Does respect outlast love?

People today are caught in the moral dilemma of love versus respect in their relationships. In many cases, respect may keep a relationship going but there is danger of reaching a saturation point

Smiling couple"My husband is a good man and I care for him", said Farzana. "But do you love him," we enquired, and pat came the answer. "Of course I love him, but I am not in love with him", and suddenly it was clear where the problem lay. The "I love him" bit meant "I respect him and value the care he provides for me, but there is no passion between us".

Farzana was in a moral dilemma when she came to us. She was in an extra-marital relationship and was weighing the mutual vulnerability and passion with her lover that she ached and craved for, against the gentility and goodness of her husband that she valued and respected.

However, Farzana is not alone, caught in such a moral dilemma of love versus respect. There are many men and women in the middle of an intra-personal conflict because they have two desired goals that seemingly contradict each other. It is such real cases that have made us dwell on whether respect in a relationship outlasts love, or whether an intimate relationship with respect but no love is healthy, or is either one [respect or love] sufficient for the relationship, or then whether both are essential, that is, mutual love and respect, for a meaningful and fulfilling intimate relationship.

Sunita, a model, was from a Gujarati Jain family who married Raymond, a German choreographer. It was a passionate love affair that began in New York, extended all across Europe while they were on a fashion tour, and ended in marriage in India. In the first few months itself, it became evident that the passion they felt for each other was not sufficient to hold the relationship together. Difference of opinion became arguments, which escalated into screaming matches, which turned ugly and violent at times.

Sunita had no respect for the needs, feelings, preferences, views and opinions of Raymond, and would subject him to verbal put-downs at the drop of a hat, and generally treat him with disdain and disrespect. Raymond took his revenge by rejecting her sexual advances and soon, they fell apart. The much-professed love they had for each other buckled under the lack of respect in the relationship.

What is love?

Unfortunately LOVE, the hottest selling "product" today, remains confined to mushy greeting cards, romantic songs and ballads, candles, chocolates, roses, diamonds and other ingenious products of the marketing gurus who bend over backwards with their sales pitch, to promote love and make tons of money in the name of Valentine's Day. But what is love really?

Love has various levels, from merely seeking satisfaction for oneself to meeting the needs of others. Human love moves along a continuum, from the pole of self-centredness to the pole of other-centredness. Love in fact, is not a noun, but a verb, an act where "we" and "us" are the focus and not "I", and where one needs to ask not what the relationship has given you, but ask instead what you have given to the relationship.

Man goes through life, selfishly blind to anything and anyone other than himself and his personal world, totally self-absorbed and completely oblivious to the fact that there can be pain other than his own. "Poor me", "I want", "I need", "I feel", "my life" form the sub-stratum of his life.

It is only if we step out of our self-consumed world, we understand for the first time the true meaning of love; in the words of St Francis of Assisi, "It is in giving that we receive". We are transformed by love.

The need of emotional intimacy

Kusum, a singer, married her childhood sweetheart Dilip, who was dedicated to his very hectic and demanding job as an engineer. She valued and respected his devotion to his job as well as appreciated his efforts to spend Sundays with their daughter at home. But slowly and steadily, she realised that though she had his total support and encouragement to pursue her own career in singing, there was increasingly discontent in the relationship. Dilip was not able to accompany her for the music launches and parties she was invited to because of his work schedules, she felt alone because he was unavailable physically and mentally to appreciate the aesthetics of the melodies she sang and she felt unable to share her creativity with him.

Soon, she started resenting being in the relationship because she did not want only a husband who was a good provider, a responsible father and a support in her career, but she wanted much more. She wanted an intimate partner who shared her creativity, who was present in body and mind for the moments that were special to her, and with whom she could spend fun togetherness time. Respect had replaced the love she once had for him, and she felt the emotional distance growing between them. She did not want to grow old as parents of their daughter whom they both doted on. She wanted an intimate companionship for herself in the present and in the future.

It is in this state that Kusum and Dilip came to us for couple's counselling, and it is through a systematic step-by-step process of communication that the emotional needs of both were aired, and a loving, emotionally and physically intimate relationship was re-established. Respect in this case was unable to sustain the relationship on its own, and the element of intimacy and love feelings was needed to be brought in for the relationship to be meaningful and truly fulfilling for both.

Mutual love and respect

Of course, there are innumerable instances of couples who do not share emotional intimacy and love feelings and are still living their own separate lives giving space to the other and retaining their own space with great respect. Sarojini and Atul is one such couple who made a decision to remain married as parents of their two sons and respect each other's individual lives, with Sarojini busy in her social work and Atul busy as an investment consultant.

There is cordiality and some degree of taking care of each other in case of ill health, making crucial parenting decisions together, and going together for social functions, but that's where the couplehood ends. Their passion is channelised in their work, and this arrangement seems to work well for them. There is respect in the relationship but no love and intimacy, and technically it is working out okay for both. This then brings us to the point of discussing the quality of the relationship that exists, and not only the fact that the relationship exists.

There are some for whom a "marriage of convenience" works just fine because the "married" tag gives them some pay-off, either financial, social or physical, and they do not want to jeopardise receiving these pay-offs and thus remain in marriages with a respectful distance between each other and no love and intimacy. In such cases, respect is sufficient for the marriage of convenience to last.

There are others however, who want more in a marriage. For them, a marriage without emotional and physical intimacy, without giving and receiving mutual support, caring and comfort, without relaxed togetherness time, and without mutual trust and respect, is not a marriage at all. In such couples, love and respect have to co-exist for the marriage to last.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.

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