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I Respect You

Join me in an experiment. Without any setup, without any extra words, tell your husband or wife, "I respect you."

In the comments below (or online if you get this by email), let us know (1) what sort of reaction it gets, and (2) how it felt to say this.

It might help if you add whether this was woman to woman, man to woman, woman to man, or man to man.

Our hormones predispose us to crave different things. And then, following the Golden Rule, we offer our mates exactly what we're hoping to hear from them.

For a lot of the estrogen crowd, these words feel a bit odd, especially just hanging out there, naked, with no lead-in and no explanation. "I love you" feels so much more natural. Our female hormones lead us to believe the very foundation of every relationship (marriage, friends, children, siblings) is caring, being generous and kind and nurturing.

As a result, it feels perfectly natural to say "I love you" to those with whom we have close relationships. If we didn't care about them and believe they care about us, there would be no relationship.

But switch up the hormone mix, and there's a different foundation. At its base, the one thing every relationship needs, according to most men, is respect. You have to be able to trust anyone you're close to, and you need to know they trust you right back. There must be a mutual honoring of the other's strengths and talents.

Of course, men care and women respect. But they usually differ on which one is essential to maintaining the relationship. A woman might say to a man who has cheated on her that she cannot trust him any more, but it's likely she means she cannot trust him to care more about her feelings than his own or some other woman's. It's the caring that must get mended. Even a GPS tracker wouldn't rebuild trust. Caring -- those words, those helpful acts, those gifts, those loving glances, those actions to protect each other -- those are what matter to a relationship for most women.

So, they say "I love you." And they complain when their husband says it less. And if you say "I respect you," she's probably not sure what to make of such a comment.

But most men do. "I respect you" is easy to say and heart-warming to hear. If you're a man, before you nurture your friend or spouse or mate, first you respect their ability to do anything they're capable of doing for themselves. You don't want your gift, your help, your words to suggest you've lost confidence in the other's competency and trustworthiness. So, you pat them on the back. You let them know that no matter what has gone wrong in their life, they still have your respect. And then you say you're ready to provide whatever help they might ask for.

And you don't complain when your spouse doesn't say "I respect you," even though you'd love to hear it, because you can't complain without taking back some of your respect, some of the very foundation of your relationship.

I tried it and got a female friend to try it. Both of us are married to men. Our husbands have never met each other. It felt a bit awkward to both of us. We had never said anything like this as baldly as we'd say "I love you." We both wanted to embellish it with explanation, mostly to reduce our own awkwardness. But neither husband gave any hint of finding it awkward or unwelcome. And both acted emotionally closer the day after we said it.

Is it possible they find it just as awkward to say "I love you"? Is it possible it's not what they'd like to say, because it's not what they long to hear, but Hallmark isn't paying attention?

Before you dismiss any of this as just the different ways we raise boys and girls in this country, the difference between whether caring or respect feels like the foundation on which every relationship sits appears to be hormonal, not cultural. Even hormone injections can change it.

With Valentine's Day coming, I thought you might find this little experiment thought-provoking. Give it a try.. And please share what you discover about yourself and the man or woman you married.

Comments

I did that when I was married. He cried. It touched him so much. We’d been married a few years and had kids and I let him know how much I respected him and the way he had overcome his upbringing to become such a good father and provider and husband. It was huge.

Wow, Sam! I know your message is going to change the way others handle their marriages, in a really good way.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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