On March 16, 2014, my spouse and I will celebrate 20 years together. We frequently hear comments from our friends and family on how much they appreciate and admire our marriage.
At least 15 years ago, a family member asked me what made my relationship work so well. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “respect”. If I were asked that question today, I would have the same response. I truly believe that mutual respect is the foundation of any healthy long-term commitment.
What does respect actually mean? “The special esteem or consideration in which one holds another person or thing”, according to Oxford Dictionary. Please read that definition again slowly. It’s a powerful statement. But how does one demonstrate respect in their marriage or committed partnership?
Show regard for your partner
For us, this means that we consider each other in our decision-making. This goes for smaller decisions such as, “Should I go to the gym tonight? to larger decisions like “I want to buy a car”. We have chosen to create a shared life. Sharing life together does not mean that we abandon our own individual needs/desires. Instead, we recognize both of our needs/desires, thoughts and feelings and hold this in high regard. We attempt to make room for each other in this shared life without one person trumping over the other.
Behave in trustworthy ways
From day one, we did not hide ourselves in any way. Always honest, we laid our life and personality cards on the table. We never attempt to deceive each other. When I screw up, let’s say I forget to pay something important like the mortgage, I tell the truth. I don’t try to “save face”. Betrayal of any kind can be a symptom to a greater problem.
Trust also means recognizing that we depend on each other. We exercise healthy need and work hard not to let each other down.
Honesty can spark debate and/or disagreement. High regard and trustworthiness allow us to fight clean. This means that even in the heat of our anger, we never speak to each other in a way that belittles, name calls, shames or conveys disgust. We don’t fight often and never “to win” but rather to express ourselves and find resolve.
Laugh till you cry
To balance out the work required to create a respectful marriage, we must also exercise good doses of laughter. Our lives are busy and very hard at times. I always appreciate how, in some crazy-making moments, my spouse and I can look at each other and just start laughing together.
I remember how my spouse poked fun at himself the day after we had a fight, where he had stormed out of the house. He started mocking himself and shared that, in the heat of his anger, he forgot to put a coat on when he left and froze as he walked around the block (it was the middle of winter). As he admitted this, we both started laughing, as in doubled-over laughing (and crying). How crucial it is to laugh at ourselves or at life.
I highlight these values because I firmly believe that these are the foundation of what makes a marriage or committed partnership work. These values provide the structure to help you move through the ups and downs of a long-term relationship. Respect gained through high regard, trust and fair fighting, balanced with healthy humor. They serve as the anchor to help you stay grounded and connected in love.
Honey, if you are reading this… I hold unending gratitude for you, our family and our shared life together. Thank you, my love. You are magical.