Ever since I wrote, “How to Regain Respect for Your Partner,” people have been writing me asking how they can regain their partner’s respect and convince them not to leave their relationship.
There’s a problem with this question.
The intention of my article was to guide people along the path of regaining respect for their partners, which is an internal process. What people were asking me to help them do was not to change their own thoughts, actions, behaviors, or motives (an internal process), but rather to change someone else’s.
That is not possible.
In Disney’s animated movie, “Aladdin,” the genie tells Aladdin that he could have any three wishes he wanted—except for a wish that would force someone to fall in love with him.
Just like with the genie’s magic lamp, we can wish anything we want for our own lives, and we can do (almost) anything we want for ourselves or for someone else. But we cannot force someone to love and respect us. The desire to do this comes from desperation, and we rarely make good decisions when we are desperate.
If one partner has lost respect for the other, the end of that relationship is likely in sight. As I stated in my aforementioned article,
By its very definition, love is acceptance and admiration while respect means that we admire someone and hold them in high esteem. Therefore, it would appear that love and respect are mutually inclusive; you can’t be in love with someone you don’t admire and you can’t admire someone you don’t hold in high esteem. You might care about someone, but you can never really be “in love” with a person you are not proud of.
Knowing that your relationship is coming to an end and your partner has left or wants to leave is hard on one’s self-esteem. Generally speaking, it’s much more painful to be the one that is left behind rather than the one walking away. In addition, anyone who has any kind of abandonment issues had better watch out because being left often causes some serious panic.
To prevent all of this, we fight to hold on to our partners. We cry, we plead, we use logic and guilt. We tell them we will change, we promise to go to counseling, to communicate better, to make love more often. We would likely sell one of our kidneys on eBay if we thought it would convince them to stay with us.
Sadly, I have learned many of these principles from the School of Hard Knocks—that is, I learned them the hard way through my own experiences. I once had a partner who quite suddenly decided that he no longer wanted to be with me. Until then, I had believed that we had a good relationship, and I believed him when he said he loved me. Anyone with a high sense of integrity will place a lot of weight on words and actions; we don’t say things we don’t mean, and we expect others to be the same way.
My brain could not accept the fact that he wanted to walk away from our relationship—a mere two months after we had bought a house and moved in together, and in spite of the fact that he had told me how much he loved me.
I stubbornly refused to believe what he said, and instead tried to convince him that he was wrong, that he really didn’t mean what he was saying. I showed him texts and emails where he was sweet and loving, I talked circles around him, and I even paid for a couple’s therapy retreat in California for the two of us.
And guess what? I won! It took a year and a half (and me paying for lots of vacations), but we were back together.
And I was miserable.
Yet for two more years, I stubbornly refused to admit defeat, tirelessly trying to make it work even though he emotionally abused me and treated me terribly. If I had watched my own daughter going through what I was, I would have grabbed her by the hair, tied her to an airplane seat, and taken her to a remote village in South America until she had regained her senses.
Close friends and family repeatedly told me that I deserved so much more than what I was getting, but I didn’t see it at the time. I believed that marriage was hard work, and I was just doing my part. I prided myself on the fact that I was the steadfast fixer in the relationship.
Finally, it all came to a head.
You see, he would often sit on the couch and play a silly game on his iPhone when I tried to talk to him, totally ignoring and disrespecting me. During one such time, he finally looked up at me told me I was like a pathetic puppy dog following him around, tying to get his attention.
I was a self-made businesswoman. Educated, smart, driven. I was strong and independent.
How had I become pathetic?
It was just the slap in the face that I needed to wake myself up.
That was the beginning of the end for me. I was finally ready to get out of that mess and live again.
I hope no one ever has to be called pathetic before they realize their value as a person. It’s not always easy to be so transparent about the mistakes we’ve made, but I hope that by sharing my personal story, someone is spared the misery I’ve experienced. That misery stemmed from convincing my partner to stay in our relationship when he wanted to leave, which in turn came from a lack of respect for myself and from my inability to see my own value.
The moral of my personal story is that even if we successfully convince our partner to stay in the relationship, it’s generally not sustainable, as we lowered our value when we begged him or her to stay.
Put another way, let’s say that someone goes shopping and spends $10,000 on a beautiful, Italian leather sofa. That person is probably going to treat it gently and with lots of respect because it’s very valuable. By comparison, someone who picks up a free sofa at the swap-and-shop will treat it much differently. Likely, he isn’t going to care if the sofa is abused, gets torn, or if things are spilled on it. He knows that eventually, he’s going to toss it out and get the sofa he really wants.
It doesn’t have much value because it was free.
No matter how hard I worked, I was never able to get my relationship back to where it was before my ex said he wanted to leave—because I had lowered my value by begging him to stay. He treated me far worse than he ever had before because I wasn’t what he really wanted; I was nothing more than an old couch to him.
If a person wants to leave their relationship, they have, on some level, lost respect for their partner. Maybe their partner did something that caused the loss of respect, or maybe they haven’t done anything and the loss of respect has more to do with the broken pieces and fears inside the one who is leaving the relationship.
Rather than trying to convince someone to stay in a relationship, allow them to make their own choices and instead concentrate on your own personal growth. Some great ways to do this might be reading, going to workshops or clinics, learning to mediate, going to counseling, getting more physical exercise, or eating better.
It was through my own emotional and spiritual growth that I learned to change the thoughts that went through my head. In doing so, I switched my efforts from external ones to internal ones:
Save the relationship became Save myself.
Change how he feels about me became Change how I feel about myself.
Show him I have value became Show myself I have value.
Show him that he loves me became Show myself that I love yours truly—me.
No one is perfect; we all have flaws. Acknowledging those flaws and working to change them is not an admission that the relationship failed solely because of them. It’s simply a much better use of our time than trying to maintain a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be there.
Working to grow emotionally and spiritually puts us firmly on the right path so that we can be the best version of ourselves when our perfect partner comes along.
Maybe the person who wants to leave the relationship will see all the effort and changes and decide to stay, or maybe not. The intention isn’t to point out to them how hard we are working and use it as leverage. Instead, we should be making changes for no other reason than because we deserve the best life possible and the only way to achieve that is by continually trying to evolve ourselves.
Chances are, if one person is working on personal growth and the other is not, he or she will move so far beyond their partner that by the time they finally think to look back, they realize that allowing their partner to move on was the best decision after all, simply because they have become so different.
When we try to convince someone to stay with us, it’s because we see ourselves as a swap-and-shop couch.
When we learn to admire and respect ourselves first, others will begin to see our value too—and that’s the space in which true love can exist.
Author: Jennifer Lemky
Editor: Callie Rushton