Why is it that as married couples we often forget that praising and affirming our spouse is more effective than criticizing or complaining? It’s as if we think that continually criticizing our spouse will somehow “inspire” him or her to become more engaged in participating with us in marriage partnership. If you’re caught up in that behavior, can we ask you, “How’s that working for you?”
If we say we are Christ followers and that we believe God’s word, then shouldn’t we take our example from the Bible? We’re told in Proverbs 27:21, “A man is refined by what others say of him.” Proverbs 5:4 says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” And Proverbs 25:11 reminds us, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
Our words have the effect of empowering or devaluing our spouse. For some reason, we often fall into the weakness of criticizing more easily than encouraging each other. It’s like what co-authors, Cindy and Hugh McMenamin write on this issue:
“We’ve been told that the characteristics in your spouse that irritate you today are manifestations of the same characteristics that drew you toward each other, originally. What once you found attractive, you now find annoying. …Yet those characteristics, after a few years of life together, can grate on our nerves rather than give us a sense of appreciation for each other.
“We’ve learned that we have to pick up a new set of lenses that seeks out and focuses on the positive in each other if we’re going to be in love again. Love, after all, is blind. Or, maybe a better way to say it would be: Love CHOOSES to be blind to the less flattering traits.”
Now we’re not talking about abusive or cheating issues here (those are entirely different matters, which we deal with on our web site). We’re talking about everyday irritations we encounter in marriage, which break down our relationships.
Do you want to have a marriage, which is filled more with praise and positive talk, rather than criticism and negativity? If so, it will take making the deliberate choice to condition and train yourself to think and act differently.
“To bring forth praise in marriage means I must leave behind my negative words, thoughts or critical attitudes. To praise a spouse means I have to forfeit my role as complainer, instructor or nag. To praise my spouse means I must look for the opportunities to find value, merit and commendation.” (Dr. David and Teresa Ferguson)
The Ferguson’s write more on this issue in their book, Never Alone – Devotions for Couples (no longer being published). Below is an excerpt you may find helpful:
“Praise is genuinely a win-win proposition. The receiver of praise feels blessed at having been acknowledged as significant and important. The ‘giver’ of praise is blessed with a grateful heart and guarded from a critical spirit. Our words of praise communicate value, strengthen hearts and sustain marriages.
“Communicating praise to another affirms and deepens the relationship. We often use praise sharing in our work with couples. Couples tell each other things like, ‘I feel especially loved by you when ____.’ This helps give each spouse a better understanding of how the other best ‘feels’ love. Another exercise might sound like, ‘One of the qualities I admire in you is ____. I saw that quality when ____.’
“This helps identify specific qualities and concrete examples that are worthy of praise. In each of these exercises we ask couples to face one another, hold hands, and verbalize their response to their spouse. The spouse ‘receives’ the expression of appreciation and acknowledges it in some positive way.
“Many couples remark about the simplicity of these exercises and the profound impact on their lives. Each person begins to experience the win-win of praise.
[Note: Cindy and I have done these “exercises” and can tell you they are a wonderful way to establish a close bond as husband and wife. We’ve also learned that if we don’t determine to praise our spouse we in all likelihood won’t. We strongly encourage you to try the above exercises that the Ferguson’s laid out. We can assure you it will be time well spent.]
The Ferguson’s continue with this powerful, but sad, truth by writing:
“It’s amazing how many couples have the mindset that at best, marriage is to be tolerated. Coping is the most they hope for, and they believe they’ve done great by just somehow staying married.
“Into this attitude of mediocrity and complacency comes a God who desires to give life and give it abundantly. This doesn’t mean special protection from problems but it does mean joy, peace, and liberty in the midst of them. Part of His plan for such abundance is the relationships through which He’s chosen to work: marriage, the family, and the church.
“A particular strategy Teresa and I have developed to see God bring forth ‘His good’ each day is to obey Romans 12:15: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’ (NIV). We do that often by inquiring of one another,
• ‘Did anything positive or exciting happen today?’ We then rejoice together.
• ‘Did anything sad or disappointing happen today?’ and if anything sad or disappointing happened, we mourn together.
“Being able to rejoice and mourn together has helped us to develop an attitude of praise in our marriage. It’s an attitude that says, ‘God, you did good by bringing my spouse to me.’”
In what area of your marriage can you change your words of criticism to words of praise? If you think this would seem awkward or unnatural to begin praising your husband or wife, we suggest you start small. How about trying just one expression of praise per day?
Surely, there’s ONE thing you can express to praise your spouse. Ask the Lord to help you, and determine that you will not have a “praise deficient” marriage any longer. We hope you will.
Steve and Cindy Wright
To help you further, please click onto the following Crosswalk.com link to read Cindy and Hugh McMenamin’s article: