What is Respect? 4 Ways to Know and Show Respect

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In a note she wrote to us, Carol asked the following questions: “Please answer- I'm so confused. What exactly are you identifying as ‘respect?’ Perhaps you could give a list, or point me in the direction of a source of clear cut examples of giving respect or what kind of things women are telling their husbands they respect them for? I'm through the first three chapters of the book with my husband and feel confused as to whether I'm really understanding it. Sometimes I think I do but then get confused again.”

Here is how I replied:

Great question, Carol. I would start with the following:

1.  Ask your husband what he sees as respect and disrespect.

He knows the difference, that is, given he thinks about it for a moment. Don't get defensive. Try to hear him out, even though you feel he might error in his assessment. Hopefully he'll ask you to describe what feels loving and unloving to you, and he won't deny your feelings.

2. Lessen actions you know to be disrespectful.

Most wives understand what disrespect is--lessen that and your husband will feel respected!

Oftentimes it is less about being more respectful, and more about being less disrespectful, if you know what I mean.

This is about withholding the sour look, the rolling of the eyes, the sighs, etc. Just as harshness and anger gets a wife's attention (but does not change her heart), to a man these are gestures of contempt and do not influence his heart (though they may get his attention).

In other words, try to appear less negative and disrespectful when communicating your feelings.

3. Read the Six Chapters I Wrote About Respect

In the marriage book, Love & Respect, I address what respect looks like in six chapters. Using the acronym “C.H.A.I.R.S.,” I explain how crucial it is that a wife have a respectful attitude toward the desires of a husband in six different areas.

The challenge is that often wives simply vent their frustrations related to these six areas and do not recognize the extent to which men interpret the comments as messages of disrespect.

It is comparable to a husband saying, "I am frustrated with how our children respond to us. They do not obey us like the other children in the neighborhood obey their parents. Those kids respond immediately when their mothers give instruction."

Carol, every mother I know personalizes his comments. "What are you saying? Are you saying that I am a bad mother?" Men feel the same way in the six areas I address in the book, but instead of verbalizing their feelings, men go quiet. As such, wives have little idea why the husband turns moody after she vents.

4. Here Are Some Practical Ideas

At the end of each of these six chapters, I provide a list of practical things a wife can do to show respect toward her husband.

Likewise at our Love and Respect Live Marriage Conferences, my wife, Sarah, goes through each of these concrete actions that a wife can take. But it’s essential that every wife trust us.

Many of these feel unnatural to women and so there is a tendency to say, “No, I won’t do that one, next? No, I won’t do that one. Next? No, I won’t do that one.” But she needs to trust us that when she acts on these, they work.

And, by the way, these are not things like, “Have sex with him whenever he wants it.” They are things like, “Greet him at the door with a smile,” or “Do something with him shoulder-to-shoulder without talking.”

Questions to Think About:

For a wife: Is it less about you being more respectful and more about you being less disrespectful?

For a husband: Is it less about you being more loving and more about you being less unloving?

-Dr. E