that your partner isn’t chatting inappropriately with others online, then you shouldn’t feel compelled to go through their private messages. If you trust that your partner won’t do anything inappropriate while they’re out in the world without you, then you shouldn’t have to worry about where they go or with whom.


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