Do you feel disrespected in your relationship instead of feeling loved? According to marriage researcher John Gottman, a marriage where partners disrespect each other has succumbed to at least two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (criticism and contempt). When couples turn from admiring and loving each other to being critical, the respect is gone. Respect means listening to and affirming your partner and their values, thoughts, and choices. Instead, partners might refuse to listen and judge each other’s feelings as worthless. At that point, they are focusing on the negatives of their partner. When this respect is lost, partners treat each other with contempt. These behaviors are abusive and promote disrespect, which often leads to the end of the relationship. As time goes by, partners engage in defensive behaviors because they cannot take responsibility for problems. This sparks new problems, leading to new negative behaviors, also known as avoidant behaviors. Partners start to ignore each other, expressing indifference to each other’s thoughts and actions.


***What do we mean by respect?

Respect is a simple term. It means that you treat your partner in a compassionate and thoughtful way. It also means that you do not abuse them, ignore them, or talk sarcastically to them. It means that you are always polite to them and you do not insult them. Finally, respect means that you understand and appreciate their points of view, wishes, and values. Treating your partner with respect means taking their opinion into consideration, consulting them before making important decisions, and being interested in their life while compromising with them on important issues.

How partners build respect.

Respect is built in a relationship when partners consistently value each other’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. They talk to and treat each other in ways they would want to be treated, and they compromise and negotiate.

How partners lose respect.

Respect can slowly wear away when a relationship takes daily hits. Partners who are stressed or have their own issues may become irritable and negative and take out this frustration on each other. This can create a negative pattern in which partners are disrespectful to each other. Furthermore, the inability to resolve these issues can lead to further anger and frustration.

Stuck in the pattern.

Do you find yourself in similar situations? You, just like other couples, may have gotten too comfortable with disrespecting each other. Often, you may think this is a situation you can avoid, but if you pay attention, you will see that it is happening all the time. When partners feel that they can disrespect each other, it shows that they are taking each other’s commitment for granted.


When respect leaves the relationship, you become uncaring and even abusive, and you don’t care how you treat each other because you assume your partner will stick around anyway. When there is no mutual respect, partners can become abusive and relationships come to an end. Being disrespected or treated without value and understanding is not acceptable in any relationship, especially your most intimate relationship. You should know by now that the way you treat an object is determined by the value we assign to it. Therefore, if your partner treats you like an object, it could mean that we have no value in their eyes. If your partner keeps being disrespectful to you and doesn’t make an effort to change, they are telling you that they do not value your relationship.

Furthermore, disrespectful behavior toward you could mean that your partner lacks empathy and understanding. At this point, you need to draw boundaries. You need to let your partner know what is acceptable behavior and what you will not tolerate. When partners take steps toward mutual respect, then they can build the kind of relationship they truly want, where they love each other and put each other’s needs above their own. Respect in your intimate relationship should be unconditional, just like love. This means that partners cannot express respect and love only when they are doing well, or only when you are meeting their expectations.

How disrespect works in a relationship.

Acting condescending toward your partner’s thoughts and feelings.Many problems in a relationship start when partners don’t ask questions about their partner’s behavior, making assumptions and coming to the conclusion that they are always right and their partner is wrong. When someone thinks they are always right, they do not accept their partner’s opinion, which may be different from theirs. To them, their partner’s opinion has no value, because it does not share their own personal experience. However, because it has everything to do with their partner’s personal experience, their opinion is just as valid and important as theirs. Once you learn to identify different points of view and accept and respect them, you will see communication and understanding improve.

Rejection through body language and tone of voice.Partners communicate not only through words, but also through tone of voice and body language. These are important ways to deliver a message to each other. Imagine a couple looking at each other. One partner rolls their eyes and the other becomes sarcastic. This communicates disrespect even if they aren’t using words. Partners feel the need to defend themselves, causing conflict to arise. It’s important to be conscious of how your body language and tone of voice affect the message you are trying to send to your partner.

Insulting your partner.People who insult their partners, especially in public, can destroy the respect in their relationship very quickly. Having respect in your relationship means you treat each other the same way you would like to be treated. This also means that you value each other’s thoughts and feelings.

Name calling.Name calling is meant to hurt your partner. If your intention is to hurt your partner, you have no place in your relationship at all. Name calling is a childish behavior that only makes problems worse.

Threatening to end the relationship.Partners in a healthy relationship should stick together no matter what and support each other when times are tough. If you toss around the idea of ending the relationship whenever you argue with your partner, how can expect them to respect or trust you when you are showing this inconsistency?

More common signs of disrespect in a relationship:

  • Partners don’t find time for each other.
  • They don’t share things with each other.
  • Partners only take care of themselves.
  • They try to make each other feel less worthy.
  • They are aggressive toward each other.
  • They don’t have boundaries.
  • They don’t support each other.
  • They don’t help each other.
  • They don’t listen to each other.
  • They give each other the silent treatment.
  • They ignore each other’s needs.

Rebuilding respect in your relationship.

The best way to fix your relationship is to be honest with your partner. Let them know you feel frustrated instead of using the situation as an opportunity to give up. Maintaining respect in a relationship takes effort. Everyone, when treated negatively and disrespectfully, tends to respond in similar ways. This creates a pattern. The more one partner is rude and disrespectful, the more likely it is that the other partner will behave in similar ways. Therefore, disrespect will grow around the behaviors mentioned in this article.

However, disrespect is not always clear. Partners can be disrespectful in more subtle but equally damaging ways. These behaviors may include ignoring your partner, responding with indifference, and so on. Once this negative pattern is created, it becomes difficult for partners to change. Especially when both partners are angry at each other, neither of them will be willing to change. Similarly, when only one partner tries to change, their efforts may go unnoticed.

Partners who want to make things work and rebuild respect in their relationship should follow two steps: 1) Work individually on changing their own behavior and 2) do not try to control each other’s behavior. It is important for partners to understand that due to their tension, they cannot effectively influence each other. Instead, they should focus on their own behavior while  treating each other as they would like to be treated.

Additionally, partners should refrain from trying to control each other’s behavior. Once respect starts to rebuild, partners can begin to work on how to communicate better, solve problems, express their feelings and needs, and accept a different point of view.

Relationship coaching.

Relationship coaching can help couples focus on reestablishing a respectful relationship in a safe environment. Once you and your partner feel safe and comfortable, relationship coaching focuses on helping you identify the problems affecting your relationship. It offers a safe environment for both of you to talk about these issues directly without getting angry and disrespectful.

Mutual respect is the key step for relationship coaching to work. Once that is established, partners will learn to recognize, accept, and appreciate their differences. Each person needs to accept that their partner may have different points of view and learn to tolerate and accept that. Partners need to understand that their differences cannot threaten their relationship; conversely, they can work in their favor. Finally, relationship coaching helps partners learn new ways of communicating their thoughts, emotions, and needs and become more open to each other’s opinions and more compassionate, understanding, and loving to each other.


Bach, G. R., & Wyden, P. (1969). The intimate enemy: How to fight fair in love and marriage.