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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: This is What it Means to Me

August 21, 2012 | by Rabbi Motti Shenker

7 points for building the bedrock of a strong marriage.

Respect is essential to a successful marriage. Judaism stresses that husband and wife must give each other enormous respect. As the Talmud says: "A man must love his wife as much as he loves himself and respect her more than he respects himself. Then you will know for certain that your home is peace." (Yevamos 62b)

Professor John Gottman found that respect is so vital to successful relationships that he can predict divorce with 100% accuracy if one partner loses honor for the other. As Dr. Scott Stanley writes, "I do not know of any long-term loving relationship that doesn't have honor."

And yet, respect can be very hard to define. As Aretha Franklin famously said: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me."

As a marriage counselor, I’d like to share my experience of “what respect means to me”:

R – Role models
E – Esteem
S – Speech
P – Public
E – Empathy
C – Calendar
T – Touch

R – Role Models

Find a married couple that you greatly admire and notice how they demonstrate respect for each other. Keep a journal of stories and actions that you would like to emulate, and use them as inspiration.

Further, you need to be a role model for the atmosphere you want in your relationship. Any put-down or show of disrespect to your spouse will come right back at you. So if you act with respect, that will rub off and be reflected back toward you.

E – Esteem

We respect those people we hold in high-esteem, and we have high-esteem for those we respect. So one key to a great marriage is to think of your spouse as having the most amazing admirable qualities.

Gary Smalley, in Secrets to Lasting Love, says: "Honor is, first and foremost a decision. It is the simple decision to place high value, worth and importance on another person, to view him or her as a priceless gift, and grant that person a position in your life worthy of great respect."

On the day of your engagement, you had the most incredible amount of admiration for your new fiancé. When you do it right, you will hold on to that and nurture it day by day and year by year, as you discover more of their special qualities.

To enhance your admiration for your spouse, make a list of all the things that you admire about them. But don't keep it a secret, share it! All at once, or one at a time. It is a simple idea, but guaranteed to build intimacy between you.

S – Speech

Speech is what uniquely defines us as human beings. It is also the primary way of communicating. [This is so important that I wanted to put it first, but then the essay would be called S.U.S.P.E.C.T. – not a good trait in marriage!]

There are endless ways to communicate respect with speech:

  • Think before you speak. Ask yourself, "Does what I am about to say and the way I am about to say it, reflect the respect that I have for my spouse?" Remember: Each time you speak you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship, or damage it.
  • Shut up and listen. When you actually stop talking and listen, you show that you care about the other and what they have to say. Listening without interrupting or contradicting screams “respect.”
  • Speak calmly. The first piece of advice in Nachmanides’ ethical will: "Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone." Controlling the tone and volume of your voice demonstrates huge amounts of respect.

P – Public

The way you act with each other in front of other people says a lot about the level of respect. Keep your dirty laundry at home. When you are out of the house and with others, never criticize or argue with each other; nobody needs to know what the issues are in your marriage. Always validate and support, even when your spouse is wrong (emotions are more important than facts). Cute nicknames can be fun at home, but “jug-ears” and “fish-face” take on another meaning when around other people.

It always amazes me to log onto Facebook and find out which of my friends is having marriage problems. However subtle you might think you are being, it is plain humiliating and embarrassing.

How about turning it around and praising your spouse in public. For the next 30 days, at least once a day, say something that you admire or appreciate about your spouse to someone else.

E – Empathy

Showing empathy says that I care enough about you, and have enough respect for you to understand your feelings and take you seriously. “Bear the burden with your friend" – i.e. help take the weight off another’s shoulders – is one of the 48 tools to greatness mentioned in the Talmud. Giving empathy is greater than even giving charity or doing a favor, because it is with your essence, your emotions and feelings.

Men are often lacking at this, possibly because they are taught to focus on the problem and not on the person. A woman talking on the phone will typically utter an amazing array of empathetic sounds – "that’s terrible… I can't believe it… oh no!" Men just grunt and move on.

A great marriage tip; if you ever get into a fight, never say: "How can you think that?" S/he thinks that way because not everybody thinks like you! Empathy is getting inside the other person’s life, showing them that you understand their troubles and want to help to remove them.

Never say, "What are you complaining about? It's no big deal!" Yes it is – to them! That is terribly invalidating and is one of the biggest danger signs of poor communication. Showing empathy is a declaration that I care about you enough to take the time to understand where you are coming from.

C – Calendar

Calendar relates to the importance of time. You can use “time” to show respect in two ways:

  1. Manage your time – Commit to organizing yourself and your time to be where you are supposed to be, and when you are supposed to be there. Doing so communicates: “I respect you.”
  2. Give of your time – Proactively show that you care enough to make time for your spouse (which is really making time for you both).

Each day, dedicate 15-20 minutes to communicate with each other face-to-face. This means no TV, computer, iThis or iThat. (You don't want you husband or wife to be jealous of your cell phone.)

This is a time to share your appreciation and admiration for each other, to catch up on the day, and check in to hear how things are going. This is not a time for conflict or problem-solving; this a time to renew your friendship each day.

The greatest way to renew your friendship is to dedicate a date-night every week. One evening a week out of the house, without kids, purely for the purpose of drawing the two of you closer together and having fun together.

T – Touch

In Jewish consciousness, physical touch is considered the most powerful form of connection between a man and woman, so powerful that it is only appropriate within marriage.

Some people like to hold hands, some people like to be hugged and some people like to feel light touches but frequently. By making the effort to understand what the other person needs, you show that you really respect them.

Studies show that women need to be touched (a hug, kiss or warm embrace) at least eight times a day to maintain balance in their bodies. Don't hold back on touch just for when you want to head to the bedroom; that shows a great lack of respect.

There are four ways of communicating: verbal, emotional, physical and spiritual. Only after you connect on these four levels will marital intimacy be the ultimate expression of unity that it is meant to be.

After the passions of young love subside and mature love steps in, the physical side of your relationship may take a back seat. Don't let it happen! Make a choice to keep touching, even if only small gestures.

After traveling through R.E.S.P.E.C. you can be guaranteed that Touch will communicate respect, not just physical desire.


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