I’ve always believed that the foundation of a relationship between a man and a woman should be respect, plain and simple. Love is wonderful to have, attraction is always fun, but without that solid foundation of respect, a marriage is on borrowed time, at best. Unfortunately, love can fade, attraction can fizzle, but respect is tied to personality and as long as the personality doesn’t change, the respect for the person will last a long time.
It’s amazing to me how little I have heard of this throughout my life. For example, my wife has a pillow that was given to her during her Bachelorette party with the term “Wisdom for the Bride” written across it. It has very interesting, and very valid pieces of advice, such as “don’t go to bed angry” and “always communicate”. Yet I did not see anything regarding respecting each other.
To me, respecting one’s spouse is partially acknowledging the marriage as one unit, but also accepting one’s spouse as an individual with their own desires and goals. The very same rules you learn growing up about treating others with respect applies here. While ideally there is a 50/50 dissemination of responsibility when respect is the foundation of a marriage, as situations change in life, this must shift temporarily. If one spouse is at a time in their life when they’re weak, the other becomes stronger to support them and get them through it. But it must be temporary and it must not be exclusive to one side only.
It seems in society that the “norm” is for one spouse (quite often, the male) to simply do whatever their counterpart wants automatically. Many times this is simply to avoid confrontation. That does not and never will fly with me, as my wife can attest. If my wife disagrees with something I’m doing, we sit down, discuss it, and come to a compromise. The same works, vice versa. If we fight, we fight…but we get it out in the open and we do so respectfully. I don’t lay down for her and I certainly don’t expect her to lay down for me all the time. This is a huge part of my personal idea of respect in a marriage.
I was lucky in that the marriages in my family gave me quite a bit of material to NOT emulate. I came from three previous generations of Smith men who were notorious wife beaters. My father abused my mother and myself severely for years before she finally had the courage to divorce him. She eventually re-married, and while the man she married didn’t abuse her physically, I got the sense that he didn’t respect her at times. He would not allow her to go out with any of her friends or do anything by herself (or would do so begrudgingly). I think as the years went by, she resented him for it. I did not want that to be us. This example was one of many that helped formulate my views on marriage and respect.
But, while I was raised by my mother to respect others, the one event the cemented the idea of respect in a marriage was when my Grandmother passed away. Two days before she passed, she gave me her final wish. She asked me to promise her that I would not become like my father (her son). Her wish was that when I got married, that I would respect my wife and not hurt her. She felt my wife deserved to have a happier life than she and my mother did. She knew from the time I could walk that it was part of God’s will in my life to break the cycle of abuse.
I took that promise very seriously. She passed 14 years ago, and I still honor it today just as much as the day it happened.
Without a doubt, respect must be the base of a marriage. We must not ever forget that, while it unifies us into one whole, marriage does not dissolve us as individuals. I believe one of the purposes of marriage is not to change a person, but to support, enhance and nurture that individual throughout their journey in life. A marriage is healthiest when both sides do this for the other. My grandmother believed this. As we move forward in our marriage, I like to think she lives on in us, but most of all, I’d like to think that she was proud of us for what we have become.
Is respect central to your marriage? Or is there another foundational element of marriage that is central to you?
PS from The Editor: the last session of Laura Henson's "What's Love Got to Do With It? Building and Sustaining Healthy Marriages" is this Sunday at 11:15amish.