By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Articles about nurturing healthy relationships often focus on giving – the need to be thoughtful and do nice things for your partner. However, there is another extremely important part of relationships – receiving. For every act of giving, there must be someone to receive. And so, saying ‘thank you’ is essential to a happy life together. You might be thinking, No problem – I’ve got this covered. Well, not so fast. While you might do this automatically with material gifts, consider carefully whether you also do it with compliments or words of appreciation. The unfortunate truth is that many people don’t.
It’s often natural for people to discount their partner’s compliments as simply being nice, but not genuine – or as being blinded by love to reality. If you identify with this kind of thinking, beware. Not taking in appreciation can be harmful to your relationship as well as to you. Think about what it is like in your partner’s experience. He says that he thinks you are wonderfully kind. You ignore the comment or clearly indicate that you don’t believe him. At first, he might think he just needs to repeat it over time – to help the message sink in. But if you continue to do this, especially if you do it with any and all compliments, he might begin to feel hopeless or frustrated about getting through to you. You will continue to feel that you aren’t really special, and he will feel that you don’t really appreciate his opinions or how important you are to him. Inevitably, this creates distance in your relationship. Not a happy outcome.
But you can change things. If you really want a happy, healthy, long-lasting love, then you need to be able to be able to give and take. To work on “taking” (or absorbing) your partner’s compliments, love, and appreciation, start by acknowledging that it is something you need to change. Then continue by doing the following:
Acknowledge (to yourself) the compliment. Recognize when you are inclined to ignore or minimize compliments.
Consider the situation from your partner’s perspective. Assuming that you think your partner means what she is saying, really listen to how your trait, action or accomplishment (or, you as a whole person) affects her. Let yourself take in that this is something worthy of feeling good about.
Say thank you. With these two simple words (when said in earnest), you are letting your partner know you appreciate her compliment. She will feel good that you accepted this “gift” and you will feel good for truly absorbing it.
Question your self-perception. If you still struggle with being able to see yourself in this positive light, it might have more to do with your self-perceptions than a real disagreement with your partner’s observation. So ask yourself: Would I agree with her if I was a third party, such as another friend? This can help you get past your inclination to not want to think too much of yourself or to question your own value. Being able to value yourself is essential to feeling good about you.
When your partner throws out a compliment, something beautiful and uplifting is right there in the air before you. But it needs a place to land. When you choose to take it in, your partner will feel happy about giving you this gift and about helping you to be happy, and you will feel all the better for it, too. Not a bad deal. So, give it a try – commit yourself to taking in your partner’s compliments, and saying thank you.
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