I thought my marriage was rolling merrily along, but I wanted to see if my wife agreed. So I called upon my male bravado and approached her.
"Honey, things have been going pretty well between us. Is there any area that you feel I can improve on?"
"Well," she said, "you haven't said anything hurtful lately, but I can't remember the last time you actually said something nice."
Ouch. As part of a marriage team at my home church, I have often told couples that strong marriages are built upon a foundation of praise and affirmation. How quickly I had forgotten my own advice.
According to marriage authorities, it takes between three and ten compliments to overcome just one negative comment, depending on the damage that has been inflicted. I know that in my own marriage, the words that I speak to my wife can easily open or close the doors of emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.
It seems one of the biggest reasons we fail to affirm our mates is because we're too preoccupied with ourselves. Praising and affirming your mate takes a conscious act of your will. It means changing your thinking from, "What's good for me?" to "What's best for my spouse?" And when you change your focus, you will automatically look for the good in your spouse. Learn to see the positive side, and let your mate know how much you appreciate his or her strengths by following these seven strategies.
1. Learn your spouse's praise language
It's generally accepted that a woman's identity is tied to her emotional and personal relationships, while men gauge their self-worth by their accomplishments. This difference can be seen in the type of praise and affirmation that men and women like to receive. When a wife tells her husband how much she appreciates his efforts at work and around the house, she's touching his value system.
Conversely, a husband who says, "You're such a caring and kind woman" is speaking to his wife's inner-most being. Because everyone has a unique make-up, it's important to ask your spouse how you can affirm him or her.
A friend of mine knew his wife loved tulips, so on a day when she was feeling frazzled at the office, he showed his appreciation for how hard she works with a fresh bouquet. She told him that all her frustrations "just melted away" when she received the flowers.
But be prepared—your mate's response may surprise you. What you think your spouse needs may be completely different from what he or she really desires.
2. Get creative
Creativity is the key to implementing your spouse's desire for affirmation. For example, your mate may like little notes of appreciation. If so, write down a few kind words, then place them in her jewelry box, his lunch pail or briefcase, or the book he's reading. Surprise your wife with a romantic card and tell her it's "Just Because" day. One wife walked up to her impatient husband while he was on the phone with a telemarketer and whispered sweet nothings into his ear. That made him get over his annoyance with the caller! Use your imagination, and the creative juices will flow.
3. Be specific with your praise
Let your spouse know exactly what you appreciate about him or her. For instance, you might get a nonchalant thanks if you tell your wife what a great mom she is. But her eyes will light up when you tell her, "I'm really thankful that I married a woman who is so sensitive to the needs of our kids." And your husband will swell with pride when you tell him, "I'm so glad you take the time to keep the car running perfectly. You always take such good care of me."
4. Praise your spouse in public
Whatever you say about your spouse to other people will eventually get back to your mate. Think of how good your husband will feel when a mutual friend says, "I can't believe how much she raves about you. Why just the other day she told me . . . "
Better yet, compliment your wife to others in her presence. Though causing her to blush on the outside, my friend Sheila secretly beams on the inside when her husband, Jeff, looks for her at parties and asks friends if they'd seen his wife, "the most beautiful woman in the world."
5. Salute good efforts
Perhaps your wife isn't crazy about cooking. Maybe your husband isn't a wiz with a hammer. Instead of telling her what you don't like about supper, let her know that you appreciate the time and effort she puts into it. And when your husband hangs a picture for you that's not quite straight, refrain from criticizing his eyesight. Instead, thank him for trying something new on your behalf. Affirming your spouse in an area of weakness will ease the insecurity he or she already feels inside.
6. Give undivided attention Show how much you really care by offering your undivided attention. An off-handed compliment about Sunday's dinner while you're watching the football game won't mean much to your wife. Conversely, the words will just roll off your husband's back if you thank him for his encouragement while you are running out the door. Praise and affirmation that are accompanied by meaningful eye contact proves that your words are genuine.
7. Develop a habit of daily praise A spouse may grow suspicious of your motives if you come on like gangbusters with your compliments. And you will give up if your intentions are questioned. But if you purpose to say one nice thing each day to your partner, he or she will be able to accept and appreciate your words. When your spouse feels valued by you, his or her level of self-worth and confidence will also increase.
Simon Presland, a freelance writer, lives in Ontario with his wife and two daughters.
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