The First Pillar of Mutual Respect – To the extent my identity is wrapped up in my relationship with God, I respect myself and as a result, others respect me too.
Last week I started a conversation about respect. I have seen disrespectful behavior destroy marriages, bust apart business partnerships, and tear families to pieces. I gave a brief overview last week in this about the 7 Pillars of Mutual Respect. Sweet friends, please bear with me while I take a very complicated topic and break it into a few pieces not normally connected. I believe with everything in me that concepts are crucial to changing conflict into connection. I also believe these pieces communicate the importance of why re-establishing our identity in Christ is key to not only our marriages and families but our country as a whole. We learn why friendship and common ground are an important part of the connecting process between people, an activity vital to the success of any relationship. I talk about what happens when that connection becomes unhealthy, where we “over-identify” (being co-dependent) with another person. This has negative ramifications on our relationships. We will discover the role self-respect plays in how others respect us and impacts all of our relationships, flying in the face of and maybe even preventing co-dependency. This is a work-in-progress, so please feel free to leave feedback and ask questions during the week. I’m looking forward to the discussion!
Another Reason Marriage Matters
Much dialogue occurs these days around specific differences between people, while a culture of identity politics marches forward, dividing us even further. I talk about the differences between men and women, too, and I hope I do it in a way that fosters connection instead of separatism. We might think that our marriage has no real impact on anything outside of our family, but I believe what happens in a culture’s smallest community, the family, influences the path the culture follows. I teach Interpersonal Communication at Cincinnati State and a comprehensive look at current interpersonal and intercultural communication research reflects this thought, in my opinion. I’m not the first to have thought something similar to this about our society either, in case you are interested.
What this means for us, very simply, is that our little dyads of marriage that blossom into families matter a lot. Given that most of us walk into marriage without the healthiest modeling, and bring in baggage from unhealed trauma, the cycle of unhealthy family relationships perpetuates and affects our children. Our sense of identity either becomes stronger or unravels as we influence those around us, including our kids. The stakes are high.
Common Ground and Friendship
The notion of common ground is a foundational element in relationship creation. Contrary to the rhetoric of the identity-politics of this era, people connect with each other based on commonality first. Only after the common ground is established can we then begin to appreciate the differences between us. It is my belief that focusing on differences pushes people away from each other while focusing on what is common between them draws them together. I’ve seen this phenomenon occur in corporate settings where I’ve run team-building training. I’ve watched as before my eyes as groups of arguing factions grow to appreciate and have empathy for each other within a few short hours through a single small exercise where they share a story from their childhood. I’ve seen marriages and sibling estrangements end through the retelling of small stories and memories shared, and specific connection coaching.
Friendships are formed and maintained on the basis of what we consider common ground – knowledge, fun together, reciprocity, experiences, and values (Denworth). Friendship forms the basis for which successful marriages can be measured. Dr. John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington and the founder and director of the Seattle Marital and Family Institute, has decades of research describing the impact friendship plays in a marriage and family. According to decades of double-blind research, Dr. Gottman points us to friendship as the foundation for healthy relationships. Because friendship thrives in the land of common ground, we often yearn for these happy moments with our spouse and rightfully so. We are wired from a young age to have awareness of common ground, and even children as young as 14 months can communicate through the meanings of shared experiences (Koymen, B., Mammen, M., Tomasello, M.). Unfortunately, too many of us misconstrue the joy experienced in friendship as the ultimate goal and unrealistically forget life’s difficulties can impact us and our relationships negatively. Like a drug, we can come to seek the approval and positives from other people in unhealthy ways. Our identity moves from planting and leaving a healthy foot on the common ground with our loved ones to wandering off into the land of co-dependency and unhealthy enmeshment. Instead of focusing on friendship, we focus on approval, which is unhealthy from an identity standpoint.
Self-Respect Versus Self-Esteem
Between Western culture’s discomfort with negative feelings and other family of origin issues, people un-healthfully attach to other humans instead of God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be bonded with other people. Our biology wires us to have physiological responses that stimulate the pleasure center in our brain. Friendship fosters these positive feelings. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, connects parents to offspring and to each other through eye contact, smell, and physical touch, including breastfeeding for children, and sexual intimacy for mom and dad. Bonding is normal and healthy. Enmeshment, emotional fusion, or co-dependency, whichever term you prefer, are virtually all rooted in a level of unhealthy attachment to another person. I look at the origin of this idea as in our thoughts, based on our interpretation of current events through our unhealed past traumas or emotional wounds. When we “wrap up our identity in another person’s opinion or behavior,” we throw our sense of self under the bus, and the desperate desire to please another person overtakes us. We see the signs as we, “walk on eggshells,” or “wait for the next shoe to drop.” Other evidence is the nervous tension that we feel when someone else is unhappy. It also appears in the stress we feel when we have a big test, a huge presentation, company over for dinner, policing our words carefully to avoid upsetting another, or any other avenue where we are looking to perform well and receive positive accolades. Performance anxiety is rooted in fear of evaluation.
I believe one of the major causes of a lack of self-respect is that we have failed to successfully differentiate ourselves from others. When our identity is grounded in a deep acceptance of the self (both good and bad) and we have differentiated ourselves from the negative social and familial influences in our lives. One of the reasons I am anti-self-esteem is the “no child left behind” and “everyone gets a trophy” movements of the 1990’s and 2000’s have not empowered and grown the confidence of our children. With the advent of social media, depression, loneliness, and other mental illnesses are on the rise in our country thanks to the opportunity for more comparison to others (Walton). Self-esteem is rooted in externals, relying on praise from other people, or positive performance measurements, resulting in crisis when performance or others don’t have praise for us. I believe self-respect, on the other hand, is rooted in a deep level of self-acceptance and is internally based. We neglect the relationship we have with ourselves, the person we dialogue with more than any other, and as a result, turn to externals for identity. The problem is, our relationship with ourselves already exists. The question that remains is simply this: Am I good friend to myself, or a bad friend? An even more powerful question to consider is simply this: Am I listening to God? I often wonder where the voice of God and the voice of the self are mingled such that we can’t distinguish between them. I know the voice of the enemy all too well, the condemnation, accusation, criticism, etc. ring frequently. The Voice of God is much more encouraging and brings life to a soul-searching for identity. In the middle of a moment of conflict with another person, if we will but take the time to be self-respecting by validating and exploring our own feelings, we can then engage with the other person on a whole new and healthier level.
If we believe the Bible is true, and I do, then we need to give credence to the verses that talk about this. If you’ve ever wondered about the verses that talk about Christ’s relationship with His church, and how a relationship with a husband and wife is supposed to represent this concept, it is my hope those verses will become more clear to you.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7
We are to become one with Christ, and God gives us the Holy Spirit, which dwells within us.
Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
1 Timothy 1:14
in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16
By which exceedingly great and precious promises are given to us, that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature,
having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:4
That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
I and the Father are one.”
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:10
Within us is the Holy Spirit. We have the possibility of interacting with God, listening and acting in obedience to Him, or listening to our flesh. Every moment, of every day, we choose to whom we will listen. Choose this day whom you will serve. We have the opportunity to be one with the Creator of the universe, Who dwells within us.
Self-Respect, Marriage and Family
What we also need to deeply understand is that in the same way organic coffee has health benefits, too much of a good thing becomes not good. In a similar way that co-dependency erupts from a lack of solid identity, self-respect needs to be looked at with an evaluative eye as well. Without the understanding of several other of the 7 Pillars of Mutual Respect, we run the risk of becoming selfish. A lack of self-respect, however, shows up in a number of places. First, we have greater marital satisfaction correlating positively to differentiation, according to several studies done by Miller and colleagues (Lim & Jennings, 1996; Miller, Anderson, & Keala, 2004). This means that knowing and respecting ourselves and others as God’s creations, both with a specific purpose as described in the Bible.
Unfortunately, many relationships look like the diagram below, where Oneness occurs with God, maybe with both people, but not with each other, and there is often a lot of area outside of God’s will, places where we have refused to let Him reign.I think co-dependency may resemble variations on the next two diagrams below. The first diagram shows two people completely enmeshed or fused together. Even with that level of unhealthiness together, I believe it is possible to still have a relationship with God.The diagram below shows the potential of someone wrapping up their identity completely in another person and God at the same time. Varying degrees of relationship with God will affect where the person experiences Oneness. Note that Person B has a life outside of the will of God, and Person A.
There are obviously other diagrams to consider, and the ones I addressed deal with people who are claiming to follow Christ. Losing what makes us the unique and special “us” that God knit together in our mother’s wombs is, in my opinion, sin. We need but briefly refer to the book of James in the Bible, where we read in book 4, verse 17, Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin (ESV).
We can then potentially see our marriage somewhat like a Venn diagram. Below is what I would consider the goal, where both people are intimate with God, operating inside His will, and intimate with each other:
So a healthy identity recognizes and respects the differentiated part of self and others, while knowing there is also space that is oneness. Ideally, both people recognize God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit as being present and part of both of them.
What is interesting and should blow you away is a simple relationship that exists between respect and defensiveness:
When Person A becomes defensive, Person B experiences disrespect.
So handling our own defensiveness is respectful.
Something I should mention is that the person on the receiving end of the enmeshed often naturally pulls away. (CITATION) It is interesting that God wired us to be enmeshed, but to reject being the object of attention that borders on worship. Doing otherwise indicates un-healthy acceptance of worship, commonly referred to in our culture as narcissism.
Are you wondering if you are enmeshed in someone else’s life? Maybe having an unhealthy perspective about who you are as determined by them or their reactions? How do you know if you could stand some differentiation? Here’s a few questions to consider:
- When my challenging person criticizes me, does it bother me for days?
- I’m often uncomfortable when people get too close to me.
- I feel a need for approval from nearly everyone in my life.
- Sometimes I feel like I’m riding an emotional roller coaster.
- I often agree with others just to keep them from getting upset or thinking badly of me.
- I do not handle stress well.
Can you relate to the above? The more you can, especially as you think about specific people, you might consider the potential of enmeshment in those relationships. If you attend one of our Deflating Defensiveness Workshops, you’ll work through more of the differentiation scale and see specific opportunities for personal growth and development. For our purposes here, however, I just wanted to share the gist of the concept.
Why the Science?
At the core of who I am, I believe science is a reflection of God’s creation. To say that science “proves,” or “validates,” is not what I mean. Instead, when I say “reflection,” I mean that science simply reflects, like a mirror, something that is already true and in existence. It is man’s way of explaining creation, whether God is mentioned or not – but that science in no way discounts or diminishes the creation as an act of God. To me, if something is discovered in science, it has already been true because God created it and science merely testifies to this truth. I also believe science is a great door through which many who would otherwise not know Him, may come to as a result of the wonder of creation.
I bring this up to mention a few more pieces of research about marriage that are reflected in social science. One of my favorite studies, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that positive relationship behaviors like accommodation, forgiveness, conciliation, and reciprocation are associated with individual’s self-respect in marriage. (Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E., Rusbult, C.) Part of their definition of self-respect rests on the moral standards, principles, honor, and integrity related to the self. This is an incredibly important concept, because the research also indicates that these standards, principles, honor, and integrity form the foundation of respect for another person – and that respect for another person rests on perceiving that others person as a “morally good considerate, and trustworthy person…honest, not abusive, loyal, trustworthy…following the Golden Rule, and respecting others’ views (Frei, J., Shaver, P.) This study lines up with Gottman’s well-known research that discusses the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” in marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Gottman, J., Silver, N.).
Unfortunately, the research also indicates that when our positive behaviors are consistently not reciprocated, maintaining our self-respect may require withholding those behaviors, and establishing boundaries (Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E., Rusbult, C.). The good news is that when the pro-relationship behaviors are reciprocated, a positive cycle ensues, with positive behaviors result in more positives, as long as both partners are engaged in them.
What can be terrifying, however, is when the opposite of respect ensues, rather than its reciprocation. Most researchers agree that the opposite of respect is contempt. Contempt is essentially the perspective that another is beneath dignity. Across all cultures, one of the facial expressions that communicates cross-culturally is that of contempt. It’s a familiar look, one of eye rolling, and the left corner of the mouth pulling to the side, a look of disgust – dismissive nonverbal. “When a person has contempt rather than respect for a partner, there is little the partner can do to get his or her feelings and needs taken seriously,” (Frei, J., Shaver, P.).
Some of the Respect inventory items contain the following concepts (Frei, J., Shaver, P.):
- Willing to listen and hear my viewpoint
- Not trustworthy, responsible, reliable
- Shows interest in me, has a positive attitude, willing to spend time with me
- Does not respect my views and opinions; insists on his/her own wishes
- Is available, accessible, generous with his/her time
- Fosters a relationship where we can be good friends
- Is altruistic, selfless, willing to sacrifice
- Is constraining, controlling, demanding
- Fosters mutuality and equality
- Is gentle and kindhearted
- Not judgmental, questioning, disapproving
- Not empathetic and understanding
There are more, obviously, and we dive deep into these at the Retreat. But you get the idea. Respect is a complicated and serious topic that deeply impacts the success of relationships. We are wise to consider the implications. Given that God has instructed wives to respect our husband (Ephesians 5:33b), we need to dig into what that looks like. How do you do that when you are feeling defensive? We know the way and it’s simply too much to write here. It’s all about deeply connecting with Jesus Christ and finding our identity in Him. That’s why we do the retreat! I wish I could do it in print, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.
I will have a full bibliography list for you as I add to this over the course of the week. I wanted to get it up and make it available to you today, however! If you want to find out more about the retreat, you can find it here on our website: Greater Impact.org
Love to you,
P.S. In the last two months, I’ve walked several women through just parts of the retreat process and watched God take their marriages, (all ones where the husband had separated or had divorce paperwork, or was threatening divorce) and turn them completely around where the husband wants to connect with his wife again. I don’t pretend for one second to take the credit for that – but I know what He can do, and how He typically does it. If your marriage is in trouble, please come to the retreat. It’s cheaper than therapy and legal. Very simply, we help you connect with God, yourself, and others, turn conflict into connection, and help your husband do the same. Participating doesn’t mean that your life will be perfect, however, you will have peace and joy, and lose the stress that comes from putting our identity in people and not God.
Denworth, L. The Three Basics of Friendship. 3 March 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-waves/201703/the-three-basics-friendship. 15 April 2018.
Frei, J., Shaver, P. “Respect in close relationships: Prototype definition, self-report assessment, and initial correlates.” Personal Relationships (2002): 121-139.
Gottman, J., Silver, N. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. Harmony, 2015.
Koymen, B., Mammen, M., Tomasello, M. “Preschoolers Use Common Ground in Their Justificatory Reasoning with Peers.” American Psychological Association (2015): 423-428.
Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E., Rusbult, C. “Self-Respect and Pro-Relationship Behavior in Marital Relationships.” Journal of Personality (2002): 1009-1049.
Walton, A. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/#3e8468e12e5a. 30 June 2017. 15 April 2018.