What’s Trust Got to Do With Respect?

On the one hand, the connection between trust and respect seems clear. As Thomas Friedman put it:

I’m often asked how I, an American Jew, have been able to operate so successfully in the Arab world. My answer is simple: it is to be a good listener. It has never failed me. Listening is a sign of respect. If you truly listen to the other person, they will then listen to what you have to say.

Aretha Franklin just spelled it out.

Behaving respectfully toward others is likely to increase your trustworthiness in others’ eyes, and to make them more likely to trust you.

But should it work the other way? What if someone is disrespectful to us? Should we then behave in a less trustworthy way toward them? Should we trust them less?

There’s an equally venerable point of view that says get over it, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, someone can hurt you emotionally only with your permission, hear other people but do not allow your emotions to be held hostage by theirs.

Of course, sometimes name-calling is a prelude to violence; disrespect can signal untrustworthiness. Only a fool doesn’t look for a nearby exit door in such situations.

But we over-rate how often that is true.

This territory of trust, listening and respect is rife with opportunities for self-improvement. Strive to respect others—not in the ways you would be respected, but in ways the other person would consider as being respected. Which means listening, very attentively.

But when disrespected, strive to rise above it. Return respect for disrespect, by listening for motives and for understanding.

Does this mean holding ourselves to a higher standard than others? And is that disrespectful in itself?

I’d like to think not. On some absolute scale, all of us are awful at this. When you behave disrespectfully, notice it and resolve to do better in future. When someone is disrespectful towards you, notice how much like them you are, and resolve to overlook it on the spot.

8 replies
  1. Erik Volkers
    Erik Volkers says:

    Holding yourself to a higher standard than others is certainly not disrespectful. Thinking that your standards are higher than the others may be disrespectful. Feeling that your higher standards make you a better person than the other certainly is disrespectful.

    That’s why Buddhist monks make an effort to always place themselves below others.

    I try to live up to their example. It certainly is not easy.

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi, Charles,

    Some thoughts:

    you write, "…But should it work the other way? What if someone is disrespectful to us? " The first question here is how are we contributing to their disrespecting us. Folks disrespecting us almost never happens out of thin air–notwithstanding our denials to the contrary. Perhaps some serious self-reflection is in order.

    You also write, "Does this mean holding ourselves to a higher standard than others? And is that disrespectful in itself?"

    Pride in who we are and how we do what we do is not in and of itself a precusor to disrespect. However, when pride morphs into hubris, then most likely disrespect in some way, shape or form will follow. Hubris is a cover for internal feelings of lack and deficiency, reslting in a flavor of narcissim that often includes a need to be disrespectful of others in order to feel emotionally and psychologically safe.

    And, "When someone is disrespectful towards you, notice how much like them you are, and resolve to overlook it on the spot."

    In life, those across from us at work, at home and at play are mirrors of ourselves–they reflect who we are-the good, the bad and the ugly. Their faults, their upsetting actions, their annoying ways of be-ing and do-ing are opportunities to see what it is in ourselves that needs some work-that’s why they trigger our reactivity. But, most of us never "get" that. Rather, due to our own insecurities, we prefer to judge and criticize and point fingers at "them" so we don’t have to look inside…the fear of of "knowing thyself" is just too powerful. So, disrespect is the easy way out.

  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    It’s 3:30AM the next day here in Melbourne Australia where I’m reading these comments, and I’m really appreciating them.  Put out a thought, and look at the wisdom that floats back on the ether-water; what an amazing world we live in.  Thanks Erik and Peter.

  4. Erik Volkers
    Erik Volkers says:

    In addition to Peter’s last two sentences: In the Netherlands we have a saying: Point a finger at someone else and three of your fingers point at you!

    Thanks Peter, I like what you wrote and I totally agree.

  5. Rose
    Rose says:

    If your boyfriend of 2+ years constantly decides that attending a single event while you are visiting women friends is ok, how can one explain that this is disrespectful to your mate. 

    Although my boyfriend and I have mutual single friends who belong to a single group, I don’t find it respectful for eithe rof us to attend a singles event without each other.  I thin there are other events one can attend when the other partner is out with same sex friends.

    My boyfriend says i don’t trust him.  I believe it’s a matter of respect and not trust.

    What do you think?

  6. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:


    I am hardly the best one to be writing a relationship advice column.  You should know I have a bad track record.  Though in my own defense, that bad track record has allowed me to learn quite a bit.  So you figure out how many grains of salt to take this with; the advice may be worth no more than what it cost you.

    In one sense, you’re both right.  He’s right that you probably don’t trust him; and I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either!  Why is he going to singles events when you’re out of town–what’s in it for him?  I can’t imagine a good answer to that question other than that he likes playing with fire.  Is he being disrespectful to you?  Certainly he is, so you’re right too. But that’s not the Big Issue.

    Where you’re both wrong is in pointing the issue at him.  The issue, my dear Rose, is you.  The question is not whether he’s trustworthy or not, whether he’s behaving disrespectfully toward you or not.  The real question is: what are you, Rose, going to do about it?

    Here’s someone who hops off to singles parties when you’re out of town, then defends it by blaming you.  I have to tell you, this is not the behavior of someone who is monogamously inclined toward you.

    Nothing wrong with that–he’s not violating any laws, legal or otherwise.  You’re not married, you haven’t shared any vows.  So there’s really nothing wrong in his behaving that way.  At all.

    The real question is: what do you want?  Sounds to me like you don’t like his behavior.  So I have to tell you–do not make the mistake 90% of women make in their lifetimes–the mistake of thinking you can change a guy.  You can’t.  Only he can change himself.  And paradoxically, the more you try to change him, the less he’s likely to do it. 

    (Men make this mistake too, thinking they can get a woman to love them when she doesn’t; we  just don’t seem to make the mistake as often and as absurdly as women do.  We’re not smarter, we probably just get more embarrassed or something, I don’t know).

    If you really want a guy who won’t treat you that way: then get ready to dump this one.  I mean really, really ready.  Ready in your own mind.  Serious, not pretend, not a tactic.  Be totally prepared to dump him.

    Then, if you feel like he deserves a last chance–and only then, after getting really ready–tell him you’re going to dump him–that night.  There’s an outside chance–only outside–that if he sees you are really, really serious, he might actually change in that moment, when he realizes he’ll lose you.

    But you know what, Rose, I wouldn’t bet on it.  That’s a bad odds bet for you.  And even if he says the right thing, I’d wait a few weeks to see if he really understands what he said.

    Now here’s the good news.  If you really get right with the idea of dumping Billy (he sounds like a Billy to me), then you will have discovered a wonderful truth: that you are happier being on your own than you are with at least some guys.  And once you discover that, you have discovered the ability to be happy on your own.  You don’t need Billy, or anyone else, to complete you.  You never did.

    And here’s where it gets really really great.  Once you discover that you don’t really need Billy, never did, that you can be happy on your own–that’s the day you become wildly attractive to other men!  Because you actually don’t need them, they can’t pull sucker games on you; you see through it.  You have your own standards.  You’re immune.  You become hard to get.  

    And I’ll tell you, nothing hooks a guy better than a woman that’s hard to get, not from some tactic, but because you know she doesn’t need you.  If there’s something that develops with her, it’s real, not some little ‘conquest’ that you conned her into.  She’s in it by choice. 

    Now to bring it full circle.  I said in the article, respect others but don’t get enslaved to it yourself.  Learn to not let Billy’s goings-on bother you at all.  Be above it. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. You can perfectly well decide it’s too much energy to stay above it all the time, and you don’t like that behavior anyway. It may be OK for Billy and someone else, but you just don’t care for it.  You don’t need a reason to dislike it; it’s its own reason.  

    If so, then just walk.  And meanwhile, don’t let it ruin your sleep.  You’re too good for that.

    Give respect, don’t ask for it.  Trust, and try to be trustworthy; but don’t worry if someone doesn’t trust you.  And if you learn you can’t trust someone, unless it cost you money, then all the misery is self-inflicted; you control it.  Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

    In simple terms, stop arguing with Billy and start getting your head around your better life without him.  You can, Rose, do better.


  7. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Rose/Charlie,

    From a relationship coaching perspective (which includes personal learnings/lessons from a variety of failed relationships), I have a few thoughts:

    One: you ask an appropriate question, Charlie: what’s in it for him? You say you cannot imagine a good answer. Here are some possible responses; whether they’re "good" or not is not my call:

    Some people there take an interest in me – who I am, what I do, what I like, etc.
    Some people there seem to be on the same life path as me vis-à-vis goals.
    I have an opportunity to share and talk about myself and meet interesting people.
    I experience some sense of emotional connection with folks there.

    I hate my life at home.

    I’m not (read: not) condoning his action. What I’m getting at is this: (1) no one knows where this couple is at this point in their relationship; (2) if the relationship lines of communication are one way, then the other will look for opportunities to change that dynamic, outside the relationship; (3) if the partners are "two ships passing in the night" emotionally, psychologically, physically or spiritually, they’ll find other ways to experience fulfillment, even partnership. Maybe, that’s what’s happening here. But, I don’t know. They do.

    Many, (most?) relationships are in the "I vs. you" stage. Few move to the "we" stage. The "I vs. you" stage leads to behaviors that are counter-productive and self-sabotaging, such as we might have here. When we Venn diagram a relationship, the challenge (and often rude awakening) is how large/small that inner circle ("we") is – and that’s a very telling characteristic of the state and stage of a relationship.

    Second, you again ask an appropriate question, Charlie" "What do you want?" However, in a conscious, healthy relationship, in my opinion, there are three questions: (1) What do you want for you; (2) What do you want for your partner? and (3) What do you want for the relationship? Relationships are all about working the relationship (we). Inertia eventually destroys the quality of a relationship. These questions, asked, answered and explored honestly, sincerely and self-responsibily early and often, support a relationship to be healthy and conscious.

    Third, if one of the partners is emotionally needy (dysfunctionally so) to the point of smothering the other, or pushing the other away, the other will seek ways to "get out" of the relationship while still in it.

    Fourth, going to a singles place (or being obsessive with online porn, gambling, or relationships…) as an "out" is but a symptom. That’s not the issue. The trust issue began to arise long before the partner ventures out. Trust is a building block of a healthy relationship and there’s a good chance it may not have been there at the outset (only they know). But, were they aware of that or blinded by passion and psychologically numbed by chemistry?  – a very, very common occurrence. 

    Anecdote: I have a client in the Midwest. She’s been involved with her partner for some years and they’re in a committed, monogamous relationship. They live apart. She travels to the West Coast at least once a month. From time to time, when she travels and even when she’s home, he goes to the local strip club – the "reason" being when his clients come to town that’s where they want to go, where they "do business."

    Long story short, when I asked her about it early on in the coaching process, she was OK with it. Last week she tells me they’re both in counseling about their relationship. Their relationship is not all that she had made it out to be (she was in denial about her own role in the relationship and he about his fear of commitment and emotionally stunted growth) and now they’re facing this issue head on.

    The point is research shows most folks go outside their relationship for emotional (not sexual) support and connection.  One fundamental question here is what is he getting outside the relationship that he cannot get at home, and why? And, how is she (had she been) contributing to the relationship dysfunction? It always (read: always) takes two to destroy a relationship – even as early as the first step in choosing a partner (e.g., looking for love in all the wrong places).

    At the least, through this exploration, they’ll both uncover the truth of who they are and how they are in relationship. That’s is the first step on the journey to moving closer together or moving apart…and in whichever direction they move, at least they’ll move their with their eyes wide open, not wide shut.

    For me, it’s really about looking beyond the symptoms and taking the scab off the wound to see what’s realy, really underneath the "acting out" and the dysfunction. Otherwise they’ll both likely move from failed relationship to failed relationship always blaming the "other."

  8. Kittie Billups
    Kittie Billups says:

    Reading all the wonderful advice has prompted me to throw my problem out to get feedback.   I dated my husband for 11 years and we were married one year ago this month.  The problem is he has a daughter that lives in Decatur IL that’s 22 years old and a daughter that lives in St. Louis that is 28 years old.  The daughter in Decatur lied as if she had her own place so he could come and visit her in Decatur IL. The drive is 2 hours from St Louis, MO.  However, I had told him in advance that she did not have her own place because the older daughter that lives in St Louis told me.  He calls the daughter in Decatur the night before he left and wanted her to confirm to him that she had her own place because his money was low and that he did not have money for a hotel. He also said that he did not want to be staying with her and her mother which is what he had been saying to me the whole week.  She said she did.  However, when he was half way there the daughter called him and said she lied she didn’t have her own place.  To make a long story short, he went any way and spent the night at the ex house with the daughter.  He left me a message letting me know that what his plans were.  The daughter that lives in St Louis was there.  She told me that she thought that it was disrespectful for him to do that and offered to give him money for a hotel.  He refused it.  When he came back the next day I ask him did he every stop to think how that made me spending a night with his ex?  He said, yes but I should trust him.  Nothing went on.  He doesn’t know that the daughter that lives here told me what was said.   I told him trust and respect is two different things.  Deep in my heart I don’t think anything went on between the two but, I felt that he was very disrespectful to stay there and not confirm with me if it was ok.  We have not spoken to since Sunday because he feels he was right I I am very disappointed in him.    He did say he was sorry if I felt he was being disrespectful but, he didn’t see anything wrong with it.  To me that means you don’t respect me as your wife.  Am I wrong for feeling this way?    Oh, yes please let me include this,  the daughter that lives in Decatur has come to St. Louis many of times and has always said she was coming over to see him and never showed up.  Being only 2 hours away, he could have spent the day and drove back home or excepted the money from the other daughter. 


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