“What I can tell you is the #1 thing . . . is respect. It’s not sexual attraction, looks, shared goals, religion or lack of, nor is it love. There are times when you won’t feel love for your partner. But you never want to lose respect for your partner. Once you lose respect, you will never get it back.”
As I scanned through the hundreds of responses I received, I began to notice an interesting trend: People who had been through divorces almost always talked about communication being the most important part of making things work. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts.
And there is some merit to that (which I’ll get to later).
But I noticed that the thing people with happy marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.
My sense is that these people, through sheer quantity of experience, have learned that communication—no matter how open, transparent, and disciplined—will break down at some point. Conflicts are pretty much unavoidable and feelings will always be hurt.
And the only thing that can save you and your partner, that can cushion you both to the hard landing of human fallibility, is an unerring respect for one another. It’s crucial that you hold each other in high esteem, believe in one another—often more than you each believe in yourselves—and trust that your partner is doing his/her best with what they’ve got.
Without that bedrock of respect, you will begin to doubt each other’s intentions. You will judge your partner’s choices, and encroach on their independence. You will feel the need to hide things from one another for fear of criticism. And this is when the cracks in the edifice begin to appear.