When was the last time you complimented your loved one or date? Maybe you think you’re not the kind of person who is into that soppy stuff, but it can really help to buffer your relationship against the daily irritations as well as the bigger challenges we are all facing right now.
Many of us weren’t brought up with families that showed love and appreciation through words. It can be hard to make it sound natural and authentically “you”. So many resources on the subject are American, and their suggested wording doesn’t always translate to our more reserved British style. Here are some tips to help you.
Fun task to try
First, try this task. Make a list of all the emotions you can think of.
Now count up how many negative and how many positive emotions you have written.
Overcome the bias towards the negative
Many of us will have more negative emotions written down. That’s because our brains have a bias towards the negative, which applies to so many areas in relationships, such as what we remember, what we focus on, how we perceive the balance of costs and benefits, and whether we pay more attention to compliments or criticism. Research shows we forget or ignore 50% of the good things our partner does as well as compliments from our partner.
Catch them doing something good
This means we have to work hard to keep things positive – it won’t happen naturally. With children, the recommended ratio of positive to negative comments is 5:1. When I was training to become a teacher, many years ago, my tutor used to say “Catch them doing something good” so you could take every opportunity to praise them. Research has shown that relationships also need the 5:1 ratio. We should build up a bank of positive feedback before we earn the right to make any constructive suggestions, too! (The topic of a whole new, as yet unwritten, blog post.)
We like to be appreciated at work, so why not at home? Even a simple thank you for doing the daily domestic chores can make a big difference, making us feel like we’re part of a team and not taken for granted.
What do you love and value about your partner?
But it’s important to go a bit further and show recognition of what it is we value and love about our partner. Even when we’re dating, it doesn’t imply undying love to say what you like about your date and what you enjoy about their company.
Start by making some notes on what it is you value, admire and respect about your partner. Try to be specific about events and examples. Then use the suggestions below to turn these into genuine compliments and appreciative messages. If you feel really awkward, practise saying them into the mirror first, or use similar ones on your work colleagues! You could also send them as text messages – even during lockdown, it’s nice to get a text while you’re working hard in your home office! Or why not make a card? If you’re apart during lockdown, you could post it. If you’re together, leave it on the pillow.
What do I say?
Here are some good phrases to help you get started with examples of how to continue them – you’ll have to start noticing what your partner does that you like to finish them off for your particular relationship.
- One thing I like about you is … [the way you stay positive/the way you listen to people/can talk to anyone/are comfortable with yourself]
- I really admire … [your confidence/strength of character/curiosity]
- I love the way you … [make me laugh/don’t give up/see the funny side of things]
- I really appreciate you … [doing the dishes this evening/picking me up from the station/listening to my boring old problems/coming with me to visit my parents]
- I really enjoy … [our discussions/cuddles/listening to you talk about …]
- I’m grateful for your …[support/help/involvement/enthusiasm/interest in my project]
- You make me happy
- You inspire me to [get fit/learn a new skill/relax more/change my perspective on …]
- I’m really interested in … [your thoughts about/your experience of/your perspective on]
- I really like the way you [value your independence/know what I need/know how to listen to me/know when I need space]
- I love …. [your body/how gentle you are with the children/the way you put people at their ease/your energy]
- I really respect [the way you stay calm/how you set goals for yourself/the way you’ve overcome challenges/you are open to new ideas/don’t feel threatened by other people’s suggestions]
- I’m so proud of you, especially [your achievements at work/how you overcome …/your skill at …]
- I really value the way you …[don’t bottle things up/know your own mind/don’t bear a grudge]
- Thank you for being [kind/thoughtful/warm/affectionate/positive/optimistic/forgiving/calm] or for [cooking tonight/cleaning the bathroom/doing the washing/ cleaning up the kitchen/putting the children to bed/changing the bedlinen/putting out the bins]
Once you get more comfortable with your compliments and thank yous, make them warm. Eye contact, a touch on the arm and a smile will build the connection between you even more. It takes time, but it will work!