Once a Week: Boost Your Partner's Self-Esteem

I can live two months on one compliment.

– Mark Twain

Nancy Lee was a cheerleader for her high school sports teams — the Williston Coyotes. The school colors were orange and black, and to this day, if you spell the two words ‘o-r-a-n-g-e’ and ‘b-l-a-c-k” with a certain rhythm, she might just launch into the routine that goes along with it.

Cheerleaders are important people in our lives. Their natural born tendency toward positive encouragement goes a long way. Often when I’m heading out the door in the morning, or tow a meeting, or for a workout, she’ll say, “Have a great time! Work hard! Hang in there!” This kind of encouragement is always a helpful in our lives and another person’s cheering makes a big difference.

Conversely, when we’re surrounded by negativity and when we’re faced with a constant barrage of disempowering words and phrases, we wear down and can even break.

Consider this powerful illustration: Under the headline “Gear Blamed in Crash that Killed Senator,” the April 29, 1992 issue of the Chicago Tribune reported, “A stripped gear in the propeller controls of a commuter plane caused it to nose-dive into the Georgia woods last April, killing former U.S. Senator John Tower of Texas and 22 others, the government concluded Tuesday.”

The story went on to state that “A gear that adjusted the pitch of the left engine’s propellers was slowly worn away by an opposing part with a harder titanium coating. It acted like a file, and over time it wore down the teeth that controlled the propeller.”

When we consider how one single gear could create such tragedy, we can see how the titanium-coated gear that wore away the softer gear is similar to a spouse who wears away the spirit of his or her partner.  Week after week, month after month, and year after year, an abrasive spouse erodes the self-concept of even the healthiest of partner’s.  It’s impossible to live with another person and not be impacted by his or her words-whether they are positive or negative.

Without honing the healthy habit of building up our partner’s confidence, we are prone to a deadly alternative.

The detrimental impact of negative words is obvious.  Every decent husband or wife steers clear of this as best they can.  But that’s not enough.  We humans cannot survive with only the absence of the negative; we require a regular diet of the positive. Without it, our spirits-and thus our marriage-withers.

It isn’t only about not being negative; it’s about being intentionally positive. Someone once said, “We live by encouragement and die without it-slowly, sadly, angrily.”  I’m convinced that encouragement is perhaps the finest gift we ever give our spouse.

Consider these thoughts:

  • Compliments are like Vitamins-you need at least one a day. Whenever couples come to me and are having difficulty connecting, I usually begin by challenging them to offer at least one compliment each day. That might seem like a no-brainer, but really, it’s quite easy to go through an entire day without leveling at least one honest compliment toward our spouse. Give it a try, but be prepared for shock at first. When your spouse begins to offer compliments that you’ve not heard in a while or ever, you might be tempted to want to ask, “So, what do you want now?” My advice? Be patient and live with a lot of grace and forgiveness as you move into this. This is a learning curve; be patient!
  • Be aware of the two most important minutes of the day.
  • Think back to the last time you walked through your door at home. Who greeted you? How did they greet you? Was there physical touch; a hug, a kiss? Was it your spouse or was it the dog? It’s vitally important to understand that the first two minutes through the front door of your home at the end of a work day set the tone for the rest of your waking hours together. When we meet our loved ones with eye contact, a welcoming word and a physical touch of some kind, it has a way of framing everything from then on out. Ignoring the homecoming, not looking up from a book or computer screen-or whatever we’re doing, sends a signal to our loved one that we’re really not interested. But taking just two minutes to greet each other warms the whole house up.
  • Increase appreciation with and for one another.

Take two minutes right now and make a list of a half-dozen things you appreciate about your spouse. Write them down; be honest, do this with integrity and don’t have an agenda. Just make your list. Now take some time to share that list with your spouse. As you listen to your spouse appreciate you, notice that your self-esteem will increase. Be sure to accept appreciation gracefully. Don’t brush aside or down-play what is said about you. Just say “Thanks!” Try to become aware of how good it feels to shower your partner in praise.  Notice not just what it does for his or her spirit, but what it does for your own.

For Reflection

  • Almost everyone struggles with being as affirming and encouraging as they would like.  Why do you think it is difficult for so many of us to build up our partner’s self-esteem?
  •  Recall a time when you felt affirmed and encouraged by your partner. What made it so meaningful and memorable?
  • What is one specific area that you would like your partner to notice more?  In other words, where could you use a little more affirmation?
  •  Consider how you might devise a mental jogger to help you remember to boost your partner’s self-esteem.  Maybe it’s when you see him or her at dinner.  Maybe it’s when you are cleaning up the house.  What might it be for you?

These ideas come from Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, “The Love List.”  I will be continuing share their resources for gaining both traction and momentum in your relationship with your spouse. You can read my thoughts here, or let me know if you want to get them via email.

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