"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread," said Mother Teresa.
Although she is famous for helping the poor, her words express elegantly the strong craving we all experience to feel valued. This yearning is especially true when it comes to marriage.
Relationships thrive when compliments flow. So why not extend the concept of Thanksgiving beyond when we've eaten our fill and cleared the plates? How about giving thanks to your partner, saying specifically what you appreciate about him or her--every single day?
In any relationship, remarking on each other's positive traits and behaviors fosters happiness. Yet many spouses seem to think that they will change a partner to be more to their liking by complaining often about the person's shortcomings. This is a big mistake. It creates emotional distance between the two of you. every day.
By complimenting your partner often, instead of focusing on faults, you will create a kinder emotional environment. Love and intimacy will grow. Consequently, you will become even more aware of your spouse's positive traits and behaviors. So it will become easier for you to express gratitude. As you continue to hold marriage meetings, the cycle of giving and receiving compliments expands.
Compliments Foster Desired Behaviors
Voicing your appreciation encourages your partner to do what pleases you more frequently. Suppose a wife wants to hear "hello" and receive a hug and kiss from her husband when he arrives home from work. Usually he heads straight for the den, but about once a week, he greets her warmly. She would be smart to avoid criticizing him for the undesired behavior. If instead she tells him how much she likes the warm greeting when it happens, he will feel valued. He wants more of that feeling! So as long as she lets him know how much she appreciates the sweet reunions, she can expect to receive them more often.
How to Give a Compliment
Give a compliment with "I-statements," such as "I appreciate that you cleaned the kitchen counter so thoroughly tonight." Saying, "You did a good job cleaning the kitchen counter," might sound okay to you. But this is a "You-statement, which can sound judgmental rather than heartfelt. Starting with "I appreciate" or "I like" is best.
Other ways to make your appreciative comments effective:
• Use body language and a warm voice. Smile and make eye contact when complimenting.
• Express appreciation for positive character traits: "I appreciated your kindness in visiting my sick aunt with me."
• Be specific. Example: "I appreciate how lovely you looked in your new blue suit you wore to the party Saturday night."
There are many things you might be taking for granted and not mentioning. Does he read a bedtime story to the children? Did you like her attentiveness at the party when she caught your eye from across the room and smiled? Did you value his thoughtfulness in phoning to say he'd be late?
How to Accept a Compliment
Accepting a compliment is skill in itself. When your partner gives you one, do listen silently, then thank your partner graciously. Not everyone does this well. Yet, denying a compliment is like returning a gift to the giver, like saying, "Take it back. I don't want it. You made a mistake."
If you haven't learned to do accept a compliment graciously, keep practicing. It's worth it!
Avoid Back-Handed Compliments
Don't make disguised "You-statements." They sound like judgments or accusations and create emotional distance. Instead of saying, "I appreciate that you finally remembered to take out the garbage," say, "I appreciate you for being responsible and taking out the garbage last night."
Self-Esteem and Cultural Considerations
Not everyone is comfortable with compliments. Here are some reasons:
• People who lack self-esteem find it difficult to receive compliments. They simply may not believe they are true.
• Some cultures think accepting a compliment is like boasting.
• Those who have trouble giving compliments may have been raised by overly critical parents and imitate their ways. They avoid giving compliments and may tune out praise from others.
• People who were raised in an environment where self-disclosure was risky can find it hard to make "I-statements," which require a willingness to be vulnerable.
With self-awareness, practice, and support, and most of all--the desire to change--these challenges can be overcome. Spouses should focus on each other's uniqueness by complimenting for specific character traits and behaviors. Give and accept appreciation graciously. Doing so with a warm voice, a smile and soft eye contact will keep your love growing and your marriage thriving.
Appreciation Breeds Optimism, Love and Harmony
Noticing fine traits and behaviors in your partner produces a ripple effect. You will start noticing more often what you like about your children, other family members, friends, and co-workers; and strangers too. You will become more aware of what's going well in your life. People will like your more positive personality.
Finally, remember that expressing appreciation adds to your reservoir of good feelings. Life's stresses and tensions that can crop up in any relationship will at times reduce the supply. Keep the warm feelings flowing by noticing and communicating appreciation to your partner often.
Would you like to establish a daily appreciation routine? It takes twenty-one days to form a new habit. Compliment your spouse every day and you will transform your relationship. Start now.