Dear Dr. Yael,
I read the letter from the woman whose husband does not respect her (5-15) and it really hit home. You see, growing up, I saw the respect my parents had for each other. Then I got married and saw how my father-in-law and the kids treat my dear mother-in-law – the word respect is not in their vocabulary. My husband came into our marriage acting the same way and it took me a quite a few years to get him to fully understand how important respect is to a marriage.
Respecting the spouse and hoping he will reciprocate as you suggested is helpful, but doesn’t always work. A great technique I used was complimenting myself to my husband. For example, I would say, “Look at how the house is clean now, even after a full day of guests and the kids being home” or “Aren’t these homemade cookies good? The kids couldn’t get enough of it.” Eventually, a husband will hopefully learn to compliment on his own, as part of respect is positive praise. Also, speaking disrespectfully or making negative comments in front of others should never be tolerated. When your spouse is in a good, calm mood, discuss it with him.
I went through this in the beginning of my marriage and each time my husband would treat me disrespectfully, I would gently explain to him how it bothered me. Then I gave him a better way to say what I believed he meant. Giving him compliments and making them specific also helped. I would tell him (and still do), “Thank you for cleaning up after yourself this morning, it really made me happy.” It’s important to show him that he means a lot to you. When he vents about my parents, I don’t stop him, as long as it’s said in a respectful way. Having the kids respect their parents is also very important. I speak very highly of my husband to the children in front of him and expect him to reciprocate as well.
Thank you for your letter and for the great idea about self-praise. Many times spouses do the opposite and put themselves down. I find women do this a bit more often than men. They will point out their negatives to their husbands, seeking praise in return – it is sort of like “bad publicity.” In other situations, spouses do not take compliments well. For example, the husband may compliment a meal or something the wife cooked and she will respond by saying, “I don’t think it was that great” or another self-deprecating remark.
Doing this too often can create a situation where the husband will slowly stop complimenting the wife. The opposite, as in your case, is also true. If you compliment yourself, your husband will likely learn from you. This shouldn’t be done in an angry way; rather it should be done in a sincere or slightly humorous way. Modeling is the best way to teach someone how to act.
Your ideas about specific and descriptive praise were also excellent! If you praise your husband when he tries to please you, he will probably continue to do so. Let’s be honest, everyone likes to be praised! Thus, notice the little things that your husband does that are positive and make sure to compliment and explain how much they mean to you!
By the way, this works wonders with children as well. When you are struggling with a difficult child, make sure to focus on any small positive thing that he/she does and while you may have to give a consequence when negative behavior is displayed, don’t give any negative attention when he/she is demonstrating negative behavior.