It’s one of those sleepless nights.

You know the sort – you’re so tired you can’t sleep so you concentrate on finding some invisible center, you relent and stare instead at the shadowy ceiling, you switch on the light and try to read, you languish in the dark again as you listen to every noise – the occasional bark of the neighbor’s beagle, the unexpected rustle of wind through the trees, the breathing of a child who is no longer there so it must be your own breathing, your anxiety, your awareness of so much nothing except your mental checklists, your endless questions, your film clips at 11 that continue to roll past one and two and three until you surrender to circling back to what plagues you at the moment.

Your history. Your choices. Your relationships.

The what ifs you’d like to dispense with once and for all. The what ifs you still need, from which to glean their lessons.

You wait for the sun to rise and contemplate fundamentals. It always returns to this – to respect in all its variations, and especially, in its absence.

Definitions of Respect

When it comes to relationships that are viable or not, enduring or not, fulfilling or not – like the word love, “respect” paints with a broad brush and yields an impressionistic canvas.

But what you seek is photographic. So you turn to definitions.

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of respect is:

an act of giving particular attention (consideration); high or special regard (esteem)

Not helpful, you tell yourself. Too general.

You read on, for the word’s origin:

Middle English, from Latin respectus, literally, act of looking back, from respicere to look back, regard, from re- + specere to look.

Still not helpful. provides a definition of respect with sharper teeth:

esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: I have great respect for her judgment.

Now you’re getting somewhere.

Worth, excellence, quality, ability. Admiring another for who they are, for what they think, for how they act.

Respecting Yourself

I am known to my friends as being hard on myself, overly critical of what I produce, subject to expectations that I set ambitiously. These aren’t tendencies to do with ego; they are the habits of a specific work ethic reinforced by schooling and career. This is the legacy of independence as a value, and independence as a means to survive.

When I disappoint myself, when I don’t measure up, when I don’t learn from a mistake, my self-respect wanes. It’s about what I honor: the character to persevere, the capacity to stay open to change. It’s about values.

On the other hand, when it comes to decision-making, to judgment calls about the company I keep, to activating my principles – for example speaking my mind clearly even if it challenges a loved one’s beliefs – as long as I am true to myself, my self-respect rarely deserts.

That’s also about values.

Earning the Respect of Others

When it comes to those I may work with, those I call my friends, those I love including my children, I care about being accorded respect. I also must respect them.

As I’ve grown older, I have come to understand that without respect, for me, there is no intimacy, no trust, no strength to any sort of relationship.

I believe it’s possible to love without respecting, but I consider this Love “Light” that may include shared times, shared activities, shared laughter, a shared bed. There may even be shared children, but without shared values I can respect, there is insufficient foundation for a truly satisfying relationship.

Earning someone’s respect? Isn’t it a matter of what you say, what you do, and your beliefs as exemplified by both? In a relationship, isn’t it about keeping your word, owning up to your mistakes, opening your mouth to speak, shutting it to listen carefully? Isn’t it a matter of accepting the other person, and changing yourself only if you see the need to change – because anything else is a temporary fix and a nod to acquiescing – rather than understanding?

Respect in Marriage

Something is off but you can’t quite grasp it. Whatever it is, you’re afraid to dig deeper.

Beautiful Couple Looking at CameraSince you cannot name it, you turn away from an uncertain connection and absence of heft, which you tell yourself is only fear. You’re tired of slogging through life alone.

You say yes to this sort of love as your heart tells you that it is enough. You say yes to this sort of marriage, as your families nod in genuine approval.

You say no to second-guessing, and yes to everything else. You make your peace with what is lacking, and see clearly only as you mark the years: mutual respect, common values; puzzle pieces cut from the jigsaw but no longer on the table that you share.

Whom Do You Respect?

I admit to my bias.

It is easier for me to respect those who work hard, regardless of what it is they’re working at. It is easier for me to respect those who don’t live by greed or artifice, and I despair that this becomes more difficult to find in the Real World that is proximate to me. It is easier to respect those who have traveled a sufficiently bumpy road to know how little they know after all, to have learned compassion along the way, to have committed and accepted their own mistakes so that they’ve acquired a certain humility.

It is easier for me to respect those who give and take, astute enough to redress an imbalance as it occurs.

It is easier for me to respect those who have come to recognize their own value as part of according the same to others.

  • What does respect mean to you?
  • How important is self-respect to you?
  • How does a man or woman earn your respect?
  • What happens when you lose respect for your partner?
  • How do you model respect for your children?


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  1. says

    Respect is something I find easy to find in others. But hard to find the self respect within myself. I am getting better and better. I actually canceled a date last Saturday night because I realized the guy was not worth my time. Men, for me, have always been a problem. I pick men who respect me but often can not give me what I deserve. They love me the best way they can but I know I deserve so much more. Birds can live on crumbs and I have done that for most of my life with the men in it. At 63 I am ready for the whole piece of bread. That is the best way I can describe it. I have the best girlfriends in the world and the best friends in the world. But with men, I don’t follow my own advice. I have analyzed it for so long that I am tired of doing it anymore. I want someone who shares themselves and respects themselves and treats me as I want to be treated. How I got off on this tangent this morning is an interest in the whole topic of respect. I have been great in teaching respect to my grown sons and to my grandchildren. It is teaching self respect for me that has been the hardest of all but I think I finally have it. Now I have to prove it to myself. Dating is a bitch.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      What a thoughtful answer Madge, thank you. I think your last line says it all, while opening up an immense topic. Dating is a bitch, partly because it puts us back in touch with parts of ourselves we shelve on a day-to-day basis.

      And let’s face it – as we grow older, the pool of possible candidates shrinks. We really have to examine – clearly – what we need, what we have to give, and yes – feel as though we’re deserving of a truly good relationship.

  2. says

    I think I offer up a certain amount of respect to everyone and then retract it as necessary. I used to hinge my self respect on what I could do or what I had achieved, but now I grant myself respect because I am worthy of it. If I did nothing else on this planet, I am already enough. (Granted, I try to live a morally and ethically good life and act with purpose, but still….)

    If I lose respect for my partner, I would have to address it. I feel like my marriage’s glue is that we respect each other first.

    I don’t know how to model that for my children. I’ll have to think about that one!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Nice to know you respect each other as part of the marital glue. Some of us recognize the need for it too late! Or we don’t fully acknowledge its absence, camouflaged in teasing and excuses – some of which we’re the ones to make.

  3. says

    I believe the issue you are discussing is bigger than respect. What is missing is self-love and therefore self-acceptance. Without self-love one cannot have self-respect or respect another. Underlying most of our difficulties and middle-of-the-night angst is a whole lot of backward thinking, most of which we learned from backward thinking parents or care providers and a whole caboodle of cultural directives coming from a darker side of reality.

    Love yourself. You are perfect just the way you are. Stop trying to fix things. Revel in what is. We are perfectly human and by our very nature perfectly imperfect. Our unhappiness, our what ifs, or what-have-yous, are just that…more food for unhappiness, more rumination leading nowhere. The pain may be real, the disappointment acute. I’ve had plenty. I’ve lain awake many nights doing just as you described, and expect I’ll do it again in the future. As painful as it is, it is something we can address with love and acceptance. We will have those nights. They are important processing moments that may provide the fuel for something necessary and not yet seen. Even then, there is nothing wrong with us, except the thought that there is a need to fix ourselves Go forward. Love yourself. Accept what is. Live today. Live inside your heart, not your expectations. Close your eyes and listen to the voice that lives in your safe place, your heart place, your fearless place. You will amaze yourself.

    You are a blessing. You are gifted. You are a gift. Live in that place.

  4. says

    I’ve known too many in my life that believe that fear = respect. Maybe it appears respectful when someone fears you enough to not question what you say or do…but underneath that fear… or eventually… it becomes resentment. It was never respect in the first place.

    I do believe that respect is something earned or realized after witnessing a certain level of mutual values or morals. I know that it takes a helluva lot more to earn my respect these days than it used to. I think I have higher expectations of others as I’ve been through more and expected of myself.

    I have lost respect for myself when I see that I’m getting off the path I know suits me. Then again, I’m also learning to allow for the mistakes I’ve made and will continue to make. After all, that is what builds the strong character that I respect in others, isn’t it?

    Losing respect, as with trust, in a marriage is a dealbreaker. I’m not sure how to earn respect after it’s been broken. Maybe there is a way… I’ve just not seen it yet.

    With my children, I teach them to respect each other, I respect them, their feelings and needs. Naturally, they show the same to me.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You raise great issues, T. Some think that fear = respect. Some think (blind) obedience = respect. Those don’t form part of my understanding of what it means. But we do seem to confuse these three, don’t we. Even in marriage.

      I appreciate your perspective that respect, like trust, is tough to regain once lost, especially in marriage. I imagine time and a concerted effort to rebuild are necessary, but no guarantee.

  5. lunaboogie says

    Respect, to me, is recognizing what is authentic and with integrity in the other. Self respect is very important to me. I have to earn it myself. When I act with authenticity and integrity, I am at peace.

    Someone earns my respect with truth telling and dependability and honoring others with their words and actions.

    I see respect as not a black or white issue. One can be disappointed in another’s actions, but maintain respect. Or one can lose respect for someone in a small area (say, your friend curses, on occasion) but in the big picture you still hold them in high esteem.

    When I find myself losing respect for someone, my partner or another, I need to look at my own value system and determine if the bar is set too high. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Is it a situation where I need to end the friendship? Or have a serious conversation and see where it goes? What if the other finds nothing wrong with the behavior or cannot apologize or make amends? What if the other recognizes a wrong and does make amends. Then can I find it in myself to forgive and move on?

    With my child, I have seen my role as “life coach”, not dictator. She has made mistakes, but I hope I have helped her realize that we learn by our mistakes, and then do better the next time. I have modeled respect for her – given her space and privacy, asked her opinions, listened, tried to see her point of view, and have been a collaborative parent. She is an only child, so she pretty much thinks she has always had 1/3 of the vote in terms of what we do, go for vacation, etc. and that has been fine with me. In turn, she has pulled her weight in terms of planning trips, making shopping lists, etc.

    I have always admitted to her when I have made a mistake, and apologized. Once I accidentally drove over her glasses (totally my fault, they fell off of my lap) and I worked an extra 2 days to pay for them, not because I had to financially, but because I wanted to show her I was taking responsibility for my negligence.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I hear you, Lunaboogie. And I agree that admitting to our mistakes shows our kids that we all make them, and can learn from them. I also like your point that respect isn’t a black and white issue, and that disappointment does not necessarily equal not respecting the person who disappoints you.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  6. says

    I always liked what Abraham Lincoln said when he first ran for office (I think he was 23):
    Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition.
    Whether it be true or not, I can say for one
    that I have no other so great as that
    of being truly esteemed of my fellow men,
    by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.

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