The 1 Thing More Important than Love in Successful Relationships

“He drinks too much, he is financially irresponsible, and his apartment is gross. But I love him! My parents sent me to see you because they believe I’m making a big mistake!”

I wish that were an uncommon thing to hear. But in my office, as well as many of the premarital classes I teach, someone pulls me aside with these kinds of stories. From both men and women.

Sad to say, it all boils down to the one thing that research shows is the greater predictor of success (or failure) in relationships: RESPECT!

As Aretha sings:


(Re, re, re, re) Start when you come home
(Re, re, re, respect) Or you might walk in
(Just a little bit) And find out I’m gone
(Just a little bit) I gotta have … A little respect!

Researchers in the Psychology Department at the University of California found that respect was a greater contributor to relationship success than deep love. Numerous subsequent research projects developed more stringent guidelines to define respect and love. But the results were the same. Respect has the greatest contribution to relationship success.

Respect is deeply foundational in all healthy, thriving, fulfilling relationships.

If you follow my blogs, you know that I’ve been writing a series about World Changers.  For almost 30 years, I have been studying under the mentorship of World Changers, and noting many things about other World Changers who have crossed my path.

Before I read the research, I had already noted that one of the admirable qualities (that I aspired to) of World Changers was that they all had healthy, fulfilling, and thriving relationships.  

I had developed a list of words to describe what I saw:


Admiration for one another

Speaking about their partner in uplifting terms in their absence

Ability to address issues without digressing into criticism or       destructive conversation

Having fun together

Laughing together

Consistent eye contact

Prioritizing one another above all media (cell phones,       Facebook, television, etc.)

I had many more entries on my list, but I categorized them all beneath the above headings. Little did I know at the time that these characteristics could be bullet points under the title “respect.”

When people ask me about becoming a World Changer, I am often asked what they need to do to become one. Although there is a list of several things, I always include developing or improving respect in your relationships.

Of course the next question is this… How do I do that?

I will respond to that with tips below. But the second question is often, “Should I just divorce or leave my partner, or cut off that friendship?”

That is not a simple question to answer, but I will start with this:

Unless abuse is involved, I do not recommend that you immediately terminate relationships when you become aware that there is a lack of respect.

Rather, I suggest that you start with yourself.  Work on your side of developing respect in the relationship for at least seven weeks.  Then reassess, looking for improvement. If you need counseling or coaching, seek that out by all means!  

I repeat:  start immediately with yourself.

I am a big believer that people can make great changes in a heartbeat. You may think your partner needs to make changes. But before you can suggest needed improvements to your partner, you need to have earned enough respect for them to receive your ideas. And they never will as long as you are expressing them from the opposite side of a boxing ring. You must first get into their corner with a deep desire to help them and speak in a positive way from your heart!

Let’s begin by evaluating the health of respect in your relationship.

We will start with those things listed above.  Check off each that applies to your relationship:


Admiration for one another

Speaking about your partner in uplifting terms in their absence

Ability to address issues without digressing into criticism or       destructive conversation

Having fun together

Laughing together

Consistent eye contact

Prioritizing one another above all media (cell phones,       Facebook, television, etc.)

Emotional safety for sharing dreams and disappointments

         (strangers watching you would guess that you truly love   one another and enjoy your relationship by your          behaviors)

Each builds the self-confidence and self-esteem of the other

Each encourages growth in the relationship

Each fosters positive thoughts

Communication is TREKy (click here to read my blog about “No TREKy… No talky!) All communications are Truth with   Respect, Empathy & Kindness.

Decisions are made as a couple, with each having equal contribution and decision-making power

Each partner’s dreams and goals are respected, supported,     and cheered

Each encourages one another to see events as beautiful when they’re positive, and to seek the silver lining when events are not so positive

Mistakes are acknowledged quickly and honestly

Grace is given in return

Both partners are consistently complimentary

Both guard and keep the relationship safe by honoring the       commitment to one another

There are 20 entries. Count each that you could check. 

See your relationship respect score below: 

         18-20 You are in a World Changer partnership; an excellent    

                  example of Respect!

         12-17 You likely have a good relationship, but building or                                    improving respect would be much more fulfilling

          6 -11 Your relationship could be in danger. Invest time and                        energy in the strategies below      

         Below 6 – Your relationship needs intense action. Please                            dedicate yourself to the strategies below

If your score is not ideal (regardless of your partner’s score), I hope you will begin the journey to do your part.  Invite respect into the relationship by committing to the following:

STOP all of these:

  • Criticizing. This does not mean that you cannot discuss things that are frustrating, or annoying.  Or even huge issues. However, doing it with criticism quickly decreases respect. Read the “No TREKy … No Talky” blog with the link above to learn how to address difficult things in a respectful manner.
  • Picking. Just as you would not pick your nose, your teeth or your zits in front of your partner; refrain from picking fights too!
  •   Excessive drinking, any drugs, pornography, overeating, or any other addiction. (According to heart health studies, excessive drinking is usually classified as 3 or more drinks a day for women, or 4 or more drinks a day for men. One drink is equal to one 12 oz. beer or wine cooler; one 5 oz. glass of wine; one 1.5 oz serving of liquor). After many years of owning and operating inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, I believe that 95% of the partners that participated in our family program expressed great disrespect for the careless drinker, alcoholic, or addict. The other 5%?  Usually, they were addicts themselves, and/or chronic enablers. 
  • Imposing “toileting” activity on one another. Except for an emergency, the familiarity that comes with that exposure melts respect. You may say, “But we’ve been doing that for the entire 22 years of our marriage.“ Change it! Close the door. Do it privately. That one thing alone communicates great respect.

When I share this with couples, I often hear funny comments like, “You mean we can’t be naked in front of one another?” Absolutely not!  Be naked!  Enjoy each other’s bodies!  But good grief, your elimination activity is to be private!

  • Letting your body and health go. I’m not suggesting that men must look like “ Atlas” or that women should look like a “Barbie Doll.”  However, I am suggesting that you be as fit as you possibly can be. This also applies to your hygiene and self-care.  If you consistently get up every morning and fix your hair and get dressed nicely for work, then what does it say when you don’t shower all weekend?  That for days on end, you wear yoga pants or stained, ratty T-shirts?  It says: “I respect the rest of my life more than I respect you.” Get on a health program, take care of your hygiene, and wear clean clothes.  That demonstrates respect for your partner.

I could give more of these, but if you start with the STOP’s above, you are likely to see great improvement in the respect element of your relationship.

After delivering this information in my marital and relationship workshops, people often wonder and ask: “But what if I am the only one doing these things? And what should I say if my partner asks me … ‘What is this about?’”

If they ask you just be honest. “I read somewhere that this improves respect in the relationship … so I’m trying it out.”  Do not use it as an evangelistic tool to shame them into doing the same!

Remember, I suggested that you dedicate yourself to this mission for seven weeks.  Keep to that schedule even if your partner doesn’t comply or if you don’t feel like it.  Why?  Because you are doing your part to develop or improve respect in the relationship

Those are the “STOP’s.”

Now for the “START’s.”

1. Listen attentively when your partner speaks to you. If it’s not a good time for you to focus on their conversation, let them know. But then go back and offer to continue the conversation when it’s a good time. Make it as soon as possible, and definitely within 24 hours.

2. Ask your partner about their wants and needs and do your best to meet them. Research shows that the one thing that can cause us to sacrifice our dreams, abandon our goals, and step out of a committed relationship is not having our wants and needs met. Ask your partner about their needs and desires, and meet them whenever possible.

3. Never share intimate things that your partner shares with you with anyone else. That makes the relationship safe, and gives your partner a safe place to land when they need one.

4. Express gratitude regularly. We’ve all been guilty of assuming that our partner is doing what they should do, and therefore, not worthy of acknowledgement. Young mom‘s (and older mom‘s) deserve to hear gratitude about how well they care for children. Dad‘s who work long, hard hours, deserve to hear gratitude for supporting the family. The one who cooks the meals deserves to be thanked. The one who takes care of the laundry deserves thanks. Gratitude creates neurochemicals in the brain that reduce negativity, and promote connection. 

5. Greet your partner the way you did at the beginning of the relationship. Refrain from walking in the door growling about your day. First, greet your partner with a smile, a nice hug, a kind word. And when your partner comes in the door, don’t shush them because you’re watching sports. Or a soap opera. Put down the remote control, get up, and let them know how glad you are to have them home. (If you’re not glad they are home, find a kind way to welcome them anyway.)

6. Laugh together. Often. But not at one another’s expense. I have a couple that is the absolute model of respect in a healthy, fulfilling, and thriving relationship. They learned this was important in my workshop many years ago. Years later, they sent me a Christmas card that said… “We’ve learned about that ‘laugh often’ thing.’  When things are going south with us, we now say, ‘Let’s turn on Seinfeld’ before we start doing the ridiculous dramatic things they do!’”

7.  When your partner asks you to do things, put it in your calendar, or set a reminder alert on your phone. It may not be important to you, but it is important to them. It demonstrates that their request takes priority over your preference. This delivers great respect. Saying yes but forgetting; or saying yes just to get them to shut up (when you have no intention of doing it) …both scream disrespect. 

8. When frustrated by your partner’s words, actions, or lack thereof, learn to ask for positive, specific, behavior change requests. (To learn more about that process click here). Complaining may give you temporary relief but demonstrates relationship immaturity and will never get you the results you desire.

9. Set your reticular activating system (RAS) every morning to looking for the great qualities, characteristics, words and actions of your partner. You can do that by spending several minutes considering things about them that make you smile. Even if you have to think back to the beginning. If you do not set your RAS for that, it will likely be looking for the negative things. The problem with that is that if your RAS is set to search for the negative, even if they do very positive and loving things, you will simply let it go unnoticed. (Click here to learn more about setting your RAS).

10. When you have violated any of the above, acknowledge it. Learn these magic words, “I was wrong. Please forgive me!“ There is nothing more disrespectful than someone denying their behavior, justifying, making excuses, or blaming their behavior on someone else. Instead, quickly own your mistake. Sincerely ask for forgiveness, and commit to creating more respect.  If you are on the other side of the equation, grant forgiveness. 

When I present this information to couples in workshops or in my office, they are often disappointed. They had hoped I would say that their partner needed to earn their respect. They do.  But someone has to start the process.  

It should be you!  You take the high road as a World Changer when you start the process yourself.

This is the information I shared with the young lady whose story opened this blog.  After spending two hours together, she was tearful and very sad. She said, “I don’t like what you have said, but I respect it.”

She decided to spend seven weeks doing her part and then reevaluate the engagement. Of course, her parents were miffed that I didn’t instruct her to immediately end the relationship. I continued to see her over the seven weeks, and she put in an honest effort from her side.

The drinking actually increased.  His finances spun further out of control.  He mocked her heartfelt requests for a change in his apartment’s condition.

Ultimately, she broke the engagement. (Then her parents thought I was a hero! LOL!) Of course, there was a period of time when she had to heal her broken heart.

A few years later, she met a wonderful young man, and paid careful attention from the beginning to invest respect into the relationship.

I thought of them, because recently, I received a message in my email listed on the bottom of one of my blog posts. I didn’t recognize the name, but when I opened it, it was a very kind email from the oldest son of this couple. He was engaged, and about to marry the girl of his dreams. He was thanking me for what I taught his parents, because he had witnessed a very wonderful, and very respectful relationship throughout his life. He said he used the criteria above, that his parents passed on to him and his sibling, to select his wife.

This means another World Changing couple is going to be formed!

What about you?  Will you join the ranks of those who desire to Change the World; one heart at a time?  If so, develop or improve

R-E-S-P-E-C-T in your relationships!