Respect is a necessary element for any couple to grow in love. Each person needs to feel that they are respected by the person they are getting to know. This involves creating boundaries in dating where both parties have esteem or regard for all aspects of the other. Respect is different from empathy, though any relationship needs both to be hand-in-hand.
Empathy is the ability to feel another’s experience, especially painful ones. Respect is the ability to value another’s experience. You may not be able to actually empathize with someone, but you can always take a position of respect for them. For example, a guy may restrain himself from pushing his girlfriend sexually for either reason. He may feel deep compassion for the dilemma he is putting her in. Or he may restrain himself because he respects her right to make her own moral decisions. Relationships develop best when both empathy and respect are in place.
When respect is present, the other person feels that he can be free to be who he is. He can be honest, and still feel connected and safe. He doesn’t worry that he will be attacked, humiliated, or treated poorly. When respect is absent, many people will find themselves controlled, neglected, or injured by someone who doesn’t care about their needs or feelings.
If you desire to be respected, you are not asking to be treated special. Respect is not worship. It has more to do with being treated as you would like to be treated, which is Jesus’ Golden Rule (see Matthew 7:12). It means things like the following:
- Your opinion is heard and valued.
- Your differences and disagreeing are validated.
- Your choices are esteemed, even the wrong ones.
- Your feelings are regarded.
- When you are wrong, you are confronted respectfully, not talked down to nor babied.
Disrespect flourishes when someone values their own desires above their date’s. They may not be actively trying to hurt the other. Instead, the other person’s feelings, freedom, or needs get trampled or ignored because of how intent their date is on having their own way. Disrespect tends to be more self-centered than malicious in nature, though that does occur also.
Building boundaries in dating situations means that a couple needs to know that their feelings, needs, and freedom are respected. When someone is uncomfortable in a sexual situation, or is hurt by a sarcastic remark, or becomes angry with a broken promise, that is a signal that something is going on. The other person needs to take those feelings seriously. The couple needs to talk about what triggered this, and solve the problem.
Disrespect may come out in several ways, and it usually involves some violation of freedom in one of seven ways:
1. Dominating: The other person won’t hear “no” from her date. When he disagrees, she intimidates, threatens, or rages. She is offended by her date’s freedom to choose. For example, a woman may want her boyfriend to spend lots of time with her. When he tells her he’d prefer to do other things, she may disrespect his freedom by becoming angry and telling him their relationship will be jeopardized.
2. Withdrawal: One person pulls away when the other exercises some freedom or difference. He may isolate, sulk, or be silent. But he is passively punishing his date for her differentness. For example, a woman might want to go out with the girls on a night that her boyfriend wants to be with her. While he doesn’t complain, he also doesn’t call or talk to her for a while. He is showing her that he doesn’t respect her freedom.
3. Manipulating: One person shows disrespect by subtle stratagems designed to make the other person change his mind. A woman may cry or nag to get her boyfriend to help her paint her apartment when he doesn’t have the time.
4. Direct violation: The person disrespects by continuing the same hurtful action, even after being asked not to. A man might chronically cancel dates at the last moment. Even though she tells him how much this bothers her, he keeps doing it.
5. Minimizing: One person says the other person’s negative feelings are simply an overreaction.
6. Blaming: A man talks about a problem, but the woman indicates that he himself caused the problem. For example, a man will tell his girlfriend that it hurts when she makes fun of him in public. She might respond with, “If you would pay more attention to me, I wouldn’t have to resort to that.”
7. Rationalizing: The other person denies responsibility for whatever caused the problem. For example, the chronically late date excuses the hurt his girlfriend feels by saying, “I understand your feelings, but it was the freeway traffic, not me.”
Respecting someone doesn’t mean that you agree with them. Nor does it mean that you will comply with what they want. It means that their feelings matter because those emotions belong to a person who matters. Listen to, understand, and try to help the situation.
If your feelings, time, opinion, or values are not being respected, you need to take some sort of action. You may need to end your silence and bring up the issue. You may need to bring it up as a serious issue, not to be put off. You may need to set consequences on the event happening again. That’s what boundaries in dating is all about.
I knew a woman whose date was always having fun at her expense when they went out with friends. Finally, she started driving a separate car to the events so that she could leave when he got disrespectful. It took only a few occurrences of this for him to see that she was serious, and things got better.