Mutual respect is one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship. Showing respect in a relationship is key to feeling comfortable, emotionally secure, and supported, and enables your connection to deepen and flourish.
Respect doesn’t mean you always have to agree with your partner. Even the most loving relationship is likely to involve disagreements from time to time — in fact, conflict can be healthy in relationships. The important thing is choosing to address disagreements with care, communication, and consistency.
One of the signs of respect in a relationship is understanding that your partner is a whole, autonomous person. They have their own valid needs, desires, interests, and challenges. The more you get to know these facets of your loved one, the more you can support their well-being. This helps build and show respect.
“Building a healthy, respectful relationship honors the fact that you are two or more individuals,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert and licensed marriage and family therapist.
“You will grow and change throughout your relationship, but that growth needs to come from an internal motivator. Understanding that each of us is our own people who are actively choosing to spend our lives with another person is at the base of a respectful relationship,” she adds.
“When you start your relationship when a sense autonomy and individuality for each person involved, you are building respect into the foundation of your relationship.”
Take time to get to know what your partner needs, what motivates them, and what their vulnerabilities are. This helps you to create an environment in which you and your partner feel secure and respected. This may involve spending time talking about things like love languages, attachment styles, or previous relationship history.
Deep, intimate knowledge won’t be built in a day, but think of it as a work in progress. The more you open up to each other in a mutually respectful way, the more you’ll feel comfortable to keep doing so.
To take positive steps to build respect in a relationship, it’s important to be aware of examples of disrespectful behavior. Here are some possible signs of when respect is lost in a relationship:
If a partner is unwilling to recognize your boundaries in a relationship, they’re not respecting your autonomy. A loving relationship is one in which you feel comfortable asserting your needs, from taking space for self-care to moving at a mutual pace in the bedroom. A respectful partner will support your boundaries, not try to cross them.
Your significant other may show a lack of respect by attempting to control any area of your life, including:
Diet and fitness
Social media use
“Be curious if you notice that a lot of controlling behavior is showing up in your relationship, such as one partner making all the decisions for the other,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Following that curiosity can look like; asking a question if some deeper unmet needs can be attended to. For example, a highly anxious partner can often push for control out of fear, compared to a partner wanting their significant other to change to make them happy.”
Abusive relationships often feature disrespectful communication, from name-calling to one partner belittling or talking down to the other.
“Abusive relationships often have a deep need from one partner to have non-consensual power and control over the other. This might feel like an extreme, but when talking about respect in your relationship, talking about control and consent are important parts of that conversation,” Seeger DeGeare explains.
Withholding communication through ignoring a loved one in person (aka stonewalling or giving the silent treatment) to demonstrate anger can also indicate a lack of respect. Even couples in happy relationships will experience disagreements, but these should always be handled with love, care, and honesty
You can show respect to your partner through positive behaviors such as active listening, demonstrating interest in their lives, and communicating honestly and openly. Respect also goes hand in hand with integrity. It is important to communicate respectfully about your partner as well as with them. This requires a relationship based on trust, honesty, and openness with yourself and your social group, as well as with your romantic partner.
Successful relationships thrive on strong communication. Without honest, ongoing communication, romantic relationships can fall victim to misunderstandings, frustration, and resentment. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your needs and state your boundaries.
When discussing sensitive issues such as hurt feelings, “I” rather than “you” statements can help keep your communication assertive but not aggressive. For example, “you never do any housework” is likely to cause defensiveness and escalate tension, whereas “I feel that I need more support with the housework” pinpoints the issue and potential solution without adding to conflict.
Active listening goes hand in hand with communicating your feelings constructively. Respond to your partner’s cues and ask open-ended questions where appropriate. If you’re struggling to understand the issue, calmly ask for clarification rather than assuming what they mean, to avoid misunderstandings. Creating an environment where your partner can express themselves honestly, without judgment will make them feel respected and secure.
Part of showing respect to your partner is behaving in a way that generates trust. Being reliable and consistent shows your partner that you think about how your actions affect them. Of course, life happens and flexibility is important.
Consistency doesn’t mean always having to be available for a phone call at 7 pm sharp. Rather, it means if you miss a call then you always get back in touch with your partner when you are available, and your partner will give you the space to do so. The details will differ for every couple but being able to rely on each other is key to a respectful relationship.
Accepting your partner for who they are meant respecting that their communication style, formative experiences, needs, and interests may differ from yours. Keep an open mind and be willing to listen and ask questions.
These differences may require compromise: maybe you prefer to text and your loved one likes to call, so you use a mix of both.
“When you’re navigating differences in your relationship, think about what preferences are based in your values and preferences that are just things you think are normal but can and will easily evolve over time,” shares Seeger DeGeare. “This will support you in knowing when to compromise, relationships come with a lot of compromises, and when to hold firm.”
Self-respect is a cornerstone of building overall respect in a relationship. By valuing your own needs and desires, you will be much better placed to understand what you can compromise on and what boundaries you need to maintain. This will also help you recognize and respect when and why your loved one does the same.
Building your self-respect and self-esteem may require some hard work, such as taking responsibility for less-productive behaviors, recognizing when you need personal space, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. The rewards of a deeper connection will be worth it.