On the path to adulthood, most men will adopt a rule vital to a happy and healthy life: Compliment the women in your world, early and often. The highway of praise, however, doesn’t always run in both directions.
This has much to do with our modern milieu of fact and fiction surrounding men—brewed from one part clichéd sitcom guy (quick, try to think of one male TV character you consider “marriage material”) plus one part lived experience of your husband forgetting to turn off the lights in the bathroom for the millionth time.
In one sense, this might not seem like such a big deal. There is, after all, truth in the idea that women are vital for encouraging men to lift their knuckles from the ground and learn how to tie a Windsor knot. It’s a process, however, that requires both critique and praise.
In one sense, this may seem hard to believe. “Dude, love that sport coat!” is not a phrase oft heard between men. But the desire to be loved and appreciated—especially by the ones we love and appreciate—is still there. When we’re boys, it comes from our parents. When we’re teenagers, it comes from our buddies and coaches. And when we are mature enough to be in a relationship, it needs to come from the lady in our lives.
The absence of praise has a detrimental effect on men, and on the relationship as a whole. According to one study, men who don’t feel affirmed by their wives were twice as likely to divorce as those who did. The same effect didn’t hold true for women. The author reasonably credits the discrepancy to the idea that women are more likely to be on the receiving end of praise throughout their day, whereas for men their female partner is one of the few potential sources of praise.
At times, it might seem difficult to find opportunities where you can acknowledge the ways your boyfriend or husband is contributing to the relationship, especially if you carry the bulk of the domestic responsibilities. Saying, “I’m so proud of you for closing the dishwasher!” is just condescending.
But the opportunities are there. One small example: When my wife and I are going out, I always offer to drive. If it’s late, she usually takes the time for a power nap. But whether she sleeps or not, she invariably says a quick, “Thanks for driving,” when we get home. It’s a little thing that goes a long way in her acknowledging my role as a protector and safe-keeper for our family.
For men and women, most of our good deeds in life will go unnoticed, or at least unacknowledged. And that’s fine. But taking the time to affirm the ones we love, especially for the little things, is a simple and important part of building a relationship that will keep both of you happy and healthy long down the road.