To Love Someone, You Have to Respect Them Too

Silhoette of man bowing with tophat in hand

Here’s a question people ask too infrequently in the area of romantic love: Do I admire and respect my partner/spouse?

We are all taught that love means warmth, support, and sex. Of course romantic love does include these things. But warmth, support, and sex are not enough, by themselves, to sustain a serious romantic relationship. Your underlying evaluation of your partner must be the foundation for your relationship.

A healthy, rational individual falls in love with another person because of admiration for the desirable qualities he or she has. For example, a man might feel he’s not outgoing enough; so when he meets a woman he evaluates as outgoing, he’s more likely to take an interest in her. He loves her because he values her outgoing personality, and wishes he possessed more of that quality himself.

Another example: A woman might think she’s not very competent in the business world; so when she finds a man she perceives as competent, she’s more likely to fall in love with him. She loves him because she respects and admires the quality of competence, and hopes that she can learn from him.

This is part of the psychology behind the principle of “opposites attract.”

Of course, individuals can also admire each other for unhealthy reasons. For example, a man might fall in love with a woman because she’s physically attractive — even though he feels no respect for her otherwise. He loves her because it makes him feel worthwhile to escort her in public. This is why he treats her nicely in front of others, but not in private.

He loves her because he places a higher value on looking good to other people than he does on finding a woman he can admire. Due to his lack of self-respect, he feels a neurotic need for everyone’s approval; and out of motivation for this social approval he responds, emotionally, to a woman who can help provide it for him.

Similarly, a woman might fall in love with a man because he’s strong and supportive. Yet she values these qualities not for the inspiration they offer. Instead, she values these qualities because of an unhealthy need for safety and security. She wants a man to take care of her so she need not take care of herself.

In even unhealthier cases, a woman might fall in love with a man because she admires his ability to “con” or cheat others. She resents the fact that she (like all of us) must be responsible for her actions, and accountable to the laws of reality. So when she finds a man who seems able to cheat the laws of logic and reason, through criminal or dishonest activities, she responds in an emotionally favorable way. “Here’s a man who can get away with what I’d like to get away with,” sums up her whole attraction to him.

Consider another example of unhealthy love. A man will fall in love with a woman because he likes the fact that she does not comment on his undesirable qualities. She attaches no “strings” to the relationship, not even reasonable ones. For example, if he routinely fails to arrive home from work until midnight, and offers no explanation or apology, she expresses no concern about this fact. Or if he verbally or physically assaults her, she tolerates it.

He responds to her in an emotionally favorable way, at least at first, because he does not have to change his character flaws in order to stay involved with her. Even as he inevitably loses respect for her, he prefers to stay married to her — because what other wife would allow him to stay the way he is with no comment or judgment?

As these examples illustrate, respect (real or imagined) for your partner can be based on rational motives or irrational ones.

What about your own romantic relationship? Ask yourself why, on the deepest level, you love your partner or spouse. Ask yourself why you feel this positive emotional response towards him or her. It will tell you a lot, on the core level, about who you are and what you value.

If you don’t like the man or woman you’re with, then maybe you should take a closer look at yourself.

If you’re starting to dislike or even hate your romantic partner, then ask yourself: what standards is he not living up to that he used to live up to? Was my initial emotional response mistaken? Or perhaps based on the wrong motives?

Ask yourself what you might be doing wrong. In many cases, problems in your relationship are not solely due to your partner. Most often, problems with your relationship represent contradictions and errors within your own thoughts, behaviors, and expectations.

The most common example? Expecting your partner to become someone he cannot be, or does not want to be. Probably the most important principle of romantic love is this one: you can’t expect your spouse to change simply because you want him to change. And he can’t expect the same of you. Accept each other as you are now — or don’t become involved.

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