By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
At the start of a relationship, most couples show up with their best self forward. During the infatuation phase, we rarely see flaws in our partner. We our on our best behavior and interact with respect and care. When we are with a new romantic partner, brain chemicals have us buzzing around in a minor state of bliss for the first several months to two years of being in a new relationship. Over time, a more realistic and sustainable way of being together emerges. This leads us to stage of more mature love that comes complete with bad days and bad moods.
The longer we are with someone, the more likely we are to see all aspects of who they are; which can include habits, frustrating behaviors or annoying quirks. No one is perfect and all of us have our moments.
This being said, if someone begins to show parts of themselves that are hurtful the other and the relationship, this needs to be addressed. I am all for couples being themselves and showing up authentically. Yet if you frequently engage in criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, (John Gottman's well-researched predictors of divorce) then you have some work to do.
Note that this article is focused on helping couples that generally have a safe and healthy relationship, yet on occasion, find that they or their partner are disrespectful to one another. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, stop reading and seek professional guidance. We recommend viewing the resources at www.thehotline.com.
The starting point for relationships that lack healthy communication basics is to make it clear that you want a respectful relationship. It is also important to note that most couples are respectful when they are emotionally dysregulated. In fact, most of the couples that I work with that become disrespectful only do when they are in state of fight or flight and the sympathetic nervous system takes over. When we are dysregulated, we lose access to our communication skills.
It can be difficult to slow this process down and stay attuned when in a disagreement. One of the overarching goals of couple therapy is to assist couples in explore their emotions, communicate effectively, and maintain connection even during conflict.
It can be very helpful for couples to be vocal and explicit about their need and expectation of respectful behavior. For some couples, simply making an agreement to treat each other with care sets them off on a better path together. A great resource for this comes from the Relationships First program that offers a "Zero Negativity Pledge", that goes like this:
“We understand that “negativity” is any transaction that ruptures our connection – whether intentional or accidental.
We pledge to make our relationship a Zone of Zero Negativity for the next 30 days by omitting from all our interactions with each other any words, tones, or body language that could be experienced as a “put-down,” thus rupturing our connection.
We will make requests when we have a problem and ask for what we want in a way that does not put our partner down.
If we experience a rupture, we will send a gentle signal (bing, ouch, wow, oops!) immediately to communicate that we have experienced a “put-down,” and then use the repair process to restore safety and connecting.
We pledge to give three appreciations daily to each other, no matter what!”.
If couples commit to this pledge, and still have a hard time with extending kindness and care to one another, this indicate that they have some deeper work to do. Generally, that will look at what is happening on the emotional level and how your emotions are impacting your behavior. If this is something you want support with, I encourage you to find a trained couples therapist who can become your guide toward respectful relationships.
Hi, I am Cristina Trette. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Founder of Integrative Family Therapy. I help others improve their most important relationships. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comments box below.
Hello. I am Cristina Trette. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I help others create thriving relationships, joyful families, and vibrant wellbeing.