Respect is a fundamental aspect of all relationships, whether romantic or not. If your partner doesn’t respect you, there’s very little hope for the future.
Whether in big or small doses, disrespect in relationships is an issue that needs to be addressed, with partners consistently pushing the boundaries on how they treat their loved ones. Disrespect can come in many forms and can quickly escalate into more toxic behaviors, with severe cases involving physical or verbal abuse.
“Although we might feel like we have a universal definition of what a happy relationship consists of, a happy, balanced relationship is defined differently from culture to culture or even relationship to relationship,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
“Each relationship can define its values and how they want to treat each other. This is important to remember as we define what disrespect can look and feel like in a relationship. Ultimately it comes down to whether you and your partner can have open, honest conversations about the relationship you both want and whether you are building a shared goal and vision. When you are not on the same page regarding treating each other with mutual respect, it can erode any loving relationship.”
There are many nuances of how respect manifests in relationships, and is a subject to be treated with care and (you guessed it!) respect.
It’s important to know how to spot the early signs of disrespect in a relationship in order to preserve your well-being in the future. While smaller issues can be corrected, it’s essential that you know when to call it quits if your partner crosses the line.
Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect and trust, where your romantic partner consistently feels valued and cherished. This kind of respectful relationship facilitates a healthy dynamic, where both partners work together to meet each other's needs.
However, disrespectful behavior is becoming more common in relationships, where a power imbalance disrupts the possibility of a healthy relationship. Disrespect manifests in a relationship where one partner consistently undermines or disregards their partner’s feelings, undervaluing their opinions and never considering them.
This kind of relationship dynamic is detrimental to one’s overall mental health and well-being, with this behavior eroding your self-esteem and self-worth. If this kind of behavior escalates, things can quickly spiral out of control into an abusive relationship.
Therefore, it’s important to learn how to handle a disrespectful partner, and spot signs of disrespect in a romantic relationship early on to protect yourself.
Many different forms of disrespect can manifest in a romantic relationship.
Disrespect may originate in smaller put-downs like name-calling or belittling behaviors, such as being critical of your achievements or mocking the things that make you happy.
If you sweep these instances under the rug, your significant other might feel like they have a free pass to ramp it up. In this case, disrespectful relationships can become dominated by toxic behaviors, with one partner consistently disrespecting their significant other at every opportunity. This could result in infidelity, gaslighting, or even physical abuse.
If you feel disrespected consistently by your partner, it’s very hard to know how to deal with it as they continuously chip away at your self-confidence.
Before things get out of hand, it’s helpful to recognize the warning signs so you don’t find yourself stuck in a difficult situation down the road. Remember that any form of disrespect in a relationship is not acceptable and that you deserve someone you would never dream of crossing your boundaries in this way.
If you spot these signs of disrespect in your relationship, it may be helpful to seek help from a family member or therapist to help you decide your next steps.
Healthy boundaries are the foundation of a healthy relationship.
If your partner is constantly treading on your boundaries, or infringing on your personal space, this is incredibly disrespectful. For example, if you defined clear boundaries around your alone time and they consistently disregarded your wishes — this is a clear violation of your boundaries and should not be tolerated.
No matter what you do, it feels like your partner is constantly nitpicking at every little thing.
Whether they’re tearing apart your looks or your business achievements, this is a form of disrespect and can be very impactful on your self-worth.
While it may come from a place of personal insecurity, loving relationships shouldn’t be about one-upping each other but supporting one another no matter what.
“Giving your partner honest feedback can be healthy, especially when it is coming from a good place,” says Seeger DeGeare.
However, when honest feedback is not balanced with loving, warm, and kind statements, it can make the relationship feel very negative overall. Simply put being criticized constantly by a partner is not fun, it can reduce desire and self-esteem.”
In some cases, a disrespectful partner refuses to acknowledge that you have a life outside of the relationship. As they push for a codependent dynamic, they can insist on being your main priority — demanding more of your time and attention.
“When in a relationship, it’s normal to spend significant time with our partner. It can feel hard to know if your partner's requests are within a normal range or are dipping into a more unhealthy amount of demands,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“If you notice that the requests in your relationship are unbalanced and you feel resentment build each time your partner asks you something. It might signify that you are losing your sense of self and autonomy in this relationship.”
As you try and give them more of your energy, it can leave you feeling depleted and exhausted. Suppose you feel like you are always walking on eggshells and saying no does not feel like an option to your partner's requests without consequence. In that case, you might want to think more about how some of their self-serving, possibly narcissistic behaviors are impacting you.
After all, you should never feel guilty for having a life independent of your partner!
Everyone is entitled to their privacy. It isn’t about being secretive or sly, retaining your personal space is perfectly acceptable and should be respected!
If your partner consistently invades your privacy, this is a huge red flag. Whether you find them snooping on your phone, or listening in on your private chats with your friends, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior.
Relationships are all about collaboration, with both parties equally contributing to the conversation and deciding the outcome.
“When we get into a relationship with someone, we are signing up to be influenced by someone; this is not a bad thing,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“We might chuckle that couples start dressing alike, but in reality, being with someone with whom you appreciate their opinions and evolving together includes learning from each other. So when a partner intentionally blocks your opinion, it can indicate that your underlying values do not align.”
If your partner ignores your contributions or refuses to take your opinions or advice on board — this is incredibly disrespectful. It indicates that they don’t value your opinion or are not even willing to discuss alternatives with you.
If you feel like an afterthought or feel that your partner doesn’t really appreciate you, it’s easy to feel disrespected and undervalued in your relationship.
In this dynamic, your partner might feel like they can do whatever they like as you’re always going to stick around. However, this should not be the case, and if you’re being disrespected in this way you have full rights to walk away.
“I wish you were more like her!” “Did you see her legs, you could never look like that!” “I wish you were as funny as Sarah’s boyfriend!”
By comparing you to someone outside the relationship, they’re suggesting that you’re not good enough in some way or that they could do better than you. Being constantly compared to another person is really disrespectful and could be considered a form of emotional abuse.
We may not always like it but compromise is key when it comes to successful relationships.
Reaching a compromise doesn’t mean that you’ve ‘lost’ in some way, it just means that you’re taking your partner’s feelings on board in your decision-making. This awareness means that you can reach a solution that works for both of you!
Someone with narcissistic traits may refuse to compromise because they see it as a form of competition. This preference for ‘winning’ an argument or discussion makes it easier for them to cast aside your feelings, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
Feeling unheard in a relationship can make you feel insignificant and deeply disrespected.
Imagine that you’re animatedly telling them about your day and filling them in on all the details that they missed. Then you look over at them and they’re scrolling on social media, or only responding with a lackluster ‘oh really’ — it can feel crushing.
No matter the topic, your partner should respect you enough to listen to you and value what you have to say. In fact, this could be considered the bare minimum in any relationship!
“We all want to feel heard, understood, and belong,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“It is a universal craving that is cross-cultural. When people lightly joke that their partner just tunes them out, know this is not a passing comment that should be ignored. The deeper pain of experiencing a partner as not listening or caring can erode the connection in any relationship.”
If you try and bring your concerns to your partner, or raise any critique, they refuse to engage in an adult conversation — favoring the silent treatment.
When you’re being stonewalled, your partner puts up an impenetrable front and refuses to engage with anything you’re saying. This kind of childish behavior is incredibly disrespectful to your relationship, as it makes it impossible to come to a mature agreement or even have an open discussion!
Lying is the ultimate form of disrespect.
In a mature relationship, there should be no need to lie — especially since the truth almost always comes out in the end. If your partner is lying to you, even if they’re only white lies, it shows that they simply don’t respect you enough to tell you the truth.
If you tell your partner something in confidence, you trust that they won’t go blabbing your business to the whole town.
However, if your partner goes behind your back to gossip about your affairs, or even goes as far as to spread rumors about you — this shows they don’t respect the promise they made. More than that, they don’t have any respect for your privacy and are happy to destroy your public image for their own petty gains.
In a healthy relationship, you feel like you can depend on your partner as they have proved they will always be there for you.
If you’ve made plans, it’s incredibly disrespectful to cancel last minute or to bail on you for something better. It showcases their lack of respect for your time, or for your relationship in general.
When you decide to enter a relationship or marry your partner, it’s expected that you don’t break the commitment you made.
Cheating is never acceptable in any relationship and shows an underlying disrespect for both you and your relationship. After all, if they wanted to pursue someone else, they should have had the decency and the respect to break up with you rather than betray you in this way.
While some people might cross the boundary and cheat, others simply tease infidelity as a mark of disrespect for their partner. This can include flirting with other people publicly, or suggesting that they could be unfaithful if they felt like it.
No one likes being interrupted.
Sometimes your partner can interrupt you because they have another detail to share, or got so excited about what you were saying that they had to jump in. This might be a tad annoying, but it’s not coming from a negative place.
However, if your partner continuously interrupts you in front of your friends, it’s really disrespectful and embarrassing. It shows that they don’t care about what you’re saying and simply want to forward their own agenda or push themselves back into the spotlight!
Being late every once in a while is to be expected. A flat tire or traffic are perfectly reasonable excuses, and if they’re followed by apologies, it’s pretty acceptable.
However, if your partner is consistently late without apology or excuse, it indicates disrespect for your time and isn’t acceptable long-term.
Loved ones should advocate for your health and safety at all times.
If your partner isn’t willing to constantly and consistently vouch for your safety, it can show a level of disrespect that should not be tolerated.
For example, letting you walk home alone or leaving you to fend for yourself when you’re ill.
Belittling is a form of emotional abuse whereby your partner consistently demeans or humiliates you in either a public or private setting, to undermine your self-worth.
Instead of being proud of your achievements, your partner might act out of jealousy to negate your accomplishments. Not only is this disrespectful, but it says more about their insecurities than your failings.
At the end of the day, you want to be in a relationship with someone whom you can trust to defend you when you’re not around.
If your name comes up in conversation, you should be able to rely on your partner to support you — not disrespect you. A partner who mocks you or laughs at you when you’re not there in person is a huge red flag and should not be tolerated.
Relationships aren’t always easy, but you shouldn’t have to deal with all the hard stuff on your own.
If your partner expects you to just do everything, without a thought about their contribution, this is a very toxic relationship dynamic. It’s not normal to be stuck with all the household chores, or feel that you have to sort everything out — this kind of responsibility should be shared.
The attitude that ‘my girlfriend/boyfriend’ will just do that is incredibly disrespectful towards your time and energy, as they have no respect for your feelings.
Individuality should be cherished! Everyone has silly quirks or traits but your partner should be able to embrace you for who you are — dad jokes and all.
No matter ‘your type’ or your preferences, it’s never acceptable to try to change or guilt your partner to change key parts of themselves to make you happy. While it’s normal to encourage your partner to be the best version of themselves, no one should be made feel like they have to change to keep their partner happy.
Even during an argument, a respectful partner would never weaponize your insecurities and use them against you.
If your partner chooses to mock you or highlight something that they know you’re embarrassed about, this simply isn’t fair. Not only is it disrespectful to taunt you in this way, but it also betrays the confidence that you share — as they’ve used your own vulnerability against you.
Priorities in a relationship naturally shift and switch over time, as you can’t just expect your partner to be at your beck and call all the time!
While your partner may expect this kind of behavior from you, they simply can’t return the favor. If something else comes up, they’ll happily cast you aside for a better option. This continuous behavior makes it obvious that you’re not a priority in their life and you shouldn’t be willing to accept this kind of disrespect.
Life might be a classroom, but you don’t need to be constantly schooled by your loved one.
Even though there is always more to learn, it’s incredibly disrespectful for your partner to patronize you in order to make you feel small or to boost their own ego. There’s a respectful way to have this kind of conversation that doesn’t make you feel silly or stupid, and patronizing behavior is not the way forward.
Physical intimacy is an important part of any romantic relationship and should be mutually satisfying for both parties.
However, if your partner is simply interested in reaching climax themselves, and doesn’t make an effort to return the favor — this is incredibly disrespectful. It implies that they don’t care if sex is enjoyable for you and could be using you to satisfy their own sexual needs.
“If your partner is not open to deeper conversations around creating a more satisfying sex life, that can block intimacy,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Due to the lack of sex education for many, with so many teens learning about sex from places like media and porn, it can be normal for couples to not realize how transactional their sex lives truly are. As you connect with your own body and open up to your partner to express your wants and desires, your partner should share an openness to exploring both of your pleasures or share their fears, shame, or resistance in learning each other.
Depending on the severity of their actions, disrespectful behavior could be a dealbreaker in many romantic relationships.
It’s important to try and take a step back from your situation to fully understand your relationship as a whole. If you feel like you’re being disrespected, it’s important to try and raise these issues with your partner (if you feel safe doing so!)
Remember that relationships are built on mutual respect and trust, and without these factors, it can become impossible to sustain a healthy relationship.
Consistent and continual disrespect in a relationship can lead to a feeling of disgust. Feeling disrespected by someone you love and cherish can leave a heavy emotional weight, as their words and actions matter and have meaning.
“So, even if you wanted to dismiss and ignore their words, they had an impact,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“That constant behavior in your relationship may have you feeling contempt for your partner, it is hard to reconnect again once you get to a place of contempt. A partner would need to commit to doing some deep inner work to tackle the root of the disrespectful behaviors. As a couple, you would need to unwind the patterns that have been formed that created an environment that sustained these behaviors. Without a long-term commitment to creating new respectful patterns based on your shared values, it would be challenging, if not impossible, to move past”
Even though it’s a difficult realization, you have to remember that a person who continually disrespects you does not care about you in the way they should. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if you want to be with someone who treats you in this way.
Every relationship is different and it doesn’t make you weak if you want to fight for your partner, even if they have disrespected you in the past. However, if you give them the opportunity for growth and they refuse to respond, the situation may be beyond saving.
Remember that you deserve someone who cherishes you and respects you for who you are — never forget that.