Respect and the Stories We Tell

Laura, my relationship mentor, asked me what I thought made the biggest difference when I was transforming my marriage. I told her my biggest change was all the things I stopped doing. I still feel like that’s the case. Looking at the Six Intimacy Skills – two of them are centered around what you can go ahead and delete from your relationship and the other four are what you can focus on doing instead. So my effort to restore respect was about cleaning up my habits to show my husband that I admired him, supported him, respected his decisions and his opinions. After all, I wanted to build him up instead of tearing him down, like I had unintentionally been doing all along. Whoops! 

I just got off a wonderful coach call about the stories we tell ourselves about the people around us. At this stage in my life, I can really see how our perspectives can change not only how we feel about others, but also how they feel about themselves. Over the course of my relationship transformation, I’ve become much more conscious of my power as a wife as well as my responsibility to establish a norm of respect that flows in every direction of our relationship.

Claudio and I have been talking a lot about the historical relationships between husbands and wives. I am totally amazed by how so many details of how this institution looks has changed over thousands of years, but how there are so many constants that remain the same. A few weeks before we scheduled to be married, he told me that he was excited to be a husband. I was floored. What did that make me? A WIFE? Yuck. What does that even mean? I was interested in being a gender neutral, 50/50 partner. I was (and am) a progressive feminist and that meant I had absolutely no idea what being a wife actually meant. We had a fight that day that shook both of us and we both still remember it. Reflecting back, one of the greatest gifts that Laura has given me was opening the door to me understanding what was possible for me as a wife. I had imagined that wifedom included servitude, subservience, and turning straight into a doormat. I am happy to tell you that I was so incredibly wrong. Turns out my husband wants to serve ME (but that’s a lesson in receiving that I’ll save for another day.)

Before I could take my place as the queen of my own life, I had to restore respect in my marriage which meant doing all the things that I had done out of habit, but felt deeply justified in doing.

Things like:

  • Dismissing his ideas in favor of my own.
  • Trying to help him at every turn. 
  • Offering my dissenting opinion about every single thing.
  • Assigning him tasks.
  • Expressing my complaints when he didn’t complete said tasks.
  • Sometimes interpreting his help as a personal affront to my own capabilities and then other times interpreting his lack of help as being uncaring. 

I did these things because I thought that was how people acted. I thoroughly bought into the story that men are bad at most things; they are generally unsupportive and make us do all the work. They are usually immature, irresponsible, and useless. And my husband, because he wanted me to be happy, did his best to live up to my deplorable expectations. 

I desperately wanted him to be better, but I kept telling the story to myself and to him that he wasn’t helpful, he wasn’t supportive, and because of those things he didn’t love me. If he loved me, he would be different. I didn’t stop to ask myself, what would happen if I saw him as what I wanted him to be? Instead I bought into the story that every other wife and girlfriend I knew had told me about our fate as heterosexual women. 

Respect for men wasn’t popular in the circles I was running in. The thinking goes like this: Why should I do xyz for him? He doesn’t deserve it, he wouldn’t do that for me. How can I appreciate him for doing nothing? He needs to hear me complain! He should know better. Women are really good at agreeing on things as truth as if it came from the sky in a beam of light and then taking the corresponding steps deemed necessary and deserved. 

Have you ever been ostracised from a group of women? Take it from me, it’s rough to be on the receiving end of a woman’s scorn– been there. Women can do this because of our wonderful storytelling abilities and impeccable and unyielding follow through. The good news is that we can use our powers for good. We can build up our husbands, our children, our friends. We can be beautiful goddesses of fun and light that bring joy and happiness to the people that we love, we just have to change the story that we tell to ourselves, to others, and to the ones we love.

Once I found the skills I started asking new kinds of questions:

What if I started looking for his success in areas I wanted him to be stronger in? What if I started acknowledging it and thanking him? What if he needed me to just listen to him, support him, and love him? What if he just needed me in his corner and no one else? What if I alone had the power to lift him up and give him the confidence to be his best self and he could finally be the man he was meant to be?

I see him grow into his best self every single day now. I see him getting stronger, honing in on what he wants, making plans for us, building the life we want. He does that now– and in an act of radical self-control– I let him and I use my powers for good. 

I don’t question his judgment. I don’t interrupt him. I don’t help unless he asks for it. I listen to his ideas and I tell them how great I think they are. I never assign him tasks. Occasionally, I’ll ask for a favor, but I frame it in a respectful way and thank him for helping me out. I accept his help. I tell him he’s the best and I really believe it. I’m in his corner. And now, he’s in mine. He gives all those things back to me. He thanks me for everything that I do. He snuggles me and brings me gifts and works relentlessly on building a life for me and our children. How could such a useless guy do so much? Strange! Funny how that worked out.

So, what stories have you been telling?

Published by Bonnie Stewart

Mama, wifey, relationship coach, writer, community builder, OG Flourishing Lady

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