If you’re like the rest of us, no one has to tell you how to disrespect your partner. Even when it is not intentional, it happens. Right? Take comfort in the fact that we all have done it. Try as I may, I’ve said some pretty rotten things to my husband, too, so I join you in trying to be more mindful of my actions and words as we take a courageous look at common ways we disrespect our spouse.

Thanks to a little part of our brain, the amygdala, emotions hijack our brain in the heat of a moment. There can be plenty of actions that we are less than proud of when we get into an argument with our partner, not to mention nasty thoughts we didn’t say. Here are some of the more common shame builders that surface in marriage counseling.

  1. Criticism. John Gottman called this one of the 4 Horseman Of The Apocalypse. Perhaps he didn’t pick up his socks even after you’ve had this discussion many times before. Maybe she left her keys at the office and you have to go back and get them tonight, again. It’s aggravating, for sure, but criticism rarely helps. We are wired more to respond to validation and either defend ourselves or push back with an equally critical comment. It does just the opposite of the motivation you hope to instill.
  2. Dominating. In the counseling biz we call that “flooding”. It overwhelms the more silent partner and ceases to give you the true conversation that you’re looking for in the moment. Women tend to be the main culprits here though there are men who run circles around their wives here.
  3. Interrupting (the second cousin of dominating.) You feel like you can’t get a word in edgewise so you cut in the conversation. Understandable, but rude.
  4. Assuming. That “I know what you’re thinking” idea is mind reading and, as my mother used to say, “It’s as common as dirt”. We all assume what he/she is thinking, and are often couldn’t be more wrong no matter how many years we’ve been married.
  5. Giving advice when it is not requested. Particularly men, and some women, feel a need to bestow their wisdom wherever whenever. Google the YouTube video “Its Not About The Nail” if this is a common scenario around your home.
  6. Blaming which goes hand in glove with refusing to take any responsibility for your part of the problem. Rarely it is solely one person’s fault, and “soul searching” is a lost art form these days. Even if it looks like he is 90% at fault, you are responsible for your 10%. Fess up, and he may be more willing to look at himself.
  7. Withdrawing/Stonewalling. Another of the 4 Horsemen. This one is more typical of men, but some women have mastered the art, as well. Ignoring the problem rarely makes it disappear forever, and problems not resolved have a way or rearing their ugly heads when you least suspect it. Deal with it now, and save yourself a lot of pain in the future.
  8. Devaluing something or someone important to your spouse. I see this frequently when a partner defends his/her parent or in blended families when one perceives his/her child is disrespected. Women are not the only ones who have “Mother Hen” syndrome when it comes to defending their child. I’ve seen plenty of “Father Roosters” who think their sons or daughters can do no wrong.
  9. Breaking commitments. This often gets you something far worse than a comment like, “You promised!” Trust is built by trustworthy behaviors over time, so if you want her to believe you, keep your word.
  10. Psychologizing. This is my personal favorite because most counselors I know try to be very careful not to label or assume, “You just do this because of the way your mother treated you” or the more popular phrase these days, “You must be bipolar” said when your partner is upset.

I’m sure you know of a thousand more ways to disrespect your spouse and a thousand and one ways you’ve been disrespected (funny, how it works that way.) Like Aretha, and apparently this little dancer, we all want a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you can slow yourself down and compliment your spouse in the moment you might find yourselves doing a little dance, too, or at least singing a few of the “sock-it-to-me” lines.