Deliberately choosing the way we speak is essential to a lifetime of cherishing our mates. The early church father John Chrysostom urged husbands (speaking about their wives), “Never call her by her name alone, but with terms of endearment also, with honor, with much love. If you honor her, she won’t require honor from others; she won’t desire that praise that others give if she enjoys the praise that comes from you. Prefer her before all others, in every way, both for her beauty and for her sensitivity, and praise her.”1
Cherishing calls us to be specific.
As a young husband, I failed to understand how much of my adoration of Lisa was missed by her and how much of my disappointment was caught. I’d think to myself, Wow, Lisa looks fantastic! but when I didn’t say it, Lisa would think, He isn’t saying anything. It must be a bad hair day.
Silence is often unintentionally malicious, so try to verbalize every positive thing you can think of. And that means being specific. It means so much more to Lisa when I say, “Your eyes are all lit up and gorgeous tonight!” than a general “you look great.” (Although I don’t think she’s ever hated hearing “you look great.”)
Why are you enamored with your spouse? What do you admire about your spouse? What makes you smile when you think about your spouse?
When we criticize ourselves or others criticize us, we and they tend to be extremely specific: “It drives me crazy when you crack your knuckles.” “You’re a slob; look at this mess.” “You’re lazy and you never get off the couch.” Using specific words of authentic praise counteracts this. As Barbara and Dennis Rainey put it, “Your praise can be excessive only if your words are insincere. Genuine, heartfelt praise cannot be overdone.”2
If you don’t speak encouraging words to your spouse, who will? I love the way the Raineys put this obligation on the plate of every married partner: “You have the main responsibility for sowing words of belief and admiration in your spouse.”3 No farmer expects a neighbor, distant relative, or church member to sow the seed in his field; it’s his farm, and therefore his responsibility. As soon as you get married, it is no longer your in-laws’ job to be your spouse’s main encourager (something is wrong if that’s the case); it is not your children’s job; it is not your church group’s job or your spouse’s employer’s job. It is not even your spouse’s best friend’s job. It is your job to be your spouse’s chief advocate, encourager, and cherisher.
Are you doing your job?
One weekend, thirty years into our marriage, I had one of those brutal travel days. I spoke at a graduation ceremony for the Sacramento branch of Western Seminary on a Saturday morning and planned to immediately fly back to Houston to preach at the eleven o’clock service on Sunday morning for Second Baptist.
That’s an appointment with roughly five thousand people.
As soon as the ceremony was over, I got a text from United Airlines: my first flight was delayed, which meant I’d miss my connection into Houston. I called the airline in near desperation: “You’ve got to get me back to Houston before tomorrow morning.”
The customer service rep said, “We can reroute you through San Francisco. You can catch an 11:15 p.m. flight into Houston, arriving at 5:15 in the morning.”
“I’ll take it.”
I spent about nine hours total at two different airports, tried to grab a few moments of sleep once I got on the 11:15 flight, and, after landing and picking up my bags, made it back to my house four hours before the church service began. I laid down for an unproductive two hours of wishful slumber and then showered and shaved and made it to the church on time.
It was a surreal feeling to stand on a stage in front of five thousand people in Houston when I had been sitting in a San Francisco airport ten hours earlier in the dead of night.
Later that day, my wife posted on Facebook:
In awe of my husband today… he arrived home at 7am after nine hours of flight delays, got out of bed CHEERFULLY at 9 (thankful for his two hours of sleep), and preached a great sermon at 11! And he even looked good, without the benefit of makeup or coffee :).
Frankly, she had me at “awe.” When a wife says something like that publicly, I don’t even need to hear what follows. I felt cherished. I felt ten feet tall. I expected to look in the mirror and see a full head of hair.
That’s the power of affirming words.
Keep in mind that whenever you affirm something, that trait or quality is usually reinforced: “I appreciate your integrity; I love your joy; your kindness is so amazing.” It tends to increase the good. When a spouse thinks, I guess I am kind, he is likely to want to keep acting in a kind manner, because that’s how he sees himself. That becomes part of his identity. If you want to see change in your spouse, find a kernel of something good and reinforce it specifically and verbally.
In one sense, affirming your spouse is a spiritual as well as a marital duty. Author Sam Crabtree opens his book Practicing Affirmation with a strong statement: “If God is sovereign, and every good gift is from above, then not praising the good in others is kind of a sacrilege and soul-sickness.”4 One of the ways we worship God is to pause long enough to examine his work, not just in painting a sunset, but in giving a formerly anger-ridden man a little more patience and kindness or acknowledging that a once impatient woman now displays the perseverance of Job.
Acknowledge the growth. Proclaim it. Praise it.
Watch the Cherish Video
- John Chrysostom, “Homily XX on Ephesians,” quoted in Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, 3rd rev. ed., John Meyendorff (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), 89–90.
- Rainey, The New Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, 116.
- Ibid., 117.
- Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 7.
Excerpted with permission from Cherish by Gary Thomas, copyright Gary Thomas.
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Don’t you love positive, affirming words of praise? I do! What words of love, awe, belief, and encouragement can you speak over your spouse today? Come share with us on our blog! Let’s get those words of praise rolling! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full