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Words are life in a healthy relationship.

Some of the most important words in any relationship are kind and encouraging words in the form of compliments. In my work as a marriage coach I’ve discovered not everyone understands how to give and receive compliments. There’s a bit of an art to giving and receiving compliments.

The Art of Giving Compliments

Seize the moment

The right time to offer a compliment is the right time.

If my wife, Rhonda, looks great in that new dress, I’ve found it’s better for me to share that thought early in the date as opposed to just sharing that thought at the end of the night.

Focus upon the person, rather than upon the object or deed.

This is all about speaking well of the person rather than only speaking well of what he or she has done.

As a spouse this sounds more like: “I’m so grateful for your wisdom in handling that awkward conversation. You are such a blessing to me.” As opposed to: “Thanks for not insulting my ex-boss by calling him a butt-head.”

Be as specific as possible

When complimenting your spouse, use more of a rifle approach than a shotgun approach. The more specific your compliment, the more you are apt to hit the “target.

So saying “You look hot!” may not be as effective as saying “I love the way your eyes look tonight. They are always pretty, but tonight they are captivating.”

Be honest

Fake compliments are actually insulting. It’s better not to say something than to share a compliment you don’t really believe. If you don’t feel it, don’t say it, but if you do feel it, say it as sincerely as possible.

Now, I’m not taking about correcting here. Being honest is important then, as well. What I’m referring to is the importance of being honest when giving compliments.

If you, your kids, your wife, even the neighbors next door all know that dinner was a disaster, it’s better to not say anything. Or say “It’s obvious you worked so hard on dinner tonight. Thanks for all you do for us.” Rather than saying: “Dinner was awesome!”

If your spouse and kids know that you mean it when you say it, it will mean more to them.

The Art of Receiving Compliments

Receiving compliments is harder than one might think. Giving compliments well requires the courage to speak, while receiving compliments requires the humility to listen.

For me, courage has always been easier than humility. So it’s easier for me to approach you to tell you that you did a “good job” than for me to hear that you think I did a “good job.”

  • Not wanting to be perceived as arrogant, one might say, “No, I did a horrible job.”
  • Not feeling worthy of the compliment, one might say, “So many others did so much better than me.”
  • Not knowing what to say, one might fumble and mumble something that only ends up making everyone feel awkward–including the giver of the compliment.

Receiving compliments well is really like giving someone a gift so it is a crucially important art to learn if we want to have an extraordinary marriage.

Do not refuse it

When your spouse tells you that you look nice tonight, don’t respond, “You’re just saying that.” That’s both dismissive and insulting.

If you accuse your spouse of “just saying that,” you’re suggesting that your spouse doesn’t mean what they are saying or that they are saying it because they have to.

Just say “Thanks!”

Do not analyze it

When your spouse says, “Wow, I love that top!” fight the urge to overanalyse the compliment by asking yourself “Did I not look good last night? What’s he so excited about? Is he just saying that because he hopes to get lucky later tonight?”

Asking or saying any or all of these questions only serves to over-complicate things and to confuse your husband.

Just say “Thanks!”

Do not discount it

When your spouse  says, “That dress is nice. I like it.” Fight the urge to respond, “This old thing? I got it at a garage sale.”

I know you want him to know that you are aware that the finances are tight so you went to about two dozen stores and only bought the dress because it was both inexpensive and nice, but not as nice as the 43 dresses you tried on but put back because they were too expensive.

Discounting a compliment costs more than you think.

Just say “Thanks!”

Don’t stomp on the roses

This is one of the most important things I can teach you about receiving compliments.

Imagine that your husband brought you a dozen roses after work, but after he gives them to you, you throw them to the ground and stomp on them?

And then, the next night the same thing happens.

And the next night.

And the next night.

How long will it be until your husband stops bringing you roses? This is how it feels when someone refuses, analyses, or discounts your compliments.

So, don’t stomp on the roses. Just say “Thanks!”

And, yes, I’ve addressed most of this post to women because–in my experience–when you compliment a man, he usually believes it.