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Jack and Toshie Ito

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Dr. Jack Ito's Book

What to Do When He Won't Change

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Connecting Through “Yes!”


build love with communication

Building Love through Better Communication: 5 Free Lessons for Women


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Back in the Picture: The Man's Guide to Better Communication in Marriage and Committed Relationships

How to Get More Respect and Love from Your Partner

If you don't feel loved, you may not be earning your partner's respect


Just being "nice" or "patient" won't get you either respect or love

We gradually lose respect in our relationships when we allow small problems to build into big ones. It can even happen because of our love and patience with our partner. Ironically, while it's not possible to have too much love, it is possible to have too much patience. And by the time we realize that, we are often completely out of patience and overreact. You can probably imagine a parent giving in to a whining child who wants something the parent doesn't really want to buy. The child looks and sounds pitiful, is making an embarrassing amount of noise in the store, and so mom or dad just gives in. "Well...just this once." How much do you want to bet that it will be just once? How about the young woman whose boyfriend is rude to her or calls her a bad name and she let's it go, "this time"? How cute will nagging be to a man who has heard it for several years?

Are these isolated incidents? Hardly, Erosion of respect can happen in any relationship and it can become really ugly. The very fortunate thing is that it is possible to melt the giant snowball of disrespect and get back to ground zero from which the relationship can build again. Can you easily do it on your own? It's possible, but it's about as easy and as pleasant as pulling your own teeth--ones that are not loose. Hopefully there won't be any blood, but there will be some pain and possibly some screaming along the way. For these reasons, many people are getting help from a relationship coach (much as parents get parent training). It makes the transition from disrespect to respect easier and faster, with a whole lot less conflict.

When I work with my clients on building respect, we first have to get away from both protective thinking and reactive thinking. Protective thinking is like, "What do I need to do to keep my partner from reacting badly (getting upset, becoming controlling, crying, etc.)?" Reactive thinking is along the lines of "Well, I'm just going to do the same to him/her and see how he/she likes it," Or, "Because my partner makes me so upset, I'm just going to withhold (talking, money, sex, time, etc.)," or "If he/she can't talk to me nicely (or do what I want), then I'm just not going to talk at all." Neither protective thinking nor reactive thinking can get you the respect which is vital for your relationship.

Proactive thinking looks ahead to what is needed to really change things.

The single most important questions in our relationships are "What will move our relationship toward the place where we can fully bring out the love we have inside of us and share it with each other?" and "What is getting in the way of that?" Working on whatever is getting in the way is what builds respect (and your relationship at the same time). In this process, you may have to do some things that are unpleasant in the short term in order to make things better for the long term. People who make their decisions based on the long term always earn more respect than people who just try to seek an immediate reward or to avoid conflict.

We earn our partner's respect when we:

  1. Talk and behave in ways that are consistent with what we believe (Hypocrisy loses respect).
    • If you say that you value honesty, then be sure that you are honest.
    • If you say that you value sharing, then be good at both listening well and responding in a sensitive way. Also, share appropriately about yourself.
    • If you say that you don't like to be blamed for things or for people to assume what you are thinking, then don't blame others or make assumptions about them..
  2. When we do something for the relationship, even though we don't like it (selfishness loses respect).
    • We give our time and attention to our partners, even when we would rather do something else.
    • We take responsibility for making things better rather than looking for ways to blame or avoid our partner.
    • We treat our partners as though they are valuable to us, as though their thinking is important to us, and we don't take them for granted (i.e. we don't expect that they need to be nice to us just because they are our spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend)..
  3. When we do something for the relationship even when our partner doesn't like it (neediness and codependency lose respect).
    • We have a zero tolerance policy for emotional abuse.
    • We don't help our partners, by actions or avoidance, to continue to do things which harm the relationship.
    • We have our own friends and are not needy, even if our partner wants us to be.

Yucky as it may be and unfair as it may seem, we are the ones who need to earn our partner's respect.

It really doesn't seem fair, because we are not the ones doing the damaging behaviors. On the other hand, though, we have let the disrespect grow to where it is now. Doing something about it will earn you respect, whereas doing nothing will just make the snowball grow bigger.

Threats to break up or divorce are not effective in building respect.

People can justifiably break up or file for divorce for a number of reasons. They don't need to feel guilty about it. Staying in a relationship out of obligation rarely benefits anybody, including the children. However, there are a number of people that threaten to breakup or divorce, thinking that this will shock their partner into becoming respectful and staying that way. In the majority of cases, this does have a temporary effect on respect, but then respect drops to an even lower level than it was before. In cases where there is some longer term change in behavior, it is generally because one partner becomes more fearful and insecure, which also doesn't lead to respect. It leads to outward compliance and hidden resentment, which erodes the relationship. Actually leaving may have less harmful impact on the relationship than threatening to leave (one is a boundary issue, one is an attempt at control).

For people who have already separated.

Respect can be built during a separation. In fact, building respect is one of the most important conditions necessary for ending the separation and getting back together. In cases where so much damage is being done that the relationship is rapidly declining and likely to end or to result in harm to one of the partners, separation may be a necessary step toward building respect. This use of separation is always to save the relationship by preventing further damage. It is a therapeutic use of separation which should always be accompanied by counseling or coaching for one or both of the partners.

The positive alternative to leaving or threatening to.

Positive methods of building respect require a longer period of time to work than the "I'm out of here," method, but not that much longer. There are five major areas that my clients work on to rebuild respect in their relationship. Some people only need to work on one of these and can do that in a consultation. Other people need to work on all five. Like communication and cooperation, I have never heard anyone regret having spent time working on getting more respect from his/her partner. You will note that all of these things are done by the person who is being disrespected. I won't argue about whether it is fair or not that the disrespected person needs to do all the work; I just know that this is how respect is built and that people who want to have respect need to earn it in these ways. I think once the relationship is going well, the question of what is fair becomes a non-issue.

Five important areas to work on to build respect:

Exactly what this looks like is going to depend on the kind of disrespect you receive, as well as the motivations of your partner.

A partner who wants to get along is different from one who focuses on getting things done, getting things right (perfectionist partners), or getting attention. Each of these personality types has different priorities. That's why learning what worked for someone else may not work for you. As I wrote in my book, What to Do When He Won't Change, there are specific ways to approach each of these four personality types that results in less conflict and more cooperation. Understanding what motivates your partner will help you to connect with that part of him/her that wants to have a close relationship with you. We need to deal with everyday conflicts, but when we can connect at a deeper level, many of the everyday conflicts will disappear. But, to get to that level, our partners have to take us seriously and see us as a valuable part of the relationship. We are special. We are not easily replaceable or interchangeable.

If your partner does not respect you, he or she has stopped perceiving you as very valuable.

The longer this goes on, the more he or she will be convinced that losing you would not be a big loss. That's a very painful thing to realize, but it is the conclusion that many partners come to before they have an affair, break up, or divorce. It happens. Although. you may be bending over backwards and going out of your way to help your partner, if your partner does not appreciate that, you will not be seen as valuable. In the process of building respect, you must be careful not to turn into a "parent" figure for your partner. If your partner sees you as his or her caretaker, the relationship will become all about him/her and his/her needs. And, if you don't conform to that, you can become the "bad" parent. If you have already become a parent for your partner, building respect will involve getting out of that role.

The end result of building respect

When there is respect and love, couples end up wanting to be with each other more often and really feel like they are on the same side. The me vs. him/her attitude that prevailed before goes entirely away. It is so much easier and fulfilling to share with someone who is not looking for ways to point a finger at us or manipulate us into doing something that we don't want to do and which is harmful for the relationship.

The basic desire that makes us want to have a relationship in the first place is the desire to bring out our deepest love and give it to our partner. It really makes our partners seem so stupid when they do things that prevent us from loving them in just that way. But, even though they were disrespectful, we have let it build, and now it's up to us to do something about it. And do you know what? Your partner also has a lot of love to share with you when this process is all done and over with. Giving love and getting love; it all starts with respect.

"Now that my partner respects me, we can really talk. It had been so long since we did that."--Anonymous Client


Resources to help you earn respect:


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