Through my work with couples, I have found that there are particular behaviors that are especially harmful in relationships. The most harmful of the behaviors is a sense of disrespect towards your partner. Many times, I find that people don’t recognize that their behaviors are disrespectful towards their partner. Disrespectful behavior towards our partners is often born out of resentments and past hurts. While this does not excuse the behavior, it does help to gain insight, understanding, and empathy around the issue. You might note, that many of the behaviors listed below signal disrespect, but if not curbed can actually become abuse at their most extreme.
If you recognize some of the behaviors in the following list occurring in your relationship it does not mean that the writing is on the wall. You can take personal responsibility for your role in the following behaviors and help to reverse the damage while creating a more loving and happy marriage.
Relationship Behaviors that Signal Disrespect:
Contempt – According to research done by Dr. John Gottman, contempt is a dangerous sign that you relationship is headed for a split. Contempt is a feeling of disgust and superiority over your partner. Signs that you are feeling (or receiving) contempt are eye rolls, smirking, sarcasm, and laughing/snickering when you see your partner upset. Contempt is the belief that you are superior to your partner and showing it by dismissing, denigrating, and making fun of them. The cure for contempt is empathy. Humanize your partner by seeing similarities within yourself.
Making Unilateral Decisions – Unilateral decisions are a signal that you do not take the influence of your partner seriously. In my office, I take note when partners use the word “I” when discussing decisions rather than “we”. While it is okay to have a sense of self and independence, it is a sign of disrespect to disregard your partner in decisions that concern him or her.
Reversed Windows and Walls – Windows and Walls is a concept introduced in Shirley Glass’ book “Not Just Friends”, a book on understanding and recovery from infidelity. It is a metaphor for the boundaries you should have around your relationship. Healthy couples create a “wall” around outside influences that could be damaging. These outside dangers are varied, but a common issue is friendships that could become romantic partnerships. “The window” is a symbol for how much of information is being shared. The window should be opened for your partner, in which you share emotions, thoughts, needs, and desires. Unhealthy relationships often open the window for the outside world in which they share and take in too much negative or private information about their relationships. If you find yourself sharing private information about your partner, complaining about him or her to your friends, or allowing other’s to denigrate your partner then you know you’ve “reversed” the window. Towards the end of a relationship, couples are often sharing too much with outsiders and are sharing very little with their partners.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a marriage therapist practicing in Center City, Philadelphia. Elizabeth works with couples of varying ages and levels of commitment to help them understand their relationship better. To read more click here or to click here to schedule online.