I Love My Wife Because She Disrespects Me

Gini is yelling at me to go to the damn party.  Gini is incorrect.

Gini is demonstrating a very tricky part of the carefully-cultivated disrespect that good relationships need to thrive.

The problem is that I am in hibernation mode and do not want to go to the damned party, even though it will have my favorite people there.  I would not have a good time if I went to the party. I’m in my asocial mode, and I will be far better served by sitting here in my underwear and playing X-Box until midnight.  This will recharge my introvert social-batteries, and make me much better prepared to enjoy the next party.

Gini is quietly removing the controller from my hand.  Gini is yanking me off the couch.  She is telling me that if I do not come to the party, I will be making a mistake, and so she is not really giving me a choice in this matter.

I shuffle off to get dressed – not because Gini is right, but because it’s less trouble than getting into a fight with her.  We’ll go make a quick appearance, show up for the requisite forty-five minutes…. and then I will come back home, strip to my underwear, and play Rock Band.  What I need is solitude.

We return home at one in the morning.  I’ve had a fantastic time.  I loved hanging out, and I got to talk with Kal, and flirted with Emmy, and Jack and I had this great discussion on technology, and what?

…oh yeah, I was wrong.

We humans often are.

The thing about relationships is that there’s a lot of talk about respect, which is important.  Vitally so.  But we rarely talk about the corner cases where it’s necessary to disrespect with love.

“Respect” is often a synonym for “I do whatever s/he says s/he wants”… but while that guideline’s a solid wall for strangers that should be abided, it gets tricky when you’re dealing with someone you’ve known for years.  The “I do whatever s/he says s/he wants” logic assumes that Person X knows exactly what they want when it comes to life, and by giving them everything they request, you’re giving them everything they need.

Problem is, what we desire does not always get us what we actually want.

If, in a long-term relationship, you just hand people what they want like you’re handing out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, you often encourage their worst habits and make them unhappier.

Take me, for example.  I have depressive tendencies.  When I’m in a bad mood, which is more often than I’d care to admit, I’m absolutely 100% certain that going out anywhere will lead to disaster.  But if I follow my instincts and stay home alone, my thoughts just loop and amplify, and at the end of the evening I’m usually even more depressed.  Going out to a party actually breaks that cycle, gets me focused on something else, revitalizes me.

Gini knows that.  So she disregards my wants to drag me out to get me to what will actually make me feel better.  Even though I don’t know that at the time.  (I may know it intellectually, but this party is different, like every party we’re ever invited to.)

Likewise, Gini loves being sexy and attractive, but as she hits her early 50s, her natural instincts these days are to dress conservatively, like other older women do, and to damp down her natural flirtiness.  I have to remind her, no, you’re wearing that sexy dress tonight with the low-cut neckline, go back and change, don’t argue.  She’s uncomfortable when we set out.  At the end of the evening, when she’s swimming in compliments, she’s happier.

Now, it should be noted that this pressure is not an absolute; there are times Gini’s tried to pull me off the couch when I did know better, and I fought to stay, and won, and was right.  There are times when I’ve said, “Wear something sexy” and Gini’s retorted that it’s not that kind of party.  But overall, the pressure we apply to force each other to our happy zones is often intense, and could be interpreted as disrespectful by an outsider.

Yet I’ve seen relationships where each partner hands the other whatever they desire without question, and very often what you wind up with is a rock-stable relationship with two desperately unhappy people at the center.  They stay because they’re with someone who “understands” them – why would they go elsewhere when they get along so well with their partner?  Heck, they can’t go, anyone else would question them, they have to stay.

And all the while, the rest of their lives are miserable, with them steeped in long depressive fits that they just can’t seem to shake.  They’re comfortable, and miserable.  Because of a deep respect, or at least something masquerading as that.

The disrespect technique is a dangerous one, because obviously it can get out of hand if you a) don’t know your partner as well as you think, or b) are not able to separate your desires from their needs.  (Certainly there’s any number of dudes who’d haul their fiancee to the football game because that’s what makes them happy.)  And it’s a lot easier to not fight with your spouse, to just hand over the loot, because you never get into conflict when you give them what they asked for over and over again.

Yet while it’s a tricky thing to get right, I think it’s something that ultimately has to be mastered – because though we hate admitting it, we’re not always the best judges of what’s going to work for us.  We’re the final arbiters, certainly, but to assume that we have 100% absolute correctness in what we require at any time to be happy is to assume that we are machines and not fallible human beings.  Having a partner who not only supports you, but pushes your limits to ensure that you’re going where you need to, is vital.  Questioning someone’s motivations often leads to insight and evolution.

Sometimes, your partner will haul you, dragging and screaming, from your comfort zones and into a place you do not want to be.  Sometimes your partner is going to be absolutely correct to do so.  And there will be more conflicts as you determine what’s actually going to work, but in the end what you’ll have is a relationship that brings both of you to the happiest place that both of you can find.

If you have a good relationship, a bit of carefully-constructed disrespect is what can transform it to “great.”

2 Comments

  1. Mishell Baker
    Nov 7, 2011

    I don’t think respect means giving the person what he wants. I think it means caring enough about his um… entire-person-ness… that you know what he NEEDS and make sure that he gets it.

    You do not respect a heroin addict by giving him heroin, you respect him by getting him to rehab. Etc. So I would say that what you refer to as beneficial disrespect is actually the deepest sort of respect: an understanding of what makes the person tick and a desire to help keep that person running smoothly even when he would rather let himself run down.

    • TheFerrett
      Nov 7, 2011

      And I think that’s ultimately correct, though in many circles “Respect” takes the form of “I AM SO AWESOME HOW DARE YOU TELL ME I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.” And then you wind up with huge fights whenever you suggest that the solution they’ve suggested is not in fact really going to get them what they want.

      It’s an issue. Call it what you will, though, I think it’s necessary.

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