Reality Check: A little respect, please

To strengthen relationships and build satisfying lives, choice theory promotes seven caring habits, including the habit of respect. What’s the impact of respect in a relationship?

Henry was forced to retire from a well-paying, satisfying career where he had enjoyed good relationships and respect from his colleagues. His many years of marriage to Sally have also been satisfying. Granted, between the children, the demands of Henry’s job, and Sally’s activities, there hadn’t been a lot of “together” time. 

Henry recognized that sitting in the window watching the traffic go by would not be a satisfying retirement for him. He needed an activity to focus on. Always up for a challenge, he decided to try something completely different—watercolour painting.

Consistent with the habits that made him successful in his career, he set up a disciplined schedule. He invested in supplies and books, built a studio, and painted five days a week. 

Sally was initially delighted. She had been apprehensive that Henry would want to get involved in her activities. She had a full life and didn’t want Henry underfoot, interfering, advising, or “helping” her. A new hobby for Henry sounded like a win-win.

Lately, however, Henry and Sally are at odds. He had showed her a painting of which he was particularly proud. Sally responded, “Would you like me to put it on the fridge?” indulging him as if he were 5 years old. When he struggles with technique, she’s said, “Henry, it’s good enough, no one is going to see it anyway.” And there’s the off-hand remarks to their friends, “He’s not Van Gogh, that’s for sure!”

When Henry was invited to exhibit his work in a show of up-and-coming artists, Sally was incredulous that he would even consider it. “Why bother? Why go through all that? Framing, packing, travelling…You’re not going to make any money. It’s a hobby, for crying out loud!”

Now Henry and Sally are barely speaking. Sally didn’t think he’d be taking this “hobby” so seriously. Henry is shocked by her lack of respect for his challenges.

How would the caring habit of respect be helpful here?

Respect would mean Sally acknowledging that this activity is important to Henry. It matters to him. He wants to become proficient and to be acknowledged.

Sally says she can’t honestly respect Henry’s artistic efforts. “He’s not very good. I wouldn’t give 2 cents for his paintings.”

If Sally continues to disparage Henry’s efforts, there will be consequences for their relationship. Is this behaviour bringing them closer together or driving them further apart? What if Henry takes her lack of respect to heart and gives up painting?  

Money is not the only measure of success, and there are plenty of opportunities in the situation where Sally could demonstrate respect. For example, she could respect Henry’s courage in trying something so new. She could respect his disciplined work habits and his willingness to learn. Even if Sally doesn’t respect Henry’s artistic talent, she could respect his approach to involuntary retirement.

Do you think that showing respect for each other is essential for a satisfying relationship?

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