Respect in a Relationship: Where It Comes from, Where it Goes
In "Dating Narcissistic and Egotistical Women," dehjomz asks the following about the decline of respect in a relationship:
“The problem I've faced is that I've ended up liking certain girls a great deal, but they have turned out to be selfish, cold, domineering, and narcissistic. But they were not that way in the beginning! They were quite charming and submissive and appealing to my emotions...which is why I selected them in the first place.
But unfortunately I've consistently suffered from the 1-year drop. Their charm fades, they become comfortable, and and then the real selfish, arrogant, dramatic, neurotic sides come out. I'm pretty much the same guy all the time...until faced with disrespect. In the beginning they were much more influenced by my words and my power and complied with what I wanted. But after the 1-year drop, they become more dominant, more readily resistant to my power, and instead do whatever they wanted, whenever, without any regard to my emotions. Hence arguments. I've tried everything, and no amount of logic or trying to frame things as "we're a team" works or changes the situation. They just don't care and instead they try to justify their rude behavior instead of showing empathy toward me and understanding why their rude behavior makes me mad and why I cannot tolerate it. They want to get their way, and they could give a fuck less about what they say or do to try and get under my skin. Being calm and ignoring doesn't help because I'm left wondering how this woman could have the audacity to act this way, to me of all people?”
My response was, while this can happen with narcissistic women, yes, it can also happen with any woman - even women untouched by narcissism.
This is not solely a problem with the woman. It's quite often a problem with the relationship.
That is to say, what often happens with men is a general, gradual decline of respect in that relationship, where women come to view a partner they originally saw as powerful, dominant, sexual, and strong, as possessing less and less of these qualities... and more and more of their (distinctly unappealing) opposites.
The relationship falls apart and fails because the woman has stopped respecting the man - even if he hasn't changed a bit.
There's no such thing as "equality"... not in a relationship, anyway.
And neither men nor women want it.
Ask any woman on the street if she'd be excited about dating a man who makes the same amount of money she does, works the same job she does, is no more or less intelligent than she is, is about equivalently sexy to her, has had the same number of relationship and sex partners as she has, and is about equal to her in terms of social and interpersonal dominance. Basically, her, with a penis. Would she like to date this person?
The answer's "no," of course... the idea is unexciting and a bit off-putting. He's no better than her... only just the same as her. What's the point of being with him?
Ask a man walking down the street the same question - about dating a woman equivalent to him in all ways. He might say, "Yeah, sure!" just as he'd say, "Yeah, sure," to you offering him a chance to date ANY woman - men aren't quite so picky in general - but he may well also feel a little intimidated, and a little pessimistic about the relationship, and tell you, "Nah, not really, she sounds a little too demanding for me."
Now ask that woman on the street how she'd feel about dating a man who makes more money than her, works a higher prestige job with a better position than her, is a bit smarter than her, has somewhat more relationship and sex experience, and is somewhat more socially and interpersonally dominant than her. Would she be interested in dating him?
The answer, of course, is a resounding "yes." Just as men tend to prefer to date women a bit less than them - women somewhat making less money, with somewhat less prestigious careers, who are a bit less smart than they are, who are a bit less experienced relationship- and sex-wise, and are somewhat less dominant than they are.
What gives? Why do women prefer men better than them in a number of areas, and why do men prefer women who don't quite stack up as their equals?
Women Love Dominance
They want dominant, powerful, sexual, masculine men.
They love dominant men. They're addicted to them.
Not cartoonish dominance, where a guy orders them around like a pissed off drill sergeant (well... some women get off on that, but not most). But, rather, powerful, firm, controlled dominance - a man who knows what he wants, what he stands for, what he will and won't tolerate. A man who's decisive and resolute. A man who maintains.
This is because women occupy the "follower" role in a romantic relationship, typically. When a woman occupies the leader role, she usually grows quickly bored with the man, and/or views him as rather weak. This can lead to breaking up; it can lead to cheating; and it often leads to disrespect.
Respect in a relationship is maintained when male dominance is maintained. This is necessary for relationship control to stay in the man's corner.
Because while women may not necessarily want to have to be the leader and get stuck making all the decisions in the relationship, women DO very much want to avoid being led about by a man who:
- Isn't leading well / is making poor choices
- Is weak, uncertain, or prone to changing his mind
- Is not looking out for their best interests / is only concerned with his own
And so, to test his strength and dominance and leadership and masculinity, and to see whether he is still the leader in the relationship they need or whether he is not all he appeared (or used to be), women test men. They cause relationship drama.
They poke, probe, inspect, and detect.
And the outcomes of these efforts have very distinct impacts on their feelings about their partners.
When a woman tests a man and finds him firm, strong, dominant, powerful, and masculine, she becomes more feminine. She:
- Falls in love with him harder and more deeply
- Becomes more sexually attracted to him and turned on by him
- Submits herself more and places her life more firmly in his hands
- Becomes more comfortable and feels more secure with him
- Behaves more feminine around him
On the other hand, when a woman tests a man and finds him flimsy, weak, hesitant, unsure, and unmasculine, she becomes more masculine. She:
- Falls out of love with him progressively more
- Becomes increasingly turned off sexually around him
- Exerts independence and takes charge more and more around him
- Becomes less trusting, comfortable, and secure around him
- Behaves more masculine around him
Respect in a relationship is entirely dependent on whether a woman sees her man as THE man... or whether she sees him as just another Joe Blow who ain't really getting the job done all that well.
Why Respect Dries Up
So now, okay, you've got that - respect is a product of how much a woman feels she can trust you as her leader in a relationship.
Why would it be there in the beginning, only to dry up later?
When a relationship is new, there's often not a whole lot of testing going on. The initial testing was whether you could actually get this girl in bed or not - the fact that you did shows her that you're far more of a "man" than all those friend zone nice guys chasing after her fruitlessly, spinning their wheels and going nowhere fast.
And the faster you got her in bed with you, the more of a "man" you are, and the less early relationship drama you're likely to face. Took her to bed the day or night you met her? Had yourself some first-date sex? You'll be placed firmly in the upper level of her pantheon of manly men.
However, as the relationship
progresses, and the honeymoon period winds down, women begin to test
you more and more for your suitability as a long term partner.
A girl wants to know that if she sticks it out with you, this is a wise choice.
Are you really man enough to lead her in a relationship?
So she starts that poking and probing and testing and detecting - and this is where some men slip up. This is where, I'd guess, our reader dehjomz has been struggling in his relationships.
It's a pretty common place for men to stumble, relationship-wise.
And when you stumble and act uncertain and aren't firm and let things pass that should not be let pass, just like a child probing a new teacher as the weeks go by and deciding that a teacher is too soft and does not deserve his respect, so too do women lose respect in a relationship for YOU.
Respect dries up not because she's a devil woman who was hiding her true nature under a veil of sweetness... it is, rather, because she was being sweet when she was still in love, but when she began to test you and find that you didn't hold up with the image she had of you in her mind, that in-love feeling quickly went away, to be replaced with one of, "How on Earth did I end up with this guy?"
A relationship power shift follows not long
A pair of female researchers from Illinois State University published a paper in 1989 entitled "Development of the `Romantic Beliefs Scale' and Examination of the Effects of Gender and Gender-Role Orientation" that determined the following about men's levels of romanticism vs. women's:
“Through a program of research, a scale was developed to measure beliefs that have been identified in the literature as constituting an ideology of romanticism. The final scale items were selected and subjected to several reliability and validity tests in a survey study conducted with 730 undergraduate students. The results provided strong support for the validity and reliability of the Romantic Beliefs Scale as well as for the four beliefs comprising the scale: Love Finds a Way, One and Only, Idealization, and Love at First Sight. Furthermore, romanticism was found to be related to gender and gender-role orientation. Men were generally more romantic than women, and femininity was a stronger predictor of romanticism than was masculinity. These findings are discussed as a function of both social structure and personal predispositions.”
So in general, men are more romantic than women.
My guess is this is tied to women's greater availability of options... most men simply don't have the same number of attractive options that most women do (as we discussed in "What's Wrong with Dating in America (and Much of the West)" in the section about the pyramid of attractiveness).
And - as ugly and non-romantic as it might sound to say it out - the level of someone's romanticism is nearly always tied directly to his or her degree and type of abundance mentality (e.g., a man who never gets women at all is romantic with all women he'd date, a man who gets women but rarely girlfriend quality women is mostly romantic only with girlfriends, and a man who has his pick of the litter even among high caliber women is mostly not romantic).
But an imbalance of romanticism also means an imbalance of concern for the relationship, and that means an imbalance of devotion to the relationship... and this is what spells doom for so many men's respect in relationships.
Who's in Charge?
The divorce fight in 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire is a classic example of how the leader-follower roles flip in many long term relationships over time - pay close attention as you watch this and ask yourself who's calling the shots in this relationship and who's the decision maker and the one wearing the pants:
It's not about caring about the children more or being more fun. You can be the man of the house and love your children and love joking around and be tons of fun, if that's your natural personality.
It's not even about who's got all the earning power.
It's about who's in CHARGE of the relationship.
Who the bucks stops with.
And in this example - and in many guys' relationships once a little time has passed - the buck stops with her.
Listen to the change in Robin Williams's tone just in this clip alone. He goes from:
Passive aggressive (a weak attack mode designed to shame the other party into compliance) to
Retreat ("Hey, come on, everything's fine, we can work it out") to
Pursuit ("Let's go to counseling - we've just got to work on it! I still love you!")
The entire time, Sally Field is wearily batting away his attempts, and finally deciding: she wants a divorce.
The thing to note is that this is clearly a decision she's come to right there in the moment, based on Williams's response to her.
She just loses the last shred of her respect for him, and gives him the boot.
There is a very different way this conversation could have gone.
The Man: I Wear the Pants, I Make the Decisions
Imagine if, instead of sneaking around to throw a party like a scared little boy, Williams's character had talked to Fields's ahead of time and said, "I'm throwing our son a birthday party, and I'm going to have animals and friends and music."
And she said, "No - out of the question!"
And then he just stuck to his guns and said, "I'm doing this, it's what he wants, and we're going to do it together," until she broke down and said "okay" or she proposed another viable alternative that he could get behind and accept.
By "sneaking," he's already in the bad position of looking weak and afraid of her ire when she arrives home and catches him red-handed. She should be afraid of HIS ire, not he be afraid of HERS.
She uses moral superiority to beat him down at the outset of the argument (as women often will do), and he at first tries to, then backs down, unable to make a good argument or properly explain why he had to sneak around, why he has no job, and the lot of it.
(Side note: make sure you know WHY you're doing things, and that you are doing what you think is RIGHT, otherwise you'll get every bit as ensnared by arguments of moral superiority as Williams is here)
By making arguments, then retreating, then flip-flopping on his position, then chasing, Williams shows that he is NOT in charge of the relationship.
He tries to take charge, fails, then resorts to chasing.
You know where you will see this exact same behavior, over and over again, when you are the leader of your relationship?
From your girlfriend. This is what girlfriends do when you're the leader and they're the followers.
But when the roles are reversed... so too are the reactions.
Maintaining Respect in a Relationship
I believe you can boil respect maintenance in a relationship down to one simple point:
Need the relationship less than your partner does.
Like her. Treat her well. Care about her. Want the best for her.
But be able to walk away from it if she wants to walk away from it.
If your only response when she fires a shot across your bow is to retreat, kneel, and supplicate, her respect will vanish in an instant.
I've had knock-down-drag-out arguments with girlfriends like Williams does there. You know how they go?
Girl: It isn't working out. We should break up.
Me: You're certain that's what you want? You're sure about this, right? Because I don't want to waste time or emotions going through all this bullshit only for you to come back in a few days telling me you want to get back together.
Girl: No. I really mean it.
Me: Okay. Awesome! I'm outta here then. I'm going to go live in Eastern Europe for a while. See you later.
... [a few days later, over the phone or in person]:
Girl: Can we just stop it? Can you just stop being so mean?
Me: Mean? What do you mean 'mean?'
Girl: You know I didn't mean I wanted to break up.
Me: You seemed pretty serious to me! My bags are all packed and I've already picked out which city I'm flying to. I just have to buy my plane ticket.
Girl: I didn't mean it, okay.
Me: Then why are you breaking out all this emotional garbage and saying things you don't mean?
Girl: It's just that [now she tells you the real problem, which you can then easily solve]
This pattern has become so predictable it's ridiculous.
I'm certain - crystal clear on it - that if any of these times a girl has threatened a breakup had I gone, "No! Baby, we can work it out! We're so good together!" rather than her breaking down and chasing after me, she would've gone, "Ew, YUCK! He's a total weakling. How on Earth was I even with this guy?"
And she'd have been gone just like that.
Now, sometimes when I've had these scenarios, the breakups have lasted a few days, and I really thought it was a permanent breakup. But I was fine with that. Because I'm fine breaking up... there are always more amazing women out there waiting for you to meet them, and more new exotic locales filled with exotic women the likes of which you have not yet explored.
And guess what? Women LOVE men who are like this. They love it. It is proof to them that you DON'T need them... that you can replace them like THAT... that you are, truly and undeniably, heavily preselected.
A man only walks away from a woman when he knows he can replace her.
And the men women most want to hold onto are the ones every other woman wants.
This does another thing for you, too: it shows her you're with her because you CHOOSE to be with her.
Women spend a lot of time trying to figure out if their men are with them because they're simply the best they can get right now, and they'll lose them as soon as those men have a shot at something better, or if their men are with them because they choose to be.
When you demonstrate you can leave at the drop of a hat, with zero self-doubt about it, but without being upset or angry at her either (for anything other than the time of yours she's wasted or emotional baggage she's dumped on you / hassle she's caused you), and that you only do this when SHE gives you a REASON to, the message you send is this: "I'm here with you of my own free will, and will stay so long as you keep me happy, and will gladly and easily leave as soon as you do not."
That's the purest, most honest kind of relationship a woman can possibly hope for - one based entirely on HER, and not on him and his ability or inability to find a replacement or not be alone.
You're with her for her, and nothing else.
Day-to-Day Respect Maintenance
That's the extreme example of respect maintenance in a relationship - that's what happens when she's threatening the very continuation of the relationship. But you must be able to walk away like this in order to maintain real relationship strength and respect even in less explosive or potentially cataclysmic situations.
That's because the "worst case scenario" is always going to be there in the back of your head:
"If she wants me to buy her that expensive gift and I say 'no,' what if she gets upset and eventually leaves me?"
"If she says something disrespectful to me and I get angry, what if she becomes unhappy and eventually leaves me?"
"If she asks me to do something I don't want to do that's way too much work and I don't do it, what if she decides I'm a bad boyfriend and breaks up with me?"
"If she wants to go out and party with her gal pals and I don't just accept it, what if she leaves me?"
"If she wants to take that three week party trip to Europe with her friends and I don't want her to go, what if she thinks I'm too controlling and says it isn't working with me?"
... and on and on it goes.
In the end, it always comes back to fear of loss: are you more afraid of losing her, or is she more afraid of losing you?
The true power in the relationship resides with the person who is less afraid.
Less afraid of losing the other.
Less afraid of telling the other what he needs to be happy and stay.
Less afraid of saying "no" to the other when the request is unreasonable.
Here's how it goes if you're a strong guy in a relationship:
She asks you to buy her that expensive gift: "Are you kidding? Look at the price tag on that thing. I make you a promise: as soon as I make my first million, I'll buy that for you."
She says something disrespectful: "Excuse me... WHAT did you just say to me? No, you don't get to beg off of that. No - you just insulted me. We're going to talk about that. No, you're not squirming out of it. You just disrespected me and you need to explain yourself right now. Do I ever talk like that to you? Do I ever talk like that to you? Then why on Earth would you talk that way to me?"
She asks you to do something you don't want to do: "No, I'm not going to do that. Because that's a lot of work, it's really hard to do, and there's no reason for me to do that. You can call someone to do that for $20. I'm not going to spend an entire day doing that for no reason when you can pay someone a small amount of money and have him do that. My time is worth about $250 an hour, so if you can pay me $250 an hour, then I will do that. Can you understand how it's not worth it for me to do that?"
She wants to go and party with her girls on a girls' night out: "So you're going to go and party and drink and hit on guys and dance and make out and have a good time, right? So it's cool if I go do the same thing, right? I'm going to go start getting ready right now."*
She wants to take a three-week party trip to Europe: "That sounds fun. I'm going to book a three-week party trip to Thailand for the same dates. That way we can both party together, in different parts of the world!"*
* Note on those last two: these are "send a message" type statements, and if she doesn't get it still and does these anyway, and your expectation out of the relationship is monogamy / not putting herself in situations where she can and may cheat on you, I suggest taking these as strong indications that she is not right for what you're looking for in a relationship / is not as serious about the relationship as you (if you're fine with her hooking up with others though / are okay with an open relationship, these shouldn't be an issue).
I wouldn't actually follow through on the "threats" here, because that gets you into a passive aggressive game of chicken, where each of you is escalating the level of "how much can I make the other partner suspect I *might* be straying" that gets very unhealthy for both people and leads to a lot of damaged feelings and long-term relationship baggage. Just get out when you see this behavior and she won't agree to change it if you care about this.
But Isn't This Too Controlling?
I've had a few friends who saw my relationships from a casual perspective accuse me of not treating my girlfriends all that well. I guess I appear, at least from the outside, to fall into the traditional mold of "bad boy who doesn't treat girls right who girls fall all over themselves for," as funny as it feels to say that (I can still remember having white knight thoughts of "I would treat her so much better than that guy!" when I was a good bit less seasoned with women). I like to think I treat women well, but I guess from the outside it doesn't look that way.
Friends often tell me, "Dude, I don't think you appreciate her - you've got a really amazing girl and she does SO MUCH for her and you don't even treat her that great."
But the fact is that my girlfriends are a lot happier than these friends' girlfriends are. They smile all the time, they're close and affectionate, they tell me they love me and are so glad I'm in their lives.
I don't take them out to nice dinners or movies or shows all that much. I don't spend much time pouring compliments over them or telling them they're the loves of my life.
All I DO do for them, really, is listen to them, give them amazing conversation, inspire them to chase down their dreams (and help them figure out what those dreams are), be honest with them and refuse to promise them anything I cannot deliver, and make them orgasm... hard and often.
Other than that, I expect respect, demand respect, have hard rules about what I'm okay with and what I am not, and am fine walking away if these rules cannot be respected.
I'm not mean about it. I don't shout at women (unless they start shouting at me first, or do something really irresponsible or bad). I just tell them what I expect, WHY I expect it, and if they can't do this, I leave.
I don't think this is controlling. Girlfriends tell me they feel like they have more freedom with me than with any other partner they've had. I think it comes down to:
Knowing what the rules are: my girlfriends know what my rules are, there aren't that many of them, and I lay them out pretty clearly. They're pretty much just commonsense things, like don't argue with me in public / in front of people, tell me when you need something and don't expect me to read your mind because I'm not going to do it, and the like.
Explaining WHY these rules are rules of yours: where a lot of men go wrong is in failing to explain why things are important to them. If you tell me you'd really like me to wear my gloves whenever I'm around you and say no more about it than that, I'm going to think you're a nut and I'm not going to listen. But if you tell me you have a rare skin disease that makes you susceptible to infections transmitted by the shed skin of other people's hands and ask me to wear gloves around you, I understand this and I understand why it's important to you and I'll even take PRIDE in doing it, knowing that I'm doing something that helps you to be healthier and that I am a thoughtful, considerate human being. Explain the "why" of your rules to women - you'll be amazed how much buy-in this gets you.
Learning to communicate your emotions: sometimes you'll be upset for reasons not related to your girlfriend, and may snap at her unnecessarily. Get good at recognizing when you're angry, and pointing out to her (and other people around you) that you are tense already when they start pushing for things. You can avoid a lot of pointless fights this way - all it takes is a quick, "Babe, I realize you're trying to help right now, so thank you. I've had a really stressful day and I'm very close to snapping right now - I'd really appreciate it if we could talk about this later, I don't want to snap at you for no reason and I know you just want to help. Let's talk about this a little later, okay?" Goes a long way.
Another variety of this is, "I know you're trying to help me, but the example you're using to make your point is putting me on the defensive, which is closing me off to your argument. If you want to convince me, I suggest you use a less personal example." This requires a certain degree of emotional awareness, but if you can do it, it's a tremendous boon for your relationships. It's worth learning how to pull off in the moment.
What this helps your girlfriend to do is to know how to manage you, so she does the right things around you, understands why they're the right things, and gets fair warning from you when she's pushing one of your buttons.
Relationships frequently break down around communication problems - people not accurately communicating wants, needs, and emotions, and making mistakes based on this lack of emotional awareness.
She doesn't know what's going on in your head or what you need unless you tell her - so tell her; tell her what she needs to do to keep you happy, and then go and do what she needs (really needs; not just what she thinks she needs) to be happy:
- Be a firm, strong, powerful man
- Listen to her and be interested in what she has to say
- Inspire her, uplift her, and empower her
- Explain your needs to her in ways she can understand
- Be a good lover
- Be willing to walk away at any time if absolutely necessary
Respect in a Relationship
There's no excuse for ever turning into Robin Williams's character in your relationships. You should never be flip-flopping, changing tunes, attacking and retreating, or chasing.
These are the woman's roles. They are the roles of the follower in the relationship.
And women do NOT want followers. Followers might make them feel a little secure - "Yay, he's never going to leave me (probably)!" - but they don't rev their engines.
In fact, even the security they give is false - when a man is a follower, it's because he is weak. It's because he's too afraid of losing the woman to enforce his will on the relationship and demand what he wants.
A woman doesn't want a man who fears losing her. She wants a man who wants to be with her because he likes her and because she treats him right.
Would you want a woman who stuck around with you if she thought you weren't treating her right? No, you wouldn't right? A woman like that doesn't have a great deal of self-respect, does she?
This is multiplied many times for women. You're supposed to be the leader in the relationship. You are the man; you must lead. The leader doesn't get pushed around.
What it all comes down to is you must be able to walk away at the drop of a hat and not blink. If you can do that, you can run the healthiest, happiest, most honest relationships in the world with women, and give them the relationships of their lives.
And if you can't - if you aren't at that place just yet - if that isn't yet you - then you aren't ready for a long term settled relationship yet.
You still have more work to do in learning how to get girls, friend.
So get out there. Get your skill set down. Don't just aim for abundance - aim for absolute abundance. Get yourself to the point where the women you want most as girlfriends are a piece of cake for you to get.
If you can reach that point, not only will you have assured continued respect in all your future relationships, but you'll have transformed yourself into a skilled, compelling, interesting, attractive man, as well.
And that's never a bad deal.
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