Someone asked me, “How does one teach their partner to appreciate and be grateful for them? Things like compliments and encouragement don’t come easy for my boyfriend because he grew up in an all boys family with parents who both grew up on farms. Hard work, coming down on each other, and rough housing are what come naturally and easy. Despite his incredibly big and caring heart and the large pool of love he has for me and the people closest to him, my boyfriend has a hard time speaking my love language: words of encouragement. Is there a way to teach him to compliment me more?”
It would be easy for me to suggest, “Explain how compliments make you feel: loved. Give him a few examples of compliments you’d like to hear. Reward him every time he does it. When he could have complimented you but missed the opportunity, gently point it out, like, ‘I just asked you what you thought of the dinner I just cooked. That would have been a great time to say, ‘I love your cooking and am so grateful you do it for me.’”
And that might actually work, but here’s the thing, a few things actually.
Compliments are not proof of love. People can love us and never once compliment us. People can gush endlessly about all of our good qualities, and still not love us.
Compliments are not one of the ingredients in the recipe for happiness. If you can’t feel good without hearing a few of them, you’ve got the happiness formula backwards. Happy people might dish out many compliments, but they don’t need to hear compliments in order to feel happy. They bring happiness everywhere they go.
Your so-called love language isn’t wired into your DNA. You can learn to feel appreciated by the other ways your boyfriend shows love. It sounds as if you already know he loves you, which leads me to my next point.
The desire for compliments arises from a lack of self acceptance. Think about it. If you want to be told, as one example, that you did a good job, doesn’t that stem from your own worry of doing a bad job? If you want to be told that you look great in a certain dress, doesn’t it come from your own suspicion that you look terrible in it? If you want to be told you are the most amazing person in the whole world, isn’t it because you assume that you just might be average or less than average?
More compliments won’t make you feel better about yourself. Oh, sure, temporarily, you might feel like skipping through a meadow filled with daisies. But, overall, a zeal to hear more compliments is only going to addict you to hearing more compliments. You’ll only be able to feel happy when everyone is happy with you. That’s no way to live. Trust me on this.
I must tell you a story. Throughout much of my childhood, I fished for compliments. At first, I did it by achieving. I made honor roll. I excelled in various sports and mastered various musical instruments.
But the compliments didn’t come. Instead, what I heard from my parents was this: What I could do better.
So I achieved and achieved and achieved and achieved, and I did it for all the wrong reasons. I was achieving because I wanted someone to love me, and I wanted someone to love me because I didn’t love myself.
By young adulthood, I’d learned how to fish for compliments, and people dished them out for me. After all, I was your typical over-achiever, so it was pretty easy for people to find something nice to say about me. Each compliment felt good for a little while, but the good was mixed with a sense of unease, of feeling like an imposter, of feeling as if I’d somehow tricked the world into approving of me. My friend, we seek approval from others because we secretly don’t approve of ourselves.
You feel better about yourself by living a meaningful life. Happiness comes from knowing you’ve done the best you could with what you had at the time and that, in the future, you’ll be able to do even better. It comes from deciding who you want to be, and then being that person. When your actions are aligned with your values, you don’t seek love and happiness from outside of yourself. Instead you bring love to the table. Literally and metaphorically, you lovingly cook a meal, and you feel happy when you put it on the table, even if your boyfriend doesn’t compliment it. Maybe he shows his appreciation by cleaning his plate. Maybe he shows it in some other way. Maybe he doesn’t show it at all. No matter the outcome, you smile, knowing that the meal he just consumed was not merely made up of protein, carbohydrate and fat. It was mostly composed of love.
That’s happiness, and once you know it, compliments will take on a different meaning. Rather than being medicine for your low self esteem, they’ll merely become a feedback mechanism, much like a “please tell us what you think of our service” form you might fill out when you purchase a product. Based on the compliments you hear, you’ll know how to make people around you smile even more. You’ll no longer feel needy, and you’ll stop asking people to prove their love.
Think I should have suggested a surefire way to get the man to voice a few compliments? Do you know of such a strategy? Were you once a compliment addict and are now so happy that you’re over it? Other thoughts? If you are reading by email and wish to leave a comment, don’t forget to click through to the blog.