"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 26, 2012
Respect in Marriage
by Orson Scott Card

Often we think we’re showing respect when we really aren’t. It isn’t enough, in marriage, not to be rude.

The fact that when you disagree, you don’t yell, or you don’t turn your back on the other person and walk away, does not mean you’re showing respect — it means you’re showing elementary courtesy. That’s important — but it’s not enough.

For instance, one spouse might have the habit of always thinking of objections to whatever course of action the other suggests.

This is actually at the heart of prudence — whenever you contemplate a decision, you want to anticipate all that can go wrong.

But if the other spouse never hears any response except explanations of what is wrong with their ideas, that will be interpreted as a lack of respect; they will feel like a second-class citizen.

Likewise, after long familiarity spouses might feel confident that they know where their partners’ remarks are heading without waiting for them to finish their sentences. So they begin their answer at once — and their partner keenly feels the lack of respect inherent in not being fully heard.

Another way the spouses fail to respect each other is to conclude, in a back-and-forth argument, that if their partner does not reply to their last argument, a decision has been reached.

It may be that the only decision reached is that the discussion is not worth pursuing. And if the spouse who was not answered proceeds as if silence implied consent, their partner is going to interpret that as a lack of respect.

“Just because I stopped arguing doesn’t mean that I agree,” that spouse might say. “It only means that we were going around in circles and it was time for us to stop talking and think about what we both were saying.”

When people don’t feel that they are being treated with respect — even when the issues feel small, even trivial — it becomes a canker on the relationship. They become hyper-alert to other signs of disrespect, and through such slender cracks, a partnership meant to last forever can seep away.

That’s what’s going on when couples argue over “trivia” like how to squeeze a toothpaste tube. The bottom-squeezer feels disrespected by the middle-squeezer’s disregard of his sensible request.

That’s when you buy two toothpaste tubes — and then keep your mouth shut about how the other person chooses to use theirs. (And I mean that you don’t tell others about your partner’s foibles, either.)

Other problems are not so easily resolved, but when arguments seem to flare up about nothing, chances are very good that what’s really causing the quarrel is that one or both partners feel that the other does not respect them.

Are you really listening to the other person’s views? Do you ever give them room to have their way? Do you present your arguments relentlessly, until the other one gives in just to get some peace? Do you expect them to comply with your preferences while rarely complying with theirs — even if for no better reason than that they want it that way?

In a marriage, we are supposed to be respecters of persons. We should be seeking opportunities to defer to our partner, to indulge their desires; we should treat each other like special people who should get special treatment, rather than someone we must dominate or bend to our will.

If you are convinced that your spouse is constantly resisting your obviously-sensible views, maybe you need to consider whether you expect to get your way way too much.

In a healthy marriage, you don’t have a “way.” Not individually. Instead, you seek to find your way through life together. It’s not “my way” and “your way” — it’s “our way,” and you truly don’t mind or remember who first thought of the decisions you made together.

You even take pleasure in seeing the sheets tacked up at the windows — because it means that both of you have enough respect not to try to force your will on the other.

These are issues of respect, and your marriage is in danger if you do not show — or do not feel you receive — your partner’s respect. I’m not speaking about divorce; I’m speaking about the danger of loneliness and misery, the sense of being trapped in a lifelong relationship with someone who does not regard you as worthy of equal regard.

Marriages are happy when both partners feel respected. Listened to. Deferred to from time to time.

In a partnership of mutual respect, eternity does not look half so long.


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About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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