How to Build Respect in a Relationship

Two young adult concerned girlfriends in casual clothes communicating drinking coffee in kitchen at home

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Respect is a vital component of a healthy relationship. Partners may argue and disagree, but they should still maintain respect for one another. When someone disregards or belittles their partner’s feelings, interests, opinions, or beliefs, then the relationship will suffer as a result.

Early in your relationship, you should have an honest conversation about respect and what it means to you and your partner. Beyond the basic levels of respect, you may have different definitions of what it means and what respectful behavior looks like. 

Establishing the Foundation for Respect

Leaving dirty dishes on the table for your partner to clean up, failing to say “thank you,” or making a big career decision without consulting your partner is often viewed as disrespectful. Instances like these can vary depending on the couple. This is why it’s important to talk about these situations early on in a relationship. 

Consider the following questions:

  • What does respect mean to you? Your partner?
  • If you have different definitions, how will you manage this?
  • What are your boundaries? What are your partner’s?
  • Do you feel comfortable opening up to your partner about your feelings?
  • Do you trust your partner? Discuss what trust looks like on a daily basis.
  • What are clear signs of respect and disrespect? Discuss specific examples.
  • What happens if a partner is disrespectful? How will you handle this?
  • What behavior is considered non-negotiable? 

How to Show Your Partner Respect

Healthy relationships are founded on mutual respect, which you can exhibit through positive behaviors, such as listening to your partner’s feelings, honoring their boundaries, supporting their passions, and talking kindly about them to others. When you respect someone, you hold them in high regard through your actions, behaviors, and words.

“You can love someone but also struggle with showing them respect,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, and owner and founder of Take Root Therapy.

Here are some ways to build respect in your relationship:

Strengthen Your Communication

Disrespect looks different to everyone. Imagine if someone buys their partner a vacuum for their birthday, thinking it’s a nice, expensive gift. The receiver may be a stay-at-home parent who handles the majority of household chores. They may consider this gift disrespectful, even if it’s nice and expensive. 

If the issue goes unaddressed, resentment may build, causing significant strain on the relationship. Ongoing and open communication can help prevent or combat situations like this. The couple may, for example, decide that household appliances are not respectful gifts but rather shared household purchases.

Even if you have a discussion early on in your relationship, know that people evolve and situations change. Give each other permission to open up freely, without judgment, regularly. You should both feel comfortable communicating your changing thoughts and feelings. If you’re not, then there may be underlying issues in the relationship that need attention. 

Be Honest and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Being in a relationship is difficult, even for the happiest, healthiest couples. You’re bound to disagree, make poor decisions, experience mood changes, and cross boundaries. Even if you don’t intend to, you may end up disrespecting your partner. This may happen in a heated argument or when you’re having a bad day.

You may have agreed not to go into the bathroom while your partner is showering, but every morning you’re running late for work and have to sneak in to get ready. Even if the intention is harmless and the boundary to you is ridiculous, you’re still knowingly disrespecting your partner regularly.

This is a small act that can cause more significant issues. Rather than asking your partner to give up this boundary, you could apologize to your partner and work on setting an earlier alarm, so you don’t have to disrupt their shower. 

“Everyone has stressors, challenges, and difficult situations to navigate in their day-to-day lives,” says Harouni Lurie. Be honest and take responsibility for your behaviors, responses, and reactions, Harouni Lurie explains.

Remain aware of how much tension you’re bringing into the relationship and how your stressors affect your ability to show up for your partner.

Support Your Partner’s Interests

Chances are, you and your partner have different interests, passions, and hobbies. Maybe your partner really loves to hike, but you don't. You don't have to join them on hiking adventures, but you shouldn't deter them from engaging in this activity.  If your partner values something, it's important to respect that, even if you don't particularly enjoy it. 

If your partner's interests or behaviors are harmful to you or your relationship, then there needs to be a discussion. Your partner may love base jumping, gambling, or smoking cigarettes, and you may consider these acts disrespectful. If you love and respect your partner, you should try your best to understand them. Rather than simply giving them an ultimatum, explain where you're coming from and see if they're willing to make compromises. 

Rebuilding Trust When It's Broken

Reading your partner’s journal, going through their social media messages, or spending time with an ex-partner without consulting your current partner may be seen as disrespectful behavior, but what if you’ve never discussed these specific instances? You may agree with this list, but your partner may not. 

Respect and trust go hand-in-hand. If you trust that your partner is not speaking inappropriately with others online, then you shouldn’t feel compelled to go through their private messages. If you trust that your partner won’t do anything inappropriate while they're out in the world without you, then you shouldn’t have to worry about where they go or with whom.

At the same time, partners shouldn’t be hiding their behavior, either. In healthy relationships, both partners should feel comfortable talking about their concerns or fears as they arise. They should also feel comfortable discussing their decisions ahead of time if they know that the decision could upset their partner.

Making an effort to understand your partner's boundaries is a demonstration of respect, Harouni Lurie explains. 

Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC

Communicating openly, honestly, and early about how you expect to be shown respect in a relationship may seem over the top but it’s something that can be really beneficial in a relationship.

— Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC

But even in the most loving relationships, trust can be broken. A partner may buy a car without consulting their partner, they may consistently disregard their partner’s boundaries, lie about their actions, or kiss their co-worker at a work party. Any one of these situations can cause a loss of trust, depending on the relationship.

You can rebuild trust if disrespectful behavior is not abusive (physically, mentally, sexually, or verbally). Both partners must be willing to rebuild it, though. In many cases, bringing in professional support can help. A therapist or counselor can offer a third-party perspective. They can also equip you with better coping strategies, exercises for trust-building, and skills for improving your communication.  

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, your partner is a human being with their own opinions, passions, and beliefs. If you’re trying to change, control, or dismiss this reality, you’re not respecting or honoring your partner. 

In a loving relationship, there must be respect, and that starts with yourself. Self-respect is essential to understanding your boundaries, what you want from your partner, and what you’re willing to compromise on. 

By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.