Dan and I loved with humility and sacrifice. In the past few weeks I have written about the parts of my relationship with Dan that hopefully inspire. In the interest of keeping things light this week, I’ve decided to highlight a part of our relationship that makes us a normal, every day couple: the way we complimented each other.
I remember Dan’s sly and sweet way of complimenting me and my fun and flirty way of complimenting him back. I remember how those compliments made my stomach flutter. I’m smiling at how they made my heart swell.
Compliments can come easy. For example, after a good day at work on Friday night, Dan and I would often enjoy a quiet night at home and all would be well. Dan would say something like “Thanks for cleaning up dinner, I really appreciate all you do for us” or “I had so much fun watching Friday Night Lights tonight; Tammy Taylor’s got nothing on you” (which is huge; watch the show, you’ll understand). In those moments, I felt valued, appreciated. Most importantly, I felt loved by my husband. Sometimes we gave silly compliments, spouting, “You’re cute” or “I like you” out of nowhere. It always earned a smile and often resulted in a kiss.
But, believe it or not, there is science in complimenting. And there is evidence that supports its value in marriage. Relationship expert and marriage therapist Dr. John Gottman has explained something he refers to as “5:1 magic ratio” in intimate relationships. Gottman explains the ratio like this:
“…for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. Stable and happy couples share more positive feelings and actions than negative ones. Unhappy couples tend to have more negative feelings and actions than positive ones. Partners who criticize each other, provide constant negative feedback, aren’t supportive of each other, don’t demonstrate affection or appreciation, or behave uninterested in their partner are in relationships that are out of balance.”
Everyone’s received negative feedback. Whether in the form of an outright insult, a nasty retort, a passive-aggressive comment, or even body language, it doesn’t feel good. It compromises self-esteem and potentially leads to rifts between the most intimate people in our lives and ourselves..
Negative feedback can make effective communication difficult, especially in moments of high stress when communication is most crucial. In my experience, giving positive feedback or a compliment facilitates a comfortable environment and a level of approachability. When you feel comfortable approaching your spouse, you’re more likely to engage in more productive communication during those tense times when you need it most.
Dan was the master at using compliments at these difficult times. One time in particular stands out in my memory. I remember we were rushing to get to an appointment of some sort after a full day of work and probably in desperate need of sleep. I pulled the car into the no parking zone in the parking garage at our apartment complex, activated the four-way hazard lights, scurried into the lobby, escorted Dan and his walker to the car, opened his car door, safely assisted his transfer into the car, closed his door, folded his walker, fumbled to get it into the back seat, then huffed and puffed to the driver seat, frazzled and upset. I buckled Dan’s seatbelt, then mine, and turned on the radio, making certain I convey my intense frustration through exaggerated movements and a few grumbles under my breath. It has to be said that Dan had done nothing wrong in any part of this incident; he simply had a physical disability as a result of extensive chemotherapy and radiation that required a great deal of accommodation for which I evidently did not have the time that day.
Then, Humble Dan did something profound. He turned down the radio, put his hand on my lap, and complimented me. He sincerely told me how wonderful I was, how caring, selfless, supportive. I probably/definitely didn’t deserve a compliment in that moment, but I got one. And it felt great. I suddenly checked my attitude and reciprocated the gesture. My hand now resting on Dan’s leg instead of gripping the steering wheel, my guard down rather than poised for battle, Dan had created an environment conducive to a conversation. Through a simple compliment, he successfully turned a potential argument—“Hanna, have some compassion, I’m the one using a freakin’ walker here!”—into a constructive conversation. I verbalized how “I didn’t mean to take my frustration out on you” and “I’m just really exhausted and don’t feel like going to the doctor,” then finally, “I’m sorry, babe.” Before long, we were holding hands, cruising to some Fun on the radio, and discussing our little joy for the day – a car ride together, good music, and drive-through McDonalds.
Compliment more. Argue less. Strive to be a stable, happy, and balanced couple. When those inevitable stressful moments tempt you to send negative feedback, and when you give in to the temptation, make an effort to create at least five positive interactions in turn.
Be your spouse’s biggest fan. Hold hands, turn on the radio, and enjoy the ride.