Respect in Relationships


My lover consistently takes actions I feel are disrespectful and my reaction is that my desire to do loving things for her (sweet talk, flowers, even regular conversation) decreases dramatically.

Q1 How do you determine whether you are withholding your love or preferring not to be disrespected?



Consider that it might be both.  We want to be treated with respect. We also might be withholding our love in order to punish our partner.  Withholding love is a way to punish someone until we get what we want.  It may not make sense, but it is what we learned to do as an emotional habit very young.

If you have complete respect for yourself then you don’t feel disrespected by what others do.  If you feel disrespected it is because you have a belief about yourself.  You then feel the emotion that you create through investing in your own belief.  If you feel disrespected it is created as a separate event from how you were treated.  It may be sparked by what another person does, but if you didn’t have that belief in your mind then you wouldn’t feel that emotion, no matter what your partner says.

Awareness and discernment in pulling apart the dynamic will help.  To get a better idea of what I am talking about I’ll break down some of the agreements and interpretations that might be happening.

It might look like this:
Partner makes a critical comment about something you did or didn’t do.
That’s their half.  End of story.

Your half of the reaction might look like this:

Your mind interprets a number of things in an instant:
1) They are right and you shouldn’t have done that. (You accept the judgment)
2) Your mind links what you did to your self worth.
Because you failed at something you are a failure.  Mind generates a self image of failure.
3) Belief in that self image of failure creates unpleasant emotions. (Feeling unworthy)
Belief in this false self image as being who you are is your act of disrespect to your self.
Our mind learned to react with interpretations of 1,2, and 3 early in childhood .  For many people it becomes so automatic that we can feel scolded with just a look from our mom.  She doesn’t have to say anything and we feel bad for doing something wrong.  It can be that automatic.
4) Our mind interprets that our partner made us feel unworthy. (Disrespected or hurt)
Critical misinterpretation here is that our partner is the one creating our emotions.
This false assumption gives us a sense of powerlessness over our emotional state. This underlying belief is hidden behind the words, ‘He/She made me feel (fill in emotion here)__________’
They may have made the comment but it only hurt because we believed some form of it.
5) We blame the other person for making us feel hurt and disrespected. (Victim)
6) We rationalize that their comment was wrong/bad and disrespectful (inner judge)
7) We feel right in our analysis of their behavior and back it up with stories of what they should have said instead.
8) Because we feel right and they are wrong, we now claim the moral high ground.
9) We get angry or resentful as a means of emotional punishment towards our partner for what they said.  This is an automatic response intended to punish our partner to get them to stop with their ‘disrespectful’ comments.  Because we put ourselves on the moral high ground our anger is justified and fortified.

9a) As an alternate to anger or resentment we also might pull away and distance ourselves. We stop expressing love and respect. This can be to avoid the painful comments, but can also be to punish our partner by ignoring or isolating them emotionally. It is an unconscious and passive way of emotional punishment. In our lack of awareness we don’t notice that it hurts us more than it hurts them.

10) (optional)  We become aware that we are angry and judgmental to our partner and we judge ourselves for being angry.

The emotional reactions and interpretations of steps, 1-10, can happen in less than a second.  Our partner provided the spark to the fire, but with our agreements, and interpretations we brought the paper, kindling, firewood, and gasoline.  What the first person said might be disrespectful but that doesn’t mean they are responsible for our half of the reaction.

A lot goes on in the mind in that one second doesn’t it? Scientists say that we only use 10% of our brain.  I don’t think they noticed what we are doing 90% of the time.

The next level of escalation is that the fire going within us will become the spark that ignites a fire in our partner. At this point refrain and silence is the better part of impeccability.

This may not be the exact scenario, but this is a common cycle for the mind and emotions to go through in a reaction like this.  We might think of someone who doesn’t react to disrespect or judgmental comments as a Saint but it is not that far out of reach.  It is just a matter of becoming aware and changing a few core beliefs about ourselves.  For me this is a lot less work then living in emotional reaction the rest of my life.  Lesson 2 of the Self Mastery Course  provides a good exercise for dismantling much of the above reaction chain.  It is available in the free users area.

My suggestion to create more respect in your relationship:  Talk with your partner about your half of the reaction.  Some people refer to it as getting naked in the relationship or being vulnerable.  I think of it as being honest. Be sure to take responsibility for your half.  Do not start with what they do to cause your reaction.  If you bring up what your partner does as the spark be sure to maintain responsibility for your half.  They still might interpret that you are blaming them, but you are not responsible for their interpretation.

If you are uncomfortable bringing this up for discussion then that is a different question.

What creates happiness in our relationships is our love coming out of us.  When we are not happy, it is because our love is not coming out of us.  This usually occurs when we are invested in a reason not to express love.  These are more commonly recognized as judgments and criticisms of other people or our self.

PS.  The question of whether you really want to be with a person who disrespects you can’t be addressed here.  If it is a case where it is outright abuse, then discussion may be a useless point.  Leaving the relationship may make more sense.  No sense trying to clean up what is going on in your mind in a toxic and abusive environment.




  1. Gary January 3, 2008 at 6:05 am

    The kind of relationship that I’m speaking about isn’t easily seen. We are so use to looking at relationships with the social contracts of emotional reactions we don’t have any models for anything else. For an appropriate model you would probably need to look to individuals of notoriety for such examples: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus Christ, Dalai Llama.

    In them we see the behavior modeled. But we would have to translate it to personal relationships. It is rare I know, but I have witnessed it lived, and am practicing it.

    When it comes to personal/romantic relationships, even at an emotionally advanced level, you will create boundaries. If someone is ridiculing and taunts me then that relationship will not be fun for me or for her. In that case I say good bye. I love and respect myself too much to allow others to treat me with disrespect and unkindness.

    In all of this there is still a fine line in the area of responsibility of emotions when it comes to others. You are always responsible for what you say and do. You are not responsible for another’s emotions, but you have a responsibility TO them. The layers of this subtlety are a bit more involved than I could be put in the comments space. The would need something more like one of my podcasts.

  2. John January 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Gary said “I love and respect myself too much to allow others to treat me with disrespect and unkindness.”

    And that’s where I’d love to see a podcast go. I know each scenario is different but I’d like to hear you discuss this.

    For instance, one could say in your above response that the other person is not disrespecting you, it’s you allowing yourself to feel disrespect. In an abusive relationship that would sound asinine and yet there’s a grey area there. Simply put where do you draw the line between your personal responsibility to own your emotions and where do you say this person does not have impeccability with their word and it’s best I move on.

    And yes, the hardest part about learning these new ways of thinking is the daunting task of finding partners who embrace the same philosophy. It’s very foreign to most in this age and culture.

    Thanks Gary!

  3. Gary January 3, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Where do you draw the line?? That line is called a boundary by the way. Where you draw it depends on how your level of awareness and emotional wounds. For someone who has a lot of wounds they can’t stand anyone close to them so they will push someone away very quickly. This is where most people are in their evolution.

    For someone that has cleaned up their emotional wounds (false beliefs) they are not going to take what another person says or does personally. They don’t have emotional reactions to others. When you don’t have wounds it is easy to be around others that are disrespectful. It’s actually kind of funny to watch them.

    Of course they are disrespectful and even rude, that is simply an assessment. I don’t judge them and I don’t feel victimized by them. Because I don’t have an emotional reaction to them doesn’t mean that they aren’t disrespectful. It just means that I don’t care.

    Of course, depending on the degree, and everything else in the relationship, I might put a boundary there or not.

    I suggest listening to the free audio podcast on How to not take things personally.

    This whole topic of boundaries and emotional wounds is part of a Relationship Series Program I am considering creating. It’s a bit more involved than a podcast, but I might mention it. You ask good questions. Perhaps we can do it as a podcast with you interviewing me about this. It could be recorded on Skype.