Why Compliments Are Powerful
"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread,” said Mother Teresa. Psychologist John Gottman most likely agrees. His widely respected research found that in good marriages, compliments outnumber criticisms by more than five to one.
Keep Your Relationship Sizzling
Appreciation is the first agenda topic in a Marriage Meeting, as explained in my book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love:30 Minutes A Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. It tells exactly how to hold a successful meeting, which is a short, gently structured conversation with your spouse that fosters romance, intimacy, teamwork, and smoother resolution of issues.
During the Appreciation part of a marriage meeting, each partner takes an uninterrupted turn telling the other what he or she valued about the other during the past week. Doing this sets a positive tone for collaborative discussion of the remaining agenda topics; Chores (tasks, business, etc.); Planning Good Times; and Problems and Challenges.
Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated
Besides enjoying the process of giving and receiving appreciation, you’re likely to find that complimenting your spouse results in her or him doing what you like more often.
Some people say they hold their own version of a weekly meeting with their spouse but without including the topic of appreciation. What’s wrong with that? By omitting this key relationship enhancer, they risk taking each other for granted.
How to Give a Compliment
Whether you are complimenting your mate during a marriage meeting or anytime, here are some ways to do it well:
If you say, “You did a good job cleaning the kitchen counter,” you are a making a “You-statement, you can sound like you are judging rather than complimenting in a heartfelt way. It’s better to begin with “I.”
- "I appreciate you for cleaning the kitchen counter tonight.”
- “Thank you for going to the play with me last Saturday night.”
- “I like how handsome you look in the blue sweater you’re wearing now.
Other ways to enhance your appreciative comments:
- Use body language and a warm voice. Smile and make eye contact.
- Compliment positive character traits: "I appreciated your kindness in visiting my sick aunt with me."
- Be specific: "I appreciate how lovely you looked in your new navy dress you wore to the party Saturday night."
Take nothing for granted. 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
When complimented, listen silently, then say “thank you” graciously. Denying a compliment, as by saying, “I look fat in that dress.” That’s like refusing a gift, saying, “I don’t want it. You made a mistake.”
If you haven’t learned to accept a compliment, practice. It’s important!
Avoid Giving Back-Handed Compliments
Do not make disguised "You-statements." They sound critical and create emotional distance. Don’t say, "I appreciate that you finally remembered to take out the garbage." Do say, “I appreciate you for remembering to take out the garbage last night.”
Give and accept appreciation cordially, with a warm voice and soft eye contact. You’ll keep your love growing and your marriage thriving.
Self-Esteem and Cultural Considerations
Not everyone is comfortable receiving appreciation. Here are some reasons:
- People who lack self-esteem may not trust that the compliments are true.
- Some cultures view accepting a compliment as boasting.
- People who were raised with too much criticism or where self-disclosure was risky tend to find it hard to make I-statements. I-statements require a willingness to be vulnerable.
These challenges can be overcome with self-awareness and practice, and by accepting each other's personal styles.
Appreciation Grows 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.
Expressing appreciation adds to your reservoir of optimism and good feelings. Life’s stresses and tensions can reduce the supply. You’ll keep the warm feelings flowing by noticing what’s going well and communicating appreciation daily.
How do I know this is true
My wife tells me so
Thanks to Ron Cheatham, Nora Hart, Phyllis Levy, Alice Miller, Sherrin Packer, Dorie Rosenberg, Marian Jane Sanders, Susanna Solomon, and Frieda Zolan for your comments and suggestions regarding the January, 2015 issue of Marriage Maven's News & Views, featuring Keeping Your 2015 Marriage Resolution.
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, is a psychotherapist, executive and creativity coach, and speaker.
Please contact me to comment or for further information about anything in this newsletter or about my professional services, including workshops and speaking requests. Telephone 415-491-4801.