R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Marriage: It’s What You Need (and Baby, I Got It)

Successful marriages are established and maintained by . . . . RESPECT.

By Rich

This post is part of a 10-part series celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, specifically the sentence, “”Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

You guys- Rich is posting again!!!  Huzzah!  I’m very excited about it and of course I love it.  While he was working on this I jokingly said, “You writing the respect article?  It better involve Aretha.”  To which he said, “You have no idea.”  🙂  Love him.

PS  ANOTHER Giveaway at the end of this post! And you could win a T-shirt of the sentence from the Proclamation we’ve chosen to do this series on. Then you’ll never forget!  🙂  -Celeste


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It’s very likely that the Aretha Franklin song “Respect (R-E-S-P-E-C-T)” is the most famous spelling-lesson-that’s-actually-a-song of all time. It was released in 1967, almost 50 years ago now, but remains such an undeniably awesome song that over those nearly 50 years a few of things have happened.

1) Everyone knows how to spell “respect”
2) As soon as you hear Aretha, the Queen of Soul, belt out “WHAT you want” you instantly know what this song is:

Oh, and 3) her song became so popular that you might not know that it’s not actually Aretha Franklin’s song at all (whaaaaa?).

The original song “Respect” was written and performed by the KING of Soul, Otis Redding (if you’re not familiar, his most well-known song is probably “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”). Otis’ original version of the song is the story of a forlorn man with a partner that runs around on him, but he’s still willing to give her anything she wants, anything she needs. He just wants a little respect when he comes home. It’s not a healthy relationship to say the least, devoid of respect from both partners (and when he does mention “respect” in the song’s chorus, it’s mostly likely a sad, ironic… um, euphemism). It’s sad.

Aretha’s version, while technically a “cover,”flips the song and it’s meaning entirely. It’s now from the perspective of a confident, secure woman who is sure that she, herself, is EXACTLY what her partner wants and needs (“What you want – baby I got it!”). She is invested in the relationship (“Ain’t gonna do you wrong, cuz I don’t wanna”). She’s not even demanding equal investment of resources into their relationship (“I’m ‘bout to give you, all my money”). But the thing she needs? The thing she won’t compromise on? She needs respect. And so do the rest of us.

For being so crucial to a healthy marriage, respect is interesting because it’s an emotion that in a lot of ways is completely separate from the “love” and “romance” aspects of marriages. There’s probably a long list of people you respect, only some of whom you might say you love. But you also respect treacherous mountain roads, loaded weapons, and bears who might wander across your hiking trail. So you can see why it would be emotionally confusing if respect only went hand-in-hand with romance.

So if respect doesn’t necessarily come along with romance, and if we know strong marriages are built solidly on a relationship of respect, then how do we go about feeling, improving, or re-acquiring the respect we should have for our spouses? That’s a tall order, but I’ll try a few ideas.

Respect and Marriage: We all need it, but we don't all give it.  

1. The Opposite of Respect

I know I already said that I don’t think respect develops naturally out of a purely romantic attraction. I think respect shores up love, helps love to grow, but respect isn’t necessarily love in and of itself. So what is the connection between respect and love? It might help to consider what it’s opposite is.
I don’t think the opposite of “respect” is “hate.” Hate is a strong, negative emotion toward something or someone that has influenced you deeply. Hate is the action of consciously or unconsciously focusing negative energy against something, while its opposite, love, is actively finding, celebrating and promoting positive feelings about something.

The opposite of respect isn’t hate. It’s contempt.

Contempt is anger mixed with disgust. Contempt is seeing something or someone and dismissing them as not worthy of you. They’re not only less than you, worse than you, but offensive to you by the way the take up your energy, your attention. Contempt chokes and masks the humanity we should see in everyone, but it’s especially vicious against those close to us. To those close to us, contempt doesn’t just let us ignore them and their needs. Contempt toward one’s spouse or loved ones breeds active resentment. Anything seen through a filter of contempt is pathetic, worthless, and incapable of any redeeming characteristics.

There’s a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt,” to which I would add, “And contempt breeds divorce.” One reason why writing a blog post about respect is so tough is because contempt, utter lack of respect, seems to me a practically insurmountable obstacle. I don’t know how to come back from that. I hope few of us ever feel that way toward others, especially toward our spouses. But fortunately, there are some experts who have some ideas on ways we can literally act more respectfully, less contemptuously.

2. Turning toward your spouse

John Gottman and his wife Julie are psychologists who research relationships and marriages. In extensively studying and observing newly wed couples, their humdrum, day-to-day interactions, the Gottmans and their colleagues identified behaviors, small indicators, that let them predict with (I’m going to capitalize this for emphasis) REMARKABLE accuracy whether or not these couples would still be married or divorced in six years. How accurate? 94% of the time Gottman could predict, based on these indicators, the future success of the marriage. An extensive article, called “Masters of Love,” reviewing their research was published last year.

What were the indicators? From the article:

Throughout the day, partners [will] make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

Turning-toward means engaging. Physically turning! Literally looking them in the eye. Paying attention. Connecting. Respecting.

Ultimately, it’s not that the wife respects bird watching, respects notable bird watchers, or respects the skill involved in noticing birds. But that she cares enough, is kind enough to notice a bid for attention, for connection, and respond. She is respecting her partner (his interests matter), she’s respecting his feelings (he wants a connection) and respecting her relationship (that connection matters). Substitute any number of “bids” for a connection that you make, that your spouse makes, and think about how you are responding to them and you’ll get an excellent idea of how you are demonstrating kindness and developing respect in your marriage.

Oh AND before we get too far off the topic of bids and birds, I’ll just leave this small joke of a tweet that I wrote long before reading this article:

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BID’S IN YOUR COURT, CELESTE!!!

One last quote from the excellent “Masters of Love” article:

Contempt . . . is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued.

3. “Give me my propers, when you come home”

So how can you cultivate respect? Turning-toward during your spouse’s bids for connection is excellent advice. General kindness, patience and understanding are certainly crucial. Anything else?

Let’s get back to Aretha and “Respect”:

I’m about to give you all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey

Is to give me my propers

When you get home

Propers? First off, great word. It means the respect that someone is owed. I think it’s perfect that she’s asking for recognition of what she deserves when (the unnamed) he comes home. Because in the home is where you likely see more of each other than anywhere else (and, since we know familiarity breeds contempt), what better place to list out and reflect on the things they do and are that deserve respect.

So think about it: What DOES your spouse deserve? What are some of the difficult tasks you see them always doing? What are they really good at doing? What about the things they do that you know doesn’t come easily, that you know is really hard for them to do? How have they changed their lives to benefit you? How have they become the person THEY wanted to be?

I hope it goes without saying that every person deserves respect, empathy and compassion. But if you want to try and foster respect in your marriage, think about the specific things that impress you, that you aspire to, in your spouse. However accomplished you are, at however many things, without a doubt there will be things your spouse is better at. Perhaps many things (it’s not a contest, guys). A more passive form of contempt is taking someone for granted: perhaps they don’t disgust you, but you think so little of them, you don’t notice them at all. Don’t let that be you. Notice, list, and verbalize to your spouse what it is that you respect and admire about them. 

Give them their propers when you come home.

So in the end, what does R-E-S-P-E-C-T mean to marriages?

A lot. (“Sock-it-to-me, sock-it-to-me, sock-it-to-me, sock-it-to-me…”)


If you are enjoying this series on my blog, be sure to check out the other awesome blogs participating in this series:CranialHiccups and Being LDS

You can also share your love of family by sharing photos online this month under the hashtag #ILovetheFamilyProclamation.

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5 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Marriage: It’s What You Need (and Baby, I Got It)

  1. Why is Dr. Gottman’s ONE example of bids for attention about birds?!? Of all the things . . . I promise I respond to Rich’s bids for connection much more often on all non-bird related topics.

  2. Great post! I appreciate how you explained respect. As a counselor, I see contempt is couples counseling. Sometimes it is overcome-able, and sometimes the selfishness won’t go away. It’s love and forgiveness that heal the wound, allowing room for respect to grow back.
    Bummer I missed the giveaway!

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