What does "showing respect" to your SO mean?

In one of the recent divorce threads, the topic was brought up about “showing contempt for your spouse is the #1 indicator of divorce.” I talked to my wife about it this morning.

Firstly, I am the Superman of Sarcasm. I love to be a wiseass and tease people as a form of humor. In the beginning of my marriage, my wife got really upset about it, and I didn’t know why. Somehow, she put up with it for 12 years now. Recently, say the past 2-3 years, she’s been learning how to put up with it, and even throw back some barbs of her own, which I really enjoy. All my friends, when they are with me, is just a constant stream of “Do you know how I know you’re gay…” routines and stand-up acts.

This morning, I asked her if she took my teasing as “showing contempt” or disrespect. She vehemently agreed. I apologized, and vowed to learn how to show respect.

So, how do I go about doing this? What does “showing respect” mean? Please give lots and lots of examples and situations.

“You’re a dick…just kidding” versus “Hey, I think you’re wonderful and I like the way you made dinner last night”. Which is more respectful, fun, loving, and supportive?

My first and only suggestion would be to immediately get Dale Carnegie’s old standby “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Read it. Over and over. There’s a reason why the book has stood the test of time. (YMMV, of course).

I think it’s OK to tease her but leave the insults out of it.

Can you provide examples of what kind of wiseass remarks you’re making to your wife? Perhaps she doesn’t realize you’re kidding. Or maybe your timing is off.

I used to throw out the worst jokes right in the middle or toward the end of arguments to try to lighten the mood. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire. I’ve since learned to bite my tongue when my husband and I get into it and focus on fixing the problem, not making everyone happy.

Find out how your SO wants you to act. Act that way.

Sounds like you made an excellent start.

(In your defense, it’s a lot easier if the SO is someone who will, you know, tell you when you’re doing something they don’t like, instead of waiting years to be asked.)

Turn off the comedy routine when you are with her, at least some of the time. And never, ever, ever, make her the butt of the joke.

I too am a smartass (What, you want me to be a dumbass?) I know that isn’t my wife’s style of humor so I try to tone it down when we are alone together. Really, people who don’t enjoy that style don’t give back what we want anyway. Of course, you can’t change who you are, she married you for some reason and I always hear women like a man with a sense of humor.

The problem I think is not so much showing contempt, as it is having contempt.

Teasing is fine, as long as you are both comfortable with it, and there’s no disrespect covered up with it. I think you show respect more in what you do than in what you say, any way.

She mentioned that this morning: I have to know when is the right time to make a joke.

Additionally, she’s from a different culture. I’ve tried before to adapt to her culture, but like any imitation, it doesn’t ring true. I have to learn how show respect in my culture, and she can accept/reject it.

This is a song for the ladies
But fellas listen closely
You don’t always have to fuck her hard
In fact sometimes that’s not right to do
Sometimes you’ve got to make some love
And fucking give her some smoochies too
Sometimes ya got to squeeze
Sometimes you’ve got to say please
Sometime you’ve got to say hey
I’m gonna Fuck you softly
I’m gonna screw you gently
I’m gonna hump you sweetly
I’m gonna ball you discreetly…

Tenacious D.

Your welcome.

I don’t think being sarcastic is the same thing as showing comtempt. Being sarcastic can have many different levels, but you can be clear that you are not being serious. “Showing comtempt” is making it painfully obvious that you consider your spouse beneath you. Its making it clear you consider him/her stupid and low. Like Kate Gosselin on that show…just utterly dismissful of the other person.

That, to me, is a huge sign of disrespect, frankly. You knew that your behavior bothered her, but you continued to do it for over a decade, waiting for her to adjust to it rather than modifying your behavior toward her?

Just pay attention to how she reacts to the way you treat her and CARE about how she reacts. This shouldn’t have taken twelve years to discuss. It should have happened when you first realized that what you were doing was bothering her. It doesn’t mean that there’s blame to go around – you are who you are, and presumably, you were like this before you got married. She knew that going on. So it doesn’t have to be finger-pointing. But if you show a willingness to discuss her feelings (and yours) about it, maybe you guys can find something that works for you.

Just charging ahead as you always have isn’t a good way to respect someone.


  1. She likes shiny things (like jewelry,) and when we go shopping, she always is attracted to a crowd of people around a table. She also always spends hours and hours making the bed. So, I call her a bird, since her behavior is like a pigeon.

  2. We got an air bed to replace the futon on our couch. When she sits on it, I rise up about 6 inches. So, I call her “stone butt.”

  3. The other day, I called her “honey,” and she said it was the first time (she has memory issues.) So, I said I’d make a new sweety nickname for her: poop bird. She retorted: Why don’t you just call me stone bird?

I find the occasional wise-ass remark fine and funny. A constant stream of them is hurtful. There’s an old saw about the funniest jokes having a kernel of truth, so if my boyfriend were constantly putting me down, I would eventually feel that was his true feeling about me. If he did it to everyone would just emphasize that I was just another person for him to mock.

And if I were showing that it hurt, I’d expect him to stop it.

Yes I’ve tried other things in the meantime, and I’ve adjusted over the years as well. I didn’t mention this in my original post, but I have made changes in my humor through discussion, compromise and self-control. Now I need to know the opposite: showing respect, not changing my humor.

Perhaps start by not calling her names or making fun of her butt, maybe?

Reformed wiseass checking in - like Superhal, my superpower is sarcasm and cutdown humor. I believe I was born to be a writer of TV sitcoms, but that wasn’t an option I was aware existed as a youngster.

It has taken me many years and a fair number of serious talks from friends to learn that - like with all superpowers - with great power comes great responsibility. Or, as someone put it to me - can the comedy, it ain’t winning you any fans. So, while I might think it would be really funny to say something particularly biting, I’m probably in the extreme minority. Most people don’t like “mean”.

So, I put away my super hero cape, and spend my time as my mild-mannered alter-ego. It has helped me get ahead in life. But, most people I encounter don’t even know I have a sense of humor at all. Sigh.

To **Superhal **- I suggest you treat your spouse as you would treat your favorite grandmother. That’s what is meant by “respect”.

We should hang out. :smiley:

My grandmother tried to kill my pregnant mother while in a state of dementia.

I need examples people, I didn’t have a great home life.

For one thing, don’t think the opposite of “contempt” is “respect”, I think it’s “admiration”. My husband thinks I am one of the coolest people in the world. If I cured cancer, he wouldn’t be any more proud of me, because he already assumes I could, if I wanted to. He thinks I am clever, funny, and cute. He thinks that out of all the women in all the world, he got the best of the bunch, and I feel the same towards him. He’s just awesome.

Contempt is when someone thinks the person they are with is inferior to them in some fundamental way: not really as smart, not really as capable, not really as attractive, not really as talented. It’s when they think the other person is the one that got lucky in the marriage, when they feel like they “settled” just a bit, or made a choice that is beneath them and now they are stuck.

So I wouldn’t work on respecting your wife, I’d work on admiring her. If you don’t admire her, I hope you did at some point–try to get back to that place.

As far as teasing goes, I think it’s all about ratio: it’s ok to say wise-ass, teasing things if they aren’t all you ever say. There need to be non-ironic words and deeds that show that admiration. It’s the only way for the other person to be sure that jokes and teasing aren’t a passive-aggressive way to be insulting.

Also, you can’t tease her about things that could possibly be true. My husband will tease me about being crazy and stupid. This is funny because I have no insecurities about being crazy or stupid, nor would I think for even a second that he thought I was crazy or stupid. If he’d ever, ever, ever given me any real reason to doubt his sincere admiration of my intelligence and good sense, those jokes wouldn’t be funny anymore. When I was overweight, he never, ever teased me about my appearance because I really was uncomfortable about it. Now that I feel pretty good about my weight, he’ll tease me.

Teasing in front of others is also a big deal. I’m not saying it can’t ever be done, but the rules are different. Public humiliation is a hard emotion to deal with, and hard to forgive someone for causing it. If you know you have trouble recognizing where the line is, I’d make a resolution to just never, ever, ever say anything negative about her in front of anyone else.