The following is a comment I received today in reply to my 3 Ways to Get Your Wife’s Respect post on October 18, 2011. It is a classic situation, and I suspect the answer may help more than Drew, who left the comment.
I made several mistakes during a one year period over seven years ago. Since I have been a model man and model father, she even gets ro stay home if she chooses. Now, after 7+ years I find out that she has NO respect for me and stated to a mutual friend that she will never respect me or feel strongly for me again. Btw, I DIDN’T cheat. I had a drug problem and was dishonest about it. I had an ’email fling’ during that period too. What do I do? It’s been 10 years and two kids later…. Thanks
She’s still with you, Drew, so I am pretty sure she does not view respect the way you do. This puts you at a bit of a disadvantage in trying to regain her respect. You can’t guess what will win it. Let’s see if I can help.
Being a model man and a model father is not enough, even though it’s quite a lot and you should be proud of yourself for this.
She may believe she won’t feel strongly for you again, but I’m sure you have seen all the comments in this blog from people who have been utterly surprised to learn how strongly they feel when they thought they did not. Don’t take her word for this. She has no way of knowing.
Since you are still together and you have kids who would benefit enormously from it, why not prove her wrong?
Start by looking for the respect she can’t see. Check my March 7th post, One More Ray. Every day, see if you can find one more ray of respect than you noticed the day before, and thank her for it. At breakfast, notice if she trusts you enough to share the table with you. That is respect. She won’t call it respect, and you probably should not give it this label, because she’s still protecting her heart from the risk of respecting you, but it is respect. Let her know you enjoy being able to have breakfast together. Tomorrow, you can notice she does the same thing at dinner.
If you pick up the kids from school the next day, you can notice that she trusts you to care for “her” children. Ever notice how many divorced women don’t? Don’t point out the respect, but do let her know how glad you are that both of you are involved in the kids’ daily lives.
On another day, if she asks you to do something for her and doesn’t tell you exactly how to do it or imply you’re not likely to actually do it, notice the ray of respect for your intentions and abilities. Tell her, “It’s my pleasure. Thanks for asking the way you do. It’s nice.”
If you make dinner and she shows up for it on time, you can count this as the new ray for another day. Say, “I’m so glad you’re here. You’re just in time for a great dinner.”
If she asks you for advice on anything, chalk up another ray of respect. Nobody asks for advice without respecting the expertise or experience of the person they ask. Tell her, “It makes me feel great to be asked.”
Will she share a bed with you? Let you drive? Put her money in a joint bank account? Accept your hugs? Tell the kids to do as you say? All are rays of respect.
Look for a new ray of respect every day and appreciate her for it. She won’t see any of it as respect. To her, it’s what nice people do. The other thing nice people do is appreciate the efforts of nice people, and you will be doing this at least once a day. This she will notice. You can keep to yourself what you are noticing, which is that, no matter what she says, she actually does respect you.
To women’s way of thinking (and it’s all in our hormones, nothing much we can do about the difference except respect it and deal with it), nice people earn our respect. Hurtful people don’t deserve it. You hurt her, and the things you’ve been doing to prove your are worthy of her respect, nice as they are, don’t relieve her pain, so she’s not ready yet to consciously extend you any respect.
If you have figured out her love language, and it’s something other than words of affirmation, say an extra thank you in her love language whenever you can. If you are not familiar with love languages, pick up Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: Men’s Edition from your favorite bookseller or library. The more loved she feels, the more respect she will be capable of.
Keep adding a ray a day to the respect you notice and acknowledge each one. If she does something that feels disrespectful, see it as a shadow among all the rays of light, so that you don’t feel the urge to cut off your kind acknowledgements of all that is good about your relationship. If you feel really unappreciated and out in the cold, quietly skip a day and look for another ray tomorrow.
We women do not understand respect the way you men do. The word has very different meanings for us. We can say we have no respect for you and still proudly wear our wedding band, share a home with you, tell our kids what a great guy you are. If you listen to our words instead of watching our actions, you’ll miss out on a lot of what we have to offer. If you pick which things we should respect you for instead of paying attention to what we choose to respect, you’ll miss out on a lot, too.
Drew, will you let us know after a couple of weeks how you did with the One More Ray exercise and what effect it has? I would really appreciate it.