This morning I was listening to an interview with my favorite couples therapist, Dr. Ellen Wachtel. The conversation focused on the challenge of making love last. I was reminded that sometimes the most profound wisdom sounds like the simple, common sense advice your grandmother might have told you.
Dr. Wachtel said, “We love those who make us feel good about ourselves.”
She advised listeners to practice telling our partners what we love and admire about them every single day. The goal is not to put a patina of false bringing over real problems. Of course you need to be able to share your problems and voice your complaints. But your partner won’t hear them if he or she doesn’t feel valued and appreciated.
To follow this rule, remember: God is in the details. This means that you need to speak to the specifics. Interestingly, adults understand that children of all ages need praise for their specific qualities and behaviors. It’s not good enough to say, “You’re the greatest” and “I love you so much.” Kids also need to hear, “Great job sharing your toys!” or, “I think you were very brave to tell your friend how you felt when she didn’t invite you to her birthday party.”
Dr. Wachtel reminds us that partner’s need this too. I recall when I experimented for several months with noticing and praising my husband, Steve, for the specific things I had stopped noticing, or simply took for granted after decades of marriage (“You were so hilarious at the party last night!”) The more I expressed appreciation of Steve’s special strengths, the more deeply I appreciated him. Steve did the same for me when I requested it, but I gained the most by being the change I wanted to see.
No matter how distant or negative your marriage has become you can come up with specific words of praise (or specific actions) that will make your partner feel loved and valued. No expert in the universe knows the way you do what warms your partner’s heart.
Learn to notice and comment on what may seem like the smallest positive things. (“You made a great point in the conversation with your dad last night!”). Actions also count, for example, cooking her favorite dish and having it ready when she comes home from work.
For sage advice on making marriage work, read Dr. Wachtel’s book, “We Love Each Other But…“ And remember her wise words: We love those who make us feel good about ourselves.