*This article does not refer to verbally or emotionally abusive behaviors. If you think you are a victim of marital abuse, immediately seek help from a local agency or call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.799.7233.

No one deserves to be disrespected. 

And it feels awful when someone disrespects you, especially the person you love the most. 

The bad news is we know that contempt and criticism increase the likelihood of marriages going sour. A marriage simply cannot thrive in an environment of disrespect. (Communication Killers has more on this.)

But there’s good news. Disrespectful behavior can change. Marriage can get stronger. And you can feel better about your spouse’s behavior.   

And here’s where we start. 

As I wrote in 4 Reasons Why Respect Matters in Marriage, respect is how you show genuine appreciation for another person. Respect is an action, not just a feeling. It’s a declaration of value for someone. We show respect by how we behave toward our mate. 

Before declaring your freedom from disrespect, it’s crucial to stop and reflect on what’s going on. Examining what you’re feeling helps you approach the problem in a healthier way. 

I find it helpful to dissect the disrespect. 

Separate the disrespectful behavior and the feeling it produced. I know you feel disrespected. But for a moment, view disrespect as merely your spouse’s behavior. 

Consider: I was disrespected when my spouse did or said… 

And then dig deeper: Their behavior made me feel… (angry, upset, incompetent, hurt, sad… but don’t use the word “disrespected.”) 

Separating the disrespectful thing they did from what you feel helps in a couple of ways. First, it helps you consider your spouse’s intention. 

People show disrespect for several reasons: 

  • They’re trying to cover insecurities
  • They don’t realize how their behavior affects others.
  • They let their anger get the best of them.
  • They’re just being a jerk on purpose. 

Now, I can work with the first three reasons. They don’t excuse the disrespect, but those obstacles have concrete solutions. And they give insight into my spouse’s intentions. 

The fourth reason, well, is a little more complicated. But I’m gonna make a huge assumption that you didn’t look deep into your spouse’s eyes on your wedding day, knowing they were a big jerk. 

And if you did (I’m not gonna judge), or if something happened and they just turned jerky one day, seeking help from a professional may be the best approach. 

Separating disrespectful behavior and the way it makes you feel also helps you examine yourself more closely. When you’ve been disrespected, it’s essential to call out the emotions. What I mean is, label them. Give your feelings a name: anger, frustration, sadness, incompetency. You can deal better with what you can name.

Finally, separating disrespectful behavior and the resulting feelings helps you consider other important questions: 

  • What specifically was the disrespectful behavior that occurred? 
  • Is the disrespect a one-time thing, or has it been repetitive?
  • Does my spouse know they’re being disrespectful? Do they see how it affects me?
  • Is my spouse being intentionally disrespectful? Is it on purpose?
  • How sensitive am I usually to what others do or say? Does this paint how I see my spouse’s behavior? 
  • Is there something else going on in my own life that could affect how strongly I feel toward my spouse’s disrespectful behavior?

Let’s think about one more thing: It’s entirely possible for a person’s insecurities to cause them to take another’s well-meaning words or actions as a sign of disrespect. We all have to stop and ask ourselves, when we feel disrespected, “Is there something inside causing us to perceive disrespect in something well-intentioned?” 

No one deserves to be disrespected, and it can be painful. But if you feel that your spouse disrespects you, you need a healthy approach to deal with it. Listening to each other, along with good reflection, determines a healthy approach. And this can lead to a better conversation with your spouse, so you can work through this together.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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