Actions Don’t Always Speak Louder than Words: How Should You Affirm Your Wife?

love-316640_1280Dear Shaunti,

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

Dear 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.”

Do you want Shaunti to share life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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  • Rebecca Riley

    The stuff about love languages applies too; he may have an Acts of Service language as his primary (I love her so I change the oil on her car and make sure it always has gas in it, and go to work even when I feel sick,and willingly laugh at Uncle Frank’s bad jokes) and someone who has Words of Love as her primary.

    The other side of that is that he may or may not be getting his needs met. If he is doing things for her, what will make him feel loved is when she does things for him.