Respect is the backbone of every good relationship. Without proper respect, relationships will weaken with tests of conflict. Respect is not meant for some more than others – it’s always meant for both people and in equal amounts. Obedience is an entirely different issue.
Respect is not a hardship we endure for the sake of the other, something we do to be civil, inwardly repressing what we’d really like to say. Being polite, not interrupting, and serving someone can all be manifestations that we respect someone, but they aren’t respect itself.
Respect is the core of true love. Like love, it is intangible, a feeling that translates into action. People can love one another without respecting one another, but once again this is a love that is prone to waning, growing weaker with time as resentment grows. The deepest, most intimate love exists only when two people truly respect one another. We often hear people say that “love fades” or that over time, a couple won’t be as “in love” as they once were. I personally believe this is because their love wasn’t built on the foundation of respect.
When two people truly love one another, they should want to respect each other, and when they respect each other, it increases and reaffirms their love and strengthens it every time. Respect is essentially the suppression of the ego to benefit the relationship, but it isn’t sacrifice. Husbands should respect their wives as much as their wives respect them; respect isn’t meant for one more than the other. Likewise, parents should respect their children. So, what is respect? And what are the ways in which people that love one another should respect one another?
What respect really is
Respect is valuing someone’s ideas, input, beliefs and feelings as much as your own. Respecting someone requires you to slough off immaturity and egocentricity as you metaphorically merge with another person in mind and spirit. When you respect someone you don’t even want to make yourself more important, or get your own way, or see that you’re the winner. For husbands, this can be a challenge, but since this article is for women, I won’t go into that. Many sisters struggle with husbands who disrespect them and they need to identify this emotion. They are married to men who disrespect their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and time. Many women don’t realise that at the core they feel disrespected, and the problem is not that he can’t relate to her or doesn’t speak to her in her “love language”. Every wife wants to be holistically valued by her husband as much as he values himself. No one wants to be discarded based on gender, status, or any other factor. But a woman cannot achieve this if she doesn’t value herself first, and then make her position and feelings known to her husband. A woman who stays perpetually quiet to make her husband comfortable is effectively insuring that he sees her own input as less important than his own.
The role of respect in conflict
Respect is most difficult in conflict, and I don’t mean merely not interrupting or staying polite. Truly listening to and valuing your partner, relative, or friend’s input as much as you want your own to be valued is not easy when your ego has led you to believe that you should try your best to advance your position. True respect, the kind that creates deep, lasting love, requires us to rethink the role of conflict in relationships altogether. We are told that conflict is negative, that it should be avoided, and that the more we have of it, the worse off we are. I argue that cyclical conflict is harmful, meaning having the same conflicts over and over with the same results – effectively, spinning your wheels. However, conflict in general is inevitable and has a role to play in our growth. If we step back, we can see that conflict is an opportunity to learn the skills of suppressing our egos and valuing and respecting another person as much as our self. It is a chance to overcome something together and end up in a mutually beneficial and better place than where we first started. Doing that with another person fosters love. It is not a sacrifice we begrudgingly make for each other so that we can shake hands at the end; it is an act of love that places the other as equal to ourselves. The strongest and deepest relationships are ones in which people were in conflict but overcame it the right way: respectfully.
The first step in creating true respect in a relationship is evaluating oneself. We have to ask ourselves if we truly respect our partner, and we cannot begin to properly respect our partner if we do not properly respect ourselves. This is particularly important for women, who may “respect” their husband at the cost of sacrificing their own limits and boundaries, which is disrespecting oneself. Every person has limits and boundaries in a relationship: where they draw the line regarding the type of behaviour they are willing to tolerate from the other, what they are willing to do and what they are willing to “take”. Respect may even be a deal-breaker in a marriage, because respect is not an issue we can compromise on. Of course, in marriage we have to learn to tolerate another’s faults and cope with their weaknesses, but within limits. Accepting treatment that belittles or abuses oneself is not something we can agree to live with indefinitely. Every person should have a limit of what they are willing to tolerate. This prevents power from shifting too much in one person’s direction, so we are in a constant interplay of demand and sacrifice.
So, over-respecting yourself and under-respecting yourself are both detrimental, though they may appear to yield short-term happiness. To practically respect someone and to expect that you are respected in return requires one to maintain limits and boundaries and to respect those of others, particularly in conflict. Firstly, we must listen to what the other person is saying to truly hear and understand them, not merely listen to counter their argument. We must suppress our ego to be truly open-minded to what they have to say. After all, if we love them, we want to know them and include them in the dynamic of the relationship.
Secondly, we must remain both calm and authentic at all times. Calmness means that we don’t emotionally react to what they have to say. It doesn’t meant we don’t have emotions, and sometimes we can’t help it if they show a little, but we keep them tightly reined in so that they don’t dominate and cloud the conversation. We can put voice to our emotions without letting them take us for a ride and sabotage our efforts. Being authentic is respecting yourself. It means that we state our opinions and beliefs, only censoring what is emotionally-charged. We don’t hide who we truly are or what we truly think. Everyone wants to be accepted and loved authentically. However, many women aren’t authentic, because they have confused obedience with respect, and unfortunately they think that to “be patient” with poor treatment is Islamic. They fear rejection, loss, or that their husbands will make their lives miserable. The reality however is that this repression is exactly the ticket to lifelong misery. Such women end up with low self-esteem and live in constant sacrifice. They will never be authentically and deeply loved for who they are, because they never asked to be. Over time, they risk losing their well-being, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
In conclusion, respect is an essential element for any healthy marriage. In almost any conflict in marriage, whether about family, time, money, sex or religion, the problem is not the disagreement itself but the fact that one person does not feel respected by another. In this article, we summarised what healthy respect looks like, whether it’s respecting one’s spouse or self-respect. In the next article, we will cover the specific areas of conflict mentioned above (family, time, money, sex, and religion) and demonstrate what respect looks like for each one.
Olivia Kompier was born in East Chicago, USA and has been a Muslim since 2000. She is married with three kids and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Islamic Studies from Arees Institute. She is a Certified Screamfree Parenting leader and also a writer at Muslim Matters.