How Not to Fish for Compliments

dogsSomeone 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.

10 comments… add one

  • Gay Edelman May 10, 2014, 6:10 am

    This is such good, basic, well-rounded relationship truth. Just this morning, as a way to compliment myself, I decided I would start the day doing ten things just for me, in alignment with my needs. This is a form of self-care that fills me up and makes me feel loved and lovable. And less needy. Then I opened your blog, and it complements my morning plan beautifully.

    And just so you know, Alisa, I think your advice is absolutely brilliant–grounded, practical and profound.

    • Molly May 15, 2014, 7:52 am

      Gay, I’m curious to know what these ten things are if you care to share!! I feel I’ve lost a sense of myself not only from being out of a routine that keeps my body happy but that also pleases my mind.

  • Holly May 10, 2014, 10:48 am

    I think compliments show good manners. If you’re fishing for them constantly, yes it gets old and appears needy, but with positive reinforcement men can learn to show their appreciation for all you do in your love language. After all who wants to grow old with Mr grumpy who never says a kind word?

  • Ashley May 12, 2014, 9:34 am

    I don’t entirely agree. While it’s true that compliments are not proof of love, if someone needs something to feel loved (a reasonable something, mind you), then it is more reasonable for them to ask for it than to try to convince themselves not to. Needing compliments/words of affirmation is completely reasonable.

    It sounds to me like your love language is not “words of affirmation” – if it was, you would probably not be so quick to dismiss someone needing affirmation to feel loved (and love makes one feel happy), or the idea that a compliment could have an effect beyond a temporary skip in the meadow.

    I too, do not share this love language, but when I compare it to a love language I do have, I understand better. For example, one of my love languages is “physical touch,” and if I go a long time without cuddling and hand-holding with my man, I don’t feel loved by him. Obviously, plenty of men could hold my hand without loving me, and I am aware of that. But the point is that he does love me, and so it’s very important that he touch me.

    • Michelle September 1, 2015, 7:02 am

      God, I totally agree, as someone who does want compliments from my husband, this article came across as ludicrous. I don’t want compliments because I have low self esteem. I want compliments because I want to know that I’m married to someone who appreciates me. Who doesn’t want to feel wanted? I might think that I’m sexy, but I want to know that he does, too.

      • Crystal December 18, 2015, 7:51 am

        I feel the exact same way.

  • Ashley May 12, 2014, 9:34 am

    *convince themselves not to need it.

  • Allison Williams Esq. May 13, 2014, 2:07 am

    I have a relationship that loves and compliments as well. The compliments may not be everyday but the love always is. We love to hold hands, cuddle and lots and lots of hugs.

  • Ron May 16, 2014, 9:24 pm

    Alisa…I relate very well to this article. As I grew up my father was fairly strict and demanding. My mother was the soft place to fall. I spent most of my youth trying to do something well enough to get my dad’s approval in something I had accomplished. I vividly remember each such incident (which could be counted on one hand). At the same time I ignored the many compliments showered by my mother.

    Today I am married to a wonderful women who is much more like my mother. She is almost always supportive of anything I do and seems to love me unconditionally. Since my mother died a few years ago a strange thing happened. My dad now depends on me for many things and is very complimentary and proud of me and the man I’ve become. This transformation helped me to realize one inevitable truth. The compliments I never got when I was young were more about my dad’s strict German upbringing and less about the way he felt about me. It was more about what he felt he had to do for me to grow up “right”. I am by no means implying that mom’s and my wife’s overt sharing of verbal compliments aren’t appreciated. They are. What I’m getting to is that, I now realize just as there may be desired love languages that resonate with each of us; there are love languages that we are more comfortable giving. We need to learn to appreciate the ways the people in our lives express themselves and not use them to bolster our self-worth.

  • Fishing Line Winder May 29, 2014, 11:49 pm

    West Coast Marketing & Distributing LLC have been marketing, distributing, and manufacturing fishing equipment for over 20 years.


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