There is a lot of power in praising and affirming one another. Why is it that as married couples we often forget that 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 a better marriage partnership. If you’re caught up in that behavior, can we ask you, “How’s that working for you?”
It sure didn’t work for us. And we find that it doesn’t work for most married couples.
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 in Proverbs 25:11 we’re reminded, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” We are enriched by those golden words!
Giving Words of Praise is Important
Our words have the effect of empowering or devaluing our spouse. Sadly, we often fall into the habit 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.
“…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. You shouldn’t choose to be blind in those types of circumstances. Abuse and infidelity issues are entirely different matters. We deal with them on other parts of our web site. What we’re talking about here is everyday irritations we experience as we live with our spouse. These are things, which little-by-little break down our relationships.
Positive and Affirming Talk
Do you want to have a marriage, which is filled more with positive and affirming talk? Or do you want it to be filled with criticism and negativity? If you want a more positive marriage, it will take making the deliberate choice to train yourself to act differently. Negative actions are easier to fall into and throw at one another.
“To bring forth positivity in marriage means I must leave behind my negative words, thoughts or critical attitudes. To praise and affirm a spouse means I have to forfeit my role as complainer, instructor or nag. Plus, to be affirming to 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. Below is an excerpt you may find helpful:
Affirming and Blessing
“Praise is genuinely a win-win proposition. The receiver of affirming words feels blessed at having been acknowledged as significant and important. The ‘giver’ is blessed with a grateful heart and is guarded from a critical spirit. Our words of praise communicate value, strengthen hearts and sustain marriages.
“Communicating praise to another is affirming 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 affirming words. 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 affirmation.
Cindy and I have done these affirming exercises. And we can tell you first hand that 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 be affirming to our spouse we in all likelihood won’t. That’s why 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 truth by writing:
The Tolerated Marriage
“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 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. And that is through 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 affirming words? If you think this would seem awkward or unnatural to begin affirming your husband or wife, we suggest you start small. How about trying just one expression of affirmation per day?
And if you need help coming up with some affirming words, below is a link to a whole list of them. Just choose what you can use. The Gottman Institute came up with this list. Here’s how they use it:
“In our lab, we had couples do a simple 20-minute exercise called ‘The Positive Adjective Checklist.’ From a list of 60 positive adjectives, they were asked to pick three complementary traits of their partner. And then they describe an example of when their partner showed that positive trait.”
We encourage you to look over the list and then do the same. Or you can use the list another way. But most importantly… we encourage you to just use it one way or another:
Think about it. Surely, there’s ONE thing you can express to praise your spouse. Ask the Lord to help you. It’s especially important that you determine that you will not have a “praise deficient” marriage any longer. Work to be an affirming partner, rather than a critical one. We hope you will.
Cindy and Steve Wright
Also, to help you further, please click onto the following Crosswalk.com link to read Cindy and Hugh McMenamin’s article:
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