the disrespect project: an introduction

I've been working on a couple of research projects since August about disrespect in romantic relationships (both dating and married). And, I've written about respect and disrespect several times on this blog (see HERE, HERE, and HERE). It's even one of the categories I have posted in my sidebar. So I guess you could say that I'm a little interested in the topic. {grin}

Anywho, I thought I'd write a series of posts about what I've learned about disrespect during my research because I think it's pretty darn interesting. I've come across some fascinating studies, read about some surprising statistics, and discovered a few significant findings in my own studies. I'm calling it: The Disrespect Project. Let's get down to business, shall we?

The Disrespect Project: An Introduction

Overall, mutual respect has been said to be an important component of romantic relationships in both scholarly (Dickson, 1995; Frei & Shaver, 2002; Hendrick & Hendrick, 2006; Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2001; Rosenbluth, Steil, & Whitcomb, 1998) and popular press (e.g., Gottman, 1994a; 1994b; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2000; Puhn, 2010; Rosier, 2011) works. In particular, researchers (Markman et al., 2001) have named respect as one of the four core values in satisfying relationships (with commitment, forgiveness, and intimacy being the other three). When examining marriages lasting over 50 years, Dickson (1995) discovered that respect (i.e. treating a spouse with dignity) was one of the top three characteristics that these long-lasting relationships share. Additionally, respect has been shown to predict relationship satisfaction better than scales measuring liking, loving, and attachment (Frei & Shaver, 2002). Laurie Puhn (2010), the author of the (great!) book Fight Less, Love More, even goes as far as claiming that respect is “an essential condition for love” (p. 15) and that if this condition is not met, “love cannot endure” (p. 167).

Additionally, disrespect has been shown to be incredibly damaging to romantic relationships. Relationship researcher and popular presswriter John Gottman (1994a; 1994b) has been writing for decades about how disrespectful behaviors (e.g., contempt or criticism) are incredibly detrimental to romantic relationships. In fact, Gottman has named contempt (which is argued to be the opposite of respect) as the greatest predictor of divorce. As quoted in Malcom Gladwell’s (2005) book entitled, Blink: The Power ofThinking Without Thinking, Gottman claims that contempt is the most harmful because “it’s trying to put that person on a lower plane that you. It’s hierarchical” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 30). I even discovered in a study I conducted in the fall that frequency of disrespectful communication is negatively correlated to the perceived (1) quality of the relationship, (2) quality of communication in the relationship, and (3) relationship potential. Popular press writer and psychotherapist Robert Caldwell (n.d.) has claimed that, “couples kill their marriage when disrespect prevails” (Respect section, para. 5).

While the importance of including respect and avoiding disrespect with a relationship partner is clear, the use of disrespectful communication behaviors is still very common practice in many romantic relationships (Gottman, 1994a; 1994b). These findings have caused me to ask several questions, all of which will be the focus the the posts in this series that I plan to write over the next several weeks.
  1. Why do romantic partners engage in disrespectful communication?
  2. What impact do those disrespectful behaviors have on their relationships?
  3. Are certain couples more likely than others to disrespect? What are the charactertistics of those couples?
  4. Are there different types of disrespect? If yes, do certain types of disrespect have more negative impacts on relationships than others?
  5. Which comes first: the disrespect or the dissatisfaction?
  6. How can partners avoid disrespect?
--> Like I said, I plan to write several posts in the next several months (and maybe years) addressing these questions. Stay tuned for some fascinating answers...


  • Dickson, F. C. (1995). The best is yet to be: Research on long-lasting marriages. In J. T. Wood & S. Duck (Eds.). Under-studied relationships: Off the beaten track. (pp. 22-50). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Frei, J. R., & Shaver, P. R. (2002). Respect in close relationships: Prototype definition, self-report assessment, and initial correlates. Personal Relationships, 9, 121-139. 
  • Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (2006). Measuring respect in close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 881-899.
  • Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
  • Gottman, J. (1994a). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Gottman, J. M. (1994b). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2000). Respect: An exploration. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
  • Markman, H. J., Stanley, S. M., & Blumberg, S. L. (2001). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Puhn, L. (2010). Fight less, love more: 5-minute conversations to change your relationship without blowing up or giving in. Rodale: New York, NY.
  • Rosenbluth, S. C., Steil, J. M., J. H. Whitcomb (1998). Marital equality: What does it mean? Journal of Family Issues, 19(3), 227-244.
  • Rosier, J. G. (2010). Make love, not scrapbooks: And 9 other research-based love tips to intensify your relationship. Lulu: Rosier.

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