Respect is a Two-Way Street

By Ken Wells - 03/26/2021


Series Two: Blog Fifteen

I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being” – — Jackie Robinson

Conflict resolution requires respect that goes both ways. Worldwide conflict such as nuclear arms treaties, pacts that end war, and the resolution of racial tensions in our own country require mutual respect by all parties. Reciprocal respect must be operational within the context of all human interactions.

In family relationships, the power dynamic that exists between parent and child must be bridged with bilateral respect. One father shared that he would blow up into rage when his son did not follow through with picking up his room after telling him to do so three times. His description of his behavioral response was that of ragging and nagging his son which was abusive.  I pointed out that just because he was the kahuna of the family did not mean he should get a pass for abuse.  I suggested that he employ interactive respect. I asked him to consider that when he lost his cool and harangued his son, that he make amends and face reasonable consequences from his son who was abused. So he did. He apologized and his son’s consequence was that his dad picks up the room that he had gone nuts about. So dad did. Then, dad meted out a reasonable consequence to his son for not following through with his agreement to pick up his own room.  This created balance and mutual respect between father and son.

Relationally, people become insensitive to the need for communal respect. Personally, I have never been in the position of being an owner.  Those whom I have worked for throughout my life have often appreciated that I have looked at my work from the viewpoint of an owner. However, every owner I have worked for has struggled to look at the workload from an employee’s perspective. Overcoming gridlock in Congress will need interactive respect from both sides of the aisle. So often ego gets in the way and triggers blind anger toward the other entity. All that is seen is my way or the highway.

In my work with betrayal in partnerships, the need for joint respect is consistently absent. Obviously when there is infidelity, the offending partner renounces respect for the vows made to the other by crossing the boundaries with a self-absorbed mentality in wanting what I want when I want it. Further, in attempting to right the wrongs of behavior, the offending partner can adhere to resistance to the traumatic response from the partner abused, only further complicating the original abuse. Frequently, the partner offended can also be abusive to the betrayer with justification that the behavior was triggered by the betrayal. This destructive back- and-forth pattern is common among couples plagued with partner betrayal.

Negotiating differences and creating healing will require mutual respect. Emotional distress, damaged trust, anger and rage, comprehensive trauma, and ego all clutter this two-way street and ultimately close down the road of respect that leads to healing within the heart. Healing will require the management of egos that have been bruised and trusts that have been broken.

Establishing respect will require truth before reconciliation can be cultivated.  South Africa created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the purpose of uncovering gross human rights violations during the days of apartheid. Respect begins with telling the truth. The betrayer must take the lead and say it straight regarding the betrayal in relationship. Here is where things get messy. Out of fear, denial, and minimization, betrayers often don’t say it straight in disclosure. The best preparation for disclosure falls short when the betrayer chooses to withhold pertinent disclosure detail often triggered by denial and fear of consequences. Until the platform of telling the truth is cemented, respect will not be established and reconciliation efforts will be fruitless.

Respect must include mutual validation of hurt between two people. For healing to occur in a broken relationship, both parties must validate the hurt of the other. This gets complicated. When you go to the emergency room for treatment of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident, medical professionals will triage the injuries and first address the most life-threatening injury. In betrayal, an assessment is made regarding the most threatening injuries to the relationship. Crisis management often takes priority. If a couple becomes stuck in crisis management, the other injuries that loom in the background will eventually begin to overshadow and complicate the possibility of relational survival. In the ER, the road rash must be addressed or complications of infection will become life threatening. Getting out of crisis management is essential if relational betrayal is ever to heal. 

In the midst of betrayal trauma, the betraying partner must support the betrayed through validation of the pain caused to that partner. This is the most difficult task for the betrayer who wants to heal and support their partner’s healing. Sitting with the painful shrieks and agony of betrayal requires the best of maturity and commitment to healing from any betrayer. There is no task more difficult.

That said, it is also true that the betrayed partner must recognize and validate the trauma of the betrayer.  I have never treated a betrayer, whether addict or otherwise, who did not traumatize not only their partner but themselves. Awareness and validation of this trauma should be recognized and validated by the betrayed partner, who must also recognize their contribution to intimacy disability as well during the process of healing. This is separate from blaming the partner for the betrayal which would be harmful. Clearly, this requires therapeutic prioritization and sensitivity. To attempt to insist on this validation from someone who has just been run over by a big mac truck called betrayal would be insensitive and harmful. Yet, in the greater scheme of healing, without two-way validation, the prognosis for relational healing becomes poor. Respect is a two-way street.

There are many considerations regarding the healing of conflict. Betrayal is a complex conflict that exists in relationships at every level of community living. Establishing respect between two injured parties is no easy trick. Without respect, healing breaches in relationships will not occur. Surface agreements can be made but the hurt underneath will fester and eventually unravel the relationship. Mutual respect is an absolute necessity and is a two-way street.

Recent Articles

Subscribe and thrive.

Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.

© Psychological Counseling Services