I was a career Army officer for 15 years. Right from day 1 at Officer Cadet School, I was taught that respect must be earned. As a leader of men, I must demonstrate my aptitude (competence to lead) and attitude (passion to lead and compassion for those I lead) in order for them to respect me. In the same manner, I will respect one who demonstrate the same in return.
Dictionaries typically define respect as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
This is typically how we understand and practice respect; we give it to someone who has shown great abilities, qualities or achievements. For example, we respect Singapore's founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, for his wholehearted dedication, determination and wisdom to build Singapore. Similarly, we respect Mother Teresa for her unconditional love and sacrifice to the underprivileged. And the list can go on and on.
It all sounded so logical.
As I was totally sold on that belief, I brought it along into my marriage and family - respect must be earned. I did the best I knew how to demonstrate my love and leadership to my family so that my wife and children would respect me. In return, I expected them to earn their respect from me by doing the same. I said, "I...."
Very shortly into the early years of my marriage, I found out that my belief wasn't working out for good. In fact, it was causing problems between my wife and I because there were many times I struggled to respect her when she did not show "respectable" traits. We had a fair share of fights over what she must do to gain my respect (and love).
It became clear that the first definition of respect did not work for me - not in the context of family, at the very least and definitely not in a relationship that is meant to be built on love.
Most people often miss the dictionary's second definition for respect - due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others. This is the definition of respect in the context of relationship building, which I was not taught in my Officer Cadet School days.
This type of respect has nothing to do with the ability, quality or achievement of the target person. We respect simply because we want to give due regard for him. For example, we respect our parents simply because they are our parents and we want to give due regard for their feeling and wishes.
In this context, then, which type of respect, should we accord to our spouse and children?
The answer seems obvious in theory but may not be as obvious in practice. It is a choice to be made. A serious choice indeed. Choosing one over the other, will greatly impact the marital and family relationship - you will have either an endearing relationship or one that needs lots of enduring!
I used to subscribe to the first definition and did all I knew to earn my wife's and children's respect. I expected them to do the same to earn my respect. I struggled with respecting them when their "attitude and doings" did not meet my expectation. Our relationship was not good then. How can it be good since respect was missing?
I am glad I decided to change my paradigm of respect - that regardless of their abilities or achievements, I want to deliberately give due regard for their feelings, wishes and rights.
I must say that it wasn't easy at the beginning and it still isn't easy today. Taking this decision requires me to give my rights so that my wife and children get the due regards. But I realized that I can "respect" them much more now than before. I realized that I am a better person as I practice this form of respect. I realized that I am more respectful of others as well. And I realize that my relationship with my wife and children and others have improved.
So, do you still think that you have an "unrespectable" spouse? If yes, consider changing your paradigm.
May I encourage you to join me in making a decision to give due regard to our spouse (and children) even if he/she is "unrespectable." It will pay off handsomely ....
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