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The Effects of a Lack of Respect in a Marriage

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

A marriage where partners lack respect has succumbed to at least two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, according to marriage relationship researcher John Gottman, Ph.D. Your critical comments become personal instead of informational, such as “You said you would take care of it and, like always, you didn’t!” Disrespectful criticism and contempt can spell the end of your relationship if you continue to deal negatively with conflict.

Judgment and Criticism

When couples switch from admiring one another to denigrating judgments, respect is on the way out. Respect likes and affirms your spouse for who and what she is, according to marriage therapist Robert Caldwell, M.Div. on his Psychsight website. Instead of listening and affirming the value of your partner’s life, values, thoughts and choices, you judge them as worthless and refuse to listen. Your focus is on the negative instead of the positive aspects of your relationship and your mate. The personal criticism fuels an attack and escalates conflict, according to Gottman.

Contempt and Superiority

When you lose respect for your spouse, you treat him with contempt and believe you are superior writes marriage therapist Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D. on his Marriage Builder site. You might express the contempt through mocking and disrespectful language, implying that he has poor judgment. The contemptuous behavior is abusive and hurtful and can erode the immune system, according to Gottman. Once you make a habit of responding to your spouse with contempt, your partner will often respond in kind.

No Personal Responsibility

Once the marriage is hit with criticism and contempt, defensive behaviors are close behind, according to Gottman. When you are defensive, you don’t take responsibility for the problem and cast blame on your spouse for whatever issue sparked the conflict. If you don’t take responsibility for the problem or its correction, there is no way to resolve the problems.

Ignoring Your Spouse

Avoidant behaviors such as ignoring your spouse, expressing indifference to her thoughts and actions, can also appear when disrespect is high, according to marriage therapist Peter Perrotta, Ph.D., the founder of Centers for Family Change. You might stonewall your spouse to prevent further escalation, according to Gottman. You aren’t engaged in the relationship and there is no effort to resolve the conflicts in the relationship. You could decide that the relationship isn’t worth saving and bail out of the relationship.

Heal, Hell or Divorce

It is possible to heal the relationship with professional help, affirms Gottman. Build friendship, appreciate and treat your partner the way you want to be treated. Focus on the positive aspects of your partner and find things to appreciate about him, suggests marriage therapist Poonam Sharma, Ph.D., in “Marriage and Health.” Forgive your partner for not meeting your expectations and cut him a break. Keep your complaints focused on objective points, such as saying, “I noticed the garbage still needs to be emptied.” Accept responsibility for your shortcomings and let the little things go when you can.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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