Most of us know at least some of the lyrics from Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit song, “Respect.” In fact, just reading the song title might have made you sing the next line, “Find out what it means to me.” But when it comes to your marriage, how much time and effort have you put into finding out what respect means to your spouse?
Recently, my husband and I were talking to a young couple who were about to get married. The issue of respect kept resurfacing as we discussed topics like finances, sex, in-laws, and even trust/fidelity. Respect is a key component of marriage. Relationships, where respect is present, tend to succeed, and relationships, where respect is absent, tend to fail.
What respect does and does not mean in marriage
But back to our original question: what does respect mean to your spouse? Maybe we could approach this with some do’s and don’ts – some general principles by which we can measure our levels of respect.
Respect does not mean
- turning a blind eye to major flaws in their character,
- excusing bad behavior, or
- lowering your standards of what is acceptable in the context of marriage.
Respect does mean
- believing in their capacity for change,
- speaking encouraging words of God’s grace and mercy, and
- catching a vision together for what God wants your marriage to look like.
Respect does not include comparing them to others. Do you feel respected when this is done to you? If not, don’t compare your spouse, either out loud or in your head.
Respect does look like appreciating them (out loud, please!) for their unique gifts, talents, and contributions to the world.
Respect for your spouse isn’t created by hanging around others who openly disrespect their spouse. Limit your exposure to this kind of person. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 tells us, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'”
Respect for your spouse is created by renewing your mind. Just as negative friends can drag us down into the negative vortex of disrespect, renewing your mind with God’s Word can help you reframe your situation and give you a godly perspective on the gift that your spouse is!
Respect is not fostered by an expectation of perfection. When you set the bar impossibly high, your spouse is destined to disappoint you.
Respect is fostered by actively seeking out the good in your spouse. I once heard Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth at a conference for women say this: “Ladies, the Scripture tells us, "if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things (Phil. 4:8)." It doesn’t say, "if everything is excellent or praiseworthy." Find one good thing about your spouse and let your mind camp out there for a while! And if you can’t think of anything, pray that God will open your eyes to what your spouse is doing right.
What disrespect does
A constant undercurrent of disrespect is discouraging and demotivating. Have you ever spent any time with someone whose spouse constantly criticizes them? Makes fun of them? Ignores them? What motivation does that person have to improve?
Interactions fueled by respect are encouraging and motivating. When you tell your mate how you view them in a positive light, they naturally want to live up to your image of them.
Here are some ways to speak respectfully:
- “You know, honey, even if you feel like no one else believes in you, I do.”
- “You’re so good at…”
- “So many of the things you do for others go unnoticed, but I see you and appreciate you.”
Grace Marriage Mission
Now it’s time for an honest assessment. Did you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions of the disrespectful spouse? If so, it might be time to confess this sin to a trusted friend, admit it to your spouse, and then ask for their forgiveness.
Maybe more important than a self-assessment is an assessment that includes your spouse. Read this post together, then discuss the ways you are enjoying mutual respect of a healthy marriage and the possible ways you could improve in this area.
Remember Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Turn your heart over to Him in prayer and watch Him do His best work in your marriage in the days to come!