What Does Respect in Marriage Mean?

I read an article in which J at Hot Holy Humorous made a great connection between the body belonging to the spouse and respect. After writing out my thoughts on who our bodies belong to, I set out to tackle the concept of respect in marriage.

respect in your marriage

I realized that this is a more prominent topic than I realized.  So, in this article, we’ll set out to find out what respect means.  In the next one, we’ll apply that to marriage.

What is Respect?

Have you ever had that uncomfortable moment when a kid asks you to define a word that you know, but you don’t know how to explain it? Yeah, me too.   

So, that’s where I am right now. I’m trying to figure out how to define respect without making the valedictorian speech approach – “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘graduation’ as…” So here goes: I propose that there are several aspects of “respect” to consider in the context of marriage.

Merited Admiration

A person’s character earns some respect.  You naturally look up to them for their honesty, courage, creativity, or any number of other admirable qualities.  To me, this is the best kind of respect that one can hope to receive.  It is hard-won by a long-term consistency of excellence.   

Respecting someone who has won your respect (whether in marriage, work, or anywhere else) is easy.  You naturally want to honor that person.  You try your best to live up to their expectations. You’d do just about anything they asked.

Hopefully, you’ve married someone that falls into this category. For those who have yet to marry, keep this in mind! If you can’t respect them, don’t marry them! If you have married someone you look up to, then respect comes naturally.

Deferring to One Another

Deference is a bit of an old art form that’s not as popular as it once was.  Deferring to someone means giving way or yielding to them whether they’re right or wrong, deserving or not.  Deference looks at a situation without bias and says, “I will give in here, regardless of my feelings.”  

Often, deference is given to one in an authority position, but not always. It’s usually couched in the language of a deadlock. “We disagree, but I’ll defer to you on this one.” Even among equals, it can have the effect of making the other party responsible or at least recognizing their responsibility.

Salute the Rank

We live near one of the largest Army bases in America, so we have a lot of military friends.  Over the years, I’ve known plenty of soldiers who have confided to me that their commanding officer is, well, an idiot.  Sometimes, it’s a know-it-all Staff Sergeant.  Others, it’s a Colonel who’s simply aged into the position without actually earning it. There’s a saying they always quote to me,

“Salute the rank, not the man.”

Respect can also be submission or honor to another based on their position, rank, or status.  Unfortunately, there are times in life when we have someone put in authority over us that has no business being there.  Perhaps you have more training, education, wisdom, experience, etc., than the one over you.  This is when intentional respect is crucial.

You have to make a conscious decision to respect the person because they have been placed over you, whether you think they deserve it or not. In some instances, you may find over time that they have earned their title/position. They may earn your respect after all.

Your Spouse Deserves Your Respect

I have one last thought on this topic of choosing to respect someone in a position of authority. When it’s a boss, coach, superior, etc., we usually don’t have a choice. We simply recognize that they’ve made it to a particular position, and we have to respect that. When it comes to marriage, you choose to put your spouse in that position. At least respect your own decision. At some point, you decided to join your life to this other person’s. Honor that decision, and respect the title you gave them.

What do you think?  What aspects of respect can you add to my list?  Check back next time, and I’ll discuss how this foundation of respect plays out in our marriages.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the shout-out! And I really like your take on respect being not just one thing but motivated by different reasons, depending on the situation.

    I also think it’s a great idea to simply ask your own spouse: “What does respect mean to you?” I have been so surprised at times to learn that something I thought was just fine felt disrespectful to my husband or that something I thought was no big deal made him feel really respected. Knowing what counts as respect to him means I can communicate my respect better.

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