So how do “love and respect” relate to one another into a romantic love affair? This is more complicated than you would first imagine, because love, respect and the caring this engenders are closely intertwined. People get confused about what “love” is and what “respect” is, and sometimes claim they are the same thing. I would argue respect and love are different, though closely related.
To Love and Cherish, To Honor and Respect
If you were married in a Christian ceremony in your local church, you probably said the words: “To have and to hold, to love and cherish, to honor and respect”. You probably said you would do this from this day forward for all time. So were those just mere words? Mere formalities? Or did you view those as promises made in front of your gathered friends and family: a solemn vow?
In either case, it’s often hard to live up to those words. But as the wisdom of time over the generations have learned, loving and respecting each other are the cornerstones of a good relationship and a good marriage. A relationship can have love and not work. A relationship can have respect and not work. But if a relationship has both love and respect shared between the two partners, it has a really good chance of withstanding the trials and tribulations of life.
Some would say love and respect are the same thing. I’m not sure. I think there are plenty of cases when we love something, but we don’t have respect for it. And there are plenty of times when you respect something, but we don’t love it.
Joseph Campbell on Love and Respect
One of my favorite moments in The Power of Myth interview between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers is when they talk about love and respect. Campbell says that we respect someone because of their perfections, but we love someone because of their imperfections. When he talks about “love”, he’s talking about their endearing qualities: their human qualities that make a person unique. The example he uses is a toddler who is constantly falling down, because it hasn’t quite built the strength or balance to stand up correctly yet. We fall in love with the baby, because it’s so fragile, so flawed and so human.
Respect, on the other hand, is something you gain for someone because of what they represent to you and the good qualities they embody. Respect involves awe and admiration, but not necessarily affection. You might not love your boss, but you sure better respect your boss. Often, when we think we’re in love, when we have admiration or a “crush” on someone of the opposite sex, we are actually drawn by a healthy dose of awe and admiration for that person. We idealize this person and “fall in love” with this idea. Because of their beauty, charisma or good style, we are drawn to this person and want to be around them.
When we later learn that the person has feet of clay, that the person is actually a real human being and not our idea of what they were going to be, we often “fall out of love” or hold it against the person for being imperfect. We might get angry with them and are likely to become disillusioned. When their personality quirks begin to show, we don’t have nearly the admiration and awe we had for this person in the beginning. Familiarity breeds contempt.
But was our original admiration for this person love or respect?
Loving Each Other and Respecting Each Other
In the end, it’s hard to separate the two, when you’re talking about a successful romance or relationship. If the two of you love one another, but can’t respect one another, you fight constantly and end up trying to tear down one another. When you both respect one another, but don’t love one another, you might live in peace and quiet, but the two of you are going to live a loveless relationship devoid of the spark that fulfills your life.
And if one person loves and respects the other, but the other person doesn’t reciprocate (either love or respect), you can have an unbalanced, one-sided relationship where one person gives, gives and gives some more, while the other person only receives love and respect. This is what happens in abusive (verbally abusive or mentally abusive) relationships. A man might not respect his partner, so he sees nothing wrong with abusing his wife or girlfriend anytime she begins to annoy him.
How do these relationships stay together?
Some Need Love – Some Need Respect
People have different needs in a relationship. Some people have an emotional need to be loved, more than anything else in the world. Others have a psychological need to be respected, more than being loved. If you find a romantic partner who fills that need, then you can put up with the lack of the one for the abundance of the other.
A woman might feel the need to be “loved”, hoping above anything else to avoid being alone, unloved and isolated. So she might put up with a man who abuses her – doesn’t respect her – because she feels like he loves her.
Men often feel the need to be respected above everything else. This man might want love, but he demands respect. In the end, while he might (in his own confused way) want both or equate respect with love, he’ll trade the one for the other.
The gender roles can be switched, even though the above examples are the traditional gender roles we play. There are plenty of men who will put up with a nagging wife who criticizes and disrespects his every action, just because he feels the need to have a girlfriend or wife who he feels loves him. She pays him attention and that’s enough, even if it isn’t positive attention.
At the same time, there are woman who want more than anything to be respected by the opposite sex, and will find themselves in loveless romances where they demand the man show her the proper respect. At the same time, respect is best when given freely and not demanded. In fact, it’s the same way with love.
You Need Both Love and Respect
A relationship or romance is only going to truly be healthy and positive for both partners when you each respect and love one another. As I wrote before, I’m not talking about a love that is forced or a respect that is demanded, but a natural, positive outgrowth of the continuing admiration and endearment we have for one another.
That’s the problem with love and respect, of course. When it’s not there, it’s hard to force it or to fake it, however hard we try. A large part of heartbreak is slowly learning that we either aren’t loved or we aren’t respected by our partner.