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Respectful Relationships

What is respect?

Respect is about valuing people, including people who are like you and those who are different.

There are a couple of ways to look at respect:

  • When you have respect for someone, you feel positive about them and admire or appreciate their actions or behaviour
  • You can also treat anyone with respect regardless of how you feel about them. This is when you regard someone with consideration and treat them in the way you like to be treated

Respectful relationships and why they are important

Everyone has the right to feel safe, to be treated with fairness, to be valued and feel accepted for who they are.

Respectful relationships are important because:

  • they contribute to your growth, maturity and sense of self-confidence
  • they promote healthy self-expression and awareness of yourself and others
  • they enable you to feel accepted, positive and free to be yourself

Respectful relationships also help you feel:

  • safe
  • encouraged
  • trusted
  • comfortable
  • that you matter
  • OK to be honest and open
  • listened to
  • equal and treated fairly
  • valued
  • understood
  • accepted

Can you think of someone who you have a healthy, respectful relationship with? This could be a family member, friend, partner or peer. How is this person important in your life and how do you feel about yourself when you are with them? What is it about them and how they behave towards you that helps you feel respected?

Dealing with differences respectfully

respectful relationshipBeing in a respectful relationship doesn't mean that you won't have differences of opinion or disagreements sometimes. However, in respectful relationships when differences occur they are dealt with in ways that lead to a resolution or understanding.

For example, people might disagree with each other but they can accept and appreciate that it's ok to have different ideas, even when they feel tense or unhappy about things.

Conflict or differences occurring in respectful relationships can be worked out and do not have to damage the relationship. Such difficulties may even create opportunities to understand each other more deeply and result in a stronger bond.

Maybe you can think of a time you sorted out a difference with someone close to you. How did you go about it and how has working things out changed your relationship for the better?

Some ways that people in respectful relationships might manage differences include:

  • taking responsibility for their own feelings and dealing with them
  • managing their anger without harming others
  • expressing their feelings in a non-blaming way
  • taking time to listen to and understand the other's points of view
  • communicating their concerns or needs clearly
  • allowing the other person space if they need it
  • understanding that people do have differences and that this is OK
  • appreciating and valuing diversity
  • being culturally sensitive and open to learning about others and what respect means for them
  • avoiding pressuring the other person in any way
  • recognising and owning things they might have done that have contributed to a misunderstanding

In some cases, cultural differences also can mean our ideas about respect may be different to others and it is important to be sensitive and not too quick to judge. For example, eye contact may represent respect in one culture and disrespect in another, yet this difference may lead to misunderstanding between people. You cannot always know about all the different cultural practices. Respectful people will avoid quick judgments and stereotyping. They keep an open mind and are open to learning about diversity.

Negotiating needs in respectful relationships

We all have different needs at different times and, in relationships, it helps to give and take in terms of each other's needs. This is the case in all relationships, including friendships, family relationships and partner relationships.

So, how are these needs and differences negotiated in a respectful relationship? Respectful relationships:

  • acknowledge and consider everyone's needs
  • are flexible about individual choice or participation
  • will acknowledge differences and strive to accommodate them

Imagine you really wanted to go somewhere with a friend, but they didn't want to go. In a respectful relationship you wouldn't force your friend to go with you or get angry or try to get them to change their mind or feel bad. You might feel disappointed that they don't want to go but you understand that you have different needs sometimes and your friend needs to be true to themself. You might let your friend know how you feel so they can understand but you won't force them to change their mind.

A few things about being respectful:

  • it doesn't mean expecting one person to put their needs aside for the other person
  • it may mean communicating how you feel and being flexible at times, but it also means being true to yourself
  • it is not about trying to change someone but rather striving to understand things from their perspective even if yours is different

Creating respectful relationships

Respect in relationships happens when you respect yourself and others. Self-respect takes self-awareness, acceptance and sometimes courage. It is about understanding your strengths and limits, and knowing what is important to you. It is also about being aware of your needs, understanding your 'bottom line' on certain things and making positive choices.

Can you remember a time when you felt it was important to take a stand on something that you didn't think was fair or OK? You may have noticed yourself reacting to an injustice. Can you remember why it was important to you? This can tell you something about your values and your 'bottom line' on things.

For example, you might want to hang out with the 'cool group', but find that they get a kick out of putting people down. If you really don't agree that this is OK, then to be true to yourself you might decide to speak up or leave.

Sometimes you may have to work on how you view and feel about yourself. Counselling or talking to someone you trust can help with this.

The next step is respecting others. This doesn't mean you have to admire or like everybody, it's more about treating others with consideration and fairness. They may not always reciprocate and treat you with the same respect, however, you leading the way is a good start.

Dealing with disrespectful relationships and being realistic

While respect can be earned, sometimes people can treat us disrespectfully no matter what we do. There are times that, despite our best efforts, it is not possible to influence how others behave towards us.

When you observe others being disrespectful it's good to keep in mind there can be many reasons why people don't treat others with consideration. Often, it is because they have not learned how to respect themselves or have not previously been treated with respect.

If you feel you are being treated disrespectfully, where possible communicate your needs to that person in case they aren't aware of their impact on you. If this doesn't help you can try to remove yourself from them. If you cannot move away from someone that is hurting or disrespecting you, make sure you get help or talk to someone you trust. By doing these things, you are showing respect for yourself.

Talking things through and getting help with relationships

Relationships are one of the biggest reasons young people call Kids Helpline. They can sometimes be complicated and talking to someone that is objective is often a helpful way to work out your concerns, understand more about yourself and find ideas to deal with situations.

Remember you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or use our web or email counselling services, if you want to talk about relationships or respect. No problem or concern is too big or too small to talk to our counsellors about.

Published: 18 May 2010