What is the most important thing in a marriage relationship? Communication? The ability to resolve conflict?

Actually, neither.

While communication is important, just as is resolving conflict, experience with thousands of couples taught me that the most important charaterstic of a thriving marriage is respect. Respect means giving esteem and honor as well as demonstrating regard and consideration to each other. Most of the couples we see in our workshop for marriages in crisis (LovePath 911) offer little or no respect to each other (or at least one to the other). But healthy, happy couples do. Much of our success in saving marriages everyone else has given up on can be attributed to helping couples learn, and put into practice, this crucial truth.

So how does one respect another person and communicate that respect in an effective manner?

Respect is intrinsically linked with acceptance. Deep down, we all yearn for acceptance, and we often try to gain it by painting a picture we believe others wish to see. You may paint one picture at work, another at home, and still another at church. However, like the rest of us, it is likely that what you really want – deep in your heart – is to be loved for the person you are rather than the picture you paint. God designed us that way, and made a point of telling us that He loves us, “while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)  

Though we realize that no human can love as unconditionally as God, most of us crave a mate with whom we can be our true selves. The person who will know all your flaws, strengths, sins, and virtues, yet will accept and love you anyway – even if he or she does not accept some of your behaviors. Yet, when you fall in love, your beloved becomes the most frightening person to show yourself openly. What if your mate rejects you after you bare your soul? There is no way to take it back, to pretend you did not share what you shared. Therefore, you, as do so many others, probably spend a portion of your relationship hiding at least part of your true self from the one you love.

So how does a marriage grow to a level where each can love the other as the person instead of the picture they want that person to be? To have the deepest love possible with your spouse, you must learn to accept not only your companion for who he or she is, but also yourself.

Allow me to share one of the most important truths I have learned in life:

“The most crucial dimension for falling in love is acceptance. I will not love a person that I do not accept, even if that person is me.”

Jesus said it this way, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is a basic concept of life; if you do not love yourself properly, you will not love others well. The secret to falling in love and staying in love is to accept your imperfections and flaws, even those you can change but have failed to so far. I call it satisfied dissatisfaction.

Sound ridiculous, like some kind of double speak? Actually, it is based on a quote by the famous psychologist Carl Rogers, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change…we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come almost unnoticed.” When you learn to love yourself, flaws and all, you then can learn to deeply love another as they are, not as the picture you wish them to be.

That, of course, leads to a very important question: What do you do if you are hurt by or do not like what your spouse tells you about him or herself? Accept his or her actions or feelings as true – even if that hurts – and from that acceptance grow into a deeper, more loving relationship. How? Carl Rogers shares the key, “When we accept others as they are, they change.” Again, we have satisfied dissatisfaction. Accept the person as he or she is – with all imperfections and flaws – and you will lay a foundation of love that will allow your spouse to change for the better.

Note this does not mean you must accept all his/her behaviors (abuse, immorality, etc.) If you wish to see true love demonstrated well, read the Gospels again and note how Jesus changed sinners by first accepting who they really were and then loving them into the people they could be.

If you feel accepted as you are, you feel loved. If you feel accepted only if you paint a picture that you believe your spouse wants you to be, you will doubt the depth of his or her love and have little to offer them in return.

When you accept your mate as he or she is, that person feels loved. If your spouse feels accepted by you only when they paint the picture that you wish them to paint, they will doubt the depth of your love and have little to offer in return.

Learn to accept yourself as you are so that you can learn to accept the one you love as he or she is. There is great research indicating that couples work out even the most difficult of problems when they learn to accept each other as they are – tolerance without resentment.


Joe Beam is a best selling author and an internationally known marriage expert. He founded LovePath International, an organization that works to save marriage relationships from separation, divorce and relationship problems. If your marriage needs help, please visit http://www.lovepathinternational.com.