Truth: women crave love and affection, men need respect. It has become the established fact that these two ingredients, delivered in the right dose, are the magic pill required for marriage success. And I agree that love & respect are important — but not for the same, conventional reasons many espouse.
But first, a question I have always asked is whether or not the these needs are gender-specific. Is ‘respect’ uniquely masculine? Do women not need to be respected? And the same regarding love and affection — only women crave it? Something seems amiss here — let’s break it down.
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Perhaps it is easier to understand the need for respect by taking a look at it’s opposite. According to Dictionary.com, antonyms (opposites) for respect include: criticism, disdain, dishonor and disregard. If this is accurate, it would seem to me that women also need respect, desperately. What partner can survive being treated with disdain? How long would a relationship riddled with criticism and disregard last? Obviously, A person’s need for respect is not a uniquely masculine trait – both men and women need respect in order to be in healthy relationship.
And the converse is also true — as much as women desire love, men also need love as well. A marriage is not the military, and men also need to feel the warm, affectionate embrace of their partner — regularly.
If so, how do we explain the self-understood aphorism that while women desire love & affection, men thrive on respect? One possibility is to view these needs as primary and secondary for each gender. While both partners need love and respect, women need to feel loved in order to show respect, and men need to feel respect in order to show love.
I have seen this to be true in my own life as well. As a man, it is very difficult to even behave lovingly (let alone feel loving) if I’m feeling disrespected. It just doesn’t flow from me — the “love well” is dry, no matter how deep I dig. And, from my experience as a partner and therapist, I find that women have an equally challenging difficulty truly respecting a man whom they suspect doesn’t approve of them, honor them, and love them. A dishonored woman throws the “Respect Switch” to OFF, permanently.
If these two ingredients are crucial for our ability to make things work, then what do we do in our relationships when we are not feeling love and respect for our partners? As anybody in a long-term relationship knows, these feelings are not always present — there are plenty of times, for various reasons, that we just don’t feel loving or full of deep respect for our partners. And yet, the show must go on; we are not interested in ruining our marriage or hurting our partners while we sort out our emotions or issues.
Jewish mysticism gives us a unique insight into our human capacity that just may contain an answer. According to Kabbalah, apart from our genuine emotional state, we have behavioral ‘clothes’ that we wear. By design, our thoughts, speech and action — our external behaviors — are distinct from our internal emotional state. We have the ability to feel one way, and behave another. We can chose to show love via our actions, even if we are not feeling love on the inside. Challenging for sure, but possible. And, so too we can choose to be respectful, even if we are not feeling it. What’s more, our ancient wisdom teaches that acting loving and respectful will actually bring us to loving feelings and deep respect as well.
To be clear: this is not duplicitous or disingenuous — it is a choice of putting our values and actions over our emotions, with the hope that our feelings will follow. If we value showing honor, love and respect to our spouses, we can, no matter how we are actually feeling at the moment.
And in reality, for a healthy partner, this is all they really need — to be treated with love and respect, irrespective of how you feel deep inside. As a matter of fact, I’m not really interested in whether or not you actually respect me — your true feelings are between you and G-d, you and your therapist, you and your conscious. If we are choosing to be married, you need to be treated lovingly, with honor and respect, and so do I. When you have mastered that — treating your partner with love and respect — then there is no doubt that the real, deeper feelings of love and respect will blossom, grow and permeate your relationship.
And as the relationship with your spouse is a microcosm of the relationship you have with your family, community, country, world, and Gd Himself — may we all be blessed with a harmonious, joyous, and peaceful connection, full of love and respect, starting today!