I’m in hot water. My wife is the most beautiful, amazing woman I know. (I’m sure she’d tell you otherwise, but it’s true.) But I just don’t talk a lot, and it is hard for me to remember to say things like “You look pretty” out loud. Last week, she had an epic melt-down while I was watching TV. She snatched the remote out of my hand, and told me I never compliment her, don’t appreciate her and all she does, never notice her efforts to keep the house neat or take care of the kids… and the list goes on (for a while). But I do appreciate her! I bring her flowers regularly, and I try to help her keep the house neat. She’s an amazing wife. And even after more than 10 years of marriage, she’s a looker — I just don’t remember to say that kind of stuff. How can I suddenly become a “talker,” when that just isn’t me?
In the Doghouse
That old saying, “actions speak louder than words” can sometimes get us in a lot of trouble. Because both matter. A lot. And all the bring-her-flowers actions in the world won’t matter if your wife needs to hear you say “I love you” and “You’re beautiful”… and you don’t. I don’t know what happened with the whole TV-room meltdown, but my guess is that your wife wants to know that you to notice her more than the TV.
Your wife, like most women, needs to hear you say out loud that she’s beautiful to you. In our For Men Only surveys, we found that overwhelmingly true especially among women like your wife. Among women in that busy, raising-kids season, 85% are longing for their husbands to say these things, not just think them.
Because unless you say it, how will she know you feel that way? After all, this culture pretty much ensures she will assume the opposite. It is tough out there in a world where the “ideal” female image is Photoshopped so that even the supermodels hardly measure up! And if they don’t, even the best wife and mom can easily feel that she’s just one step this side of ugly. Every day the magazines in the check-out line and the commercials on television tell your wife that she needs to lose weight, look younger, be sexy — in all honesty, be perfect. This kind of pressure can be crippling and hurtful, and it is constantly in your wife’s face.
As her man, you have incredible power to build her up (or tear her down) by what you say… or don’t say. Because staying silent while your wife is beaten up by those “you’re not enough” messages is not a neutral posture. Either you’re fighting those messages by what you tell her (“You get more beautiful every year”), or you’re leaving her to get beat up alone.
You say you don’t remember to “say that kind of stuff?” Picture me trying really hard to not roll my eyes.
Do you remember to tell your boss what happened in that meeting yesterday? Do you remember to call back your client?
I guarantee you that every day at work or in other parts of your life there are dozens of things you’ve trained yourself to say out loud. Why? Because they absolutely need to be said in order for your job or that activity to function well.
Well guess what? Telling your wife that she is beautiful, or that you appreciate what she does, is what needs to be said in order for your marriage to function well.
This isn’t an option. It is not a “nice to have” that you can afford to forget at the end of a long, tiring day. You must learn the habit and the skill of complimenting and thanking your wife, just like you learn the habit and the skill of telling your boss what he or she needs to know.
So here’s your assignment to build that habit: Every day for the next month, think of at least three affirming words or expressions of gratitude — “You look beautiful today” or “Thank you so much for making this great dinner” — and say them.
That kind of compliment might not feel natural at first, but if you stick with it, it’ll eventually feel as comfortable as “Pass the remote.”
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.