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DYING FOR A COMPLIMENT: When You’re Married to a Man of Few Words

QUESTION:

My husband never compliments or praises me for anything. I can take two hours to get ready before we go out and he doesn’t even notice what I’m wearing or how I’ve done my hair. It drives me nuts, especially because the men I dated before we got married were great in this department. How can I get him to appreciate what I do to make him happy?

ANSWER:

I commend you for working so hard to go the extra mile for your husband and make him happy.  I know wives everywhere can relate to your question!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our spouses automatically recognized our efforts, knew exactly what we needed to hear at that precise moment, and were willing to give it to us?

The fact is that, when it comes to our partners, we can’t really “get them to appreciate us” and I suspect you know this already.

Even if you could force some kind of acknowledgement or gratitude, it would no doubt feel hollow and disingenuous and you would feel even worse about yourself.

So let’s go down another road, because the most dangerous thing to you and your marriage is not the absence of the kind of comments you’re looking for, but what you’re telling yourself about this absence.

For example, you might be telling yourself:

  • “He doesn’t love or appreciate me.”
  • “He might be into someone else at work.”
  • “He doesn’t find me attractive anymore.”
  • “He’s lost interest in our marriage and in making me happy.”

Sometimes our negative thoughts can really run away with us and make us miserable!

While the above explanations are possible, these fears are probably far from the truth, so let’s consider some other potential explanations for your husband’s behavior:

 

Compliments_He Loves It1.  Human Nature

Studies have repeatedly shown that (most) girls are more verbal than (most) boys, and this inclination lasts a lifetime.

Consider how apt you are to notice every detail about your girlfriends’ clothes, jewelry, hair, and makeup—and then let her know you’ve noticed!  Have you ever seen your husband notice or comment on any of these things with his mates?

What I’m trying to say is that verbalizing appreciation, especially for your outward appearance, may not come naturally to him.

Not only that, but it may not even occur to him.

 

While this article on Gender Communication Differences pertains to a
professional work environment, it might lend additional insight.

 

2.  What He Considers a Compliment

While your husband may enjoy when you compliment his appearance, he may relish completely different types of compliments than you do and assume you feel the same.

Mike, my husband, likes to hear that he’s handsome but he really likes to be thanked for things he does around the house, like take out the trash or pull the weeds in the yard.  I rarely give a second thought to these chores because they must be done anyway, but he feels that he’s doing these things for me and appreciates being thanked for having done them.

This may be the way you feel about cleaning the house, which someone has to do on occasion but which you do in the hope that he’ll acknowledge your efforts.  You mentioned that you try to look nice “to make him happy” but perhaps this isn’t what floats his boat.  Perhaps he’d like his car detailed.

 

3.  Mistaken Assumptions

Have you ever heard the “joke” about the wife who asked her husband why he never said “I love you”?  He responded, “I told you ‘I did’ at the altar and I’ll let you know if I change my mind!”

This is obviously not the ideal situation in marriage, where the day-to-day demands of life can cause wear and tear on a couple’s good will for each other, but maybe you can share this semi-humorous example to remind him of what you’d like to hear more of.

If he responds in kind and says that you should know how he feels already, tell him that, to you, “It’s like if I said, ‘we had sex on our honeymoon’ and I don’t need to do it again because you already know how I feel about you” or “I cooked plenty of home-cooked meals for you while we were dating, so now I shouldn’t have to.”

Maybe that will help him understand why compliments are so important – even necessary – to you.

The point is this: your husband may believe that you already know you are attractive to him or that he appreciates a clean house.  He may be blissfully happy (albeit taking you for granted) and just need to be reminded that you need to hear it out loud.

 

This question reminds me of a recent blog I wrote on
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers: What to Do if Your Husband (or Wife) Isn’t Romantic

 

4.  His Compliment Threshold

What you think of as “special” may not be what he thinks of as distinct or memorable.  His bar for “new and different” might be much higher, like seeing you in a gown instead of in a pair of new boots and earrings.

If I ask Mike if he notices something new or different about my appearance, he’ll often just reply, “You always look nice” (maybe because he can’t spot it).  And he means it!  I know this because he’s just as apt to say this when I’m in my PJs as when I’ve taken 3 hours to get ready.  It’s wonderful but doesn’t always scratch my itch when I’ve gone the extra mile.

The bottom line is that you husband might not think to give these types of compliments until something is truly out of the ordinary.

 

5.  Previous Discouragement

Have you ever disagreed with your husband when he has admired you in the past?

One pairing of “You look great, honey” with “No I don’t; these leggings make me look so fatmight have been enough to turn off the praise faucet for good.

None of us like to be made to feel as if we’re wrong or have our comments invalidated, especially when they were sincere and very well intended.

Be honest with yourself and go back in your mind to see if this was ever your response when he did praise you.

 

Looking Good for Husband6.  No Reward

When he has complimented you in the past, even when you were dating, did he receive any return acknowledgement or “reward” for this?  (By this I mean a simple peck on the cheek or, “That means so much to me: thank you.  You look pretty nice yourself.”)

I know what you’re thinking: that you shouldn’t have to reward him for simply recognizing your brilliance, but it’s human nature for what is rewarded to get repeated.

Make it a point of rewarding any positive comments that come your way and you will almost certainly get more of them!

 

7.  Never and Always

I’m going out on a limb here and assuming you may have complained about his lack of appreciation in the past.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, complaints like these are sometimes accompanied by words like “always” and “never”.  For instance:

  • “You always assume I’m going to clean the house and don’t even notice when I do”; or
  • “You never tell me I look good, even after I put a lot of effort in.”

The effect of these absolute statements is akin to a wet blanket on a small ember.  It completely snuffs out any desire to make a change because the likelihood that it will be recognized as an exception is remote.

 

Do you recognize you and your husband in any of the above potential scenarios?

Each one hints at a way of improving your situation, but let’s turn our attention to some additional ideas:

>>>  You didn’t mention what he does do for YOU.  Up your game in terms of not only thanking him for these things, but recognizing things that are important to him and modeling the behavior you want.  Keep in mind that he may not find it as meaningful for you to praise his appearance as it is for you to mention his success on a big project at work or his contribution to the neighborhood clean—up effort so craft your comments accordingly.

>>>  Is your husband just used to seeing you go the extra mile on special occasions or date nights? If so, get gussied up a few times for no reason whatsoever and see if he gets curious about why. If he does, and asks about it, say “I just wanted to look good today” and don’t be any more specific than that.

>>>  Tell him what you need! I wish spouses came with mind-reading software we could update every time we need a new type of compliment but that’s not how things work.  If you need a kind word from him, be specific about what you’d like to hear.  I once made a difficult decision at work and needed to know Mike was proud of me, so I told him, just like this: “I need to hear that you’re proud of me.”  To which he responded, “Of course I’m proud of you!  I’m always proud of you”.  (See “Mistaken Assumptions” above).  Did I have to ask him for it and did that take something away from the moment?  Maybe, but I got what I wanted and he was reminded that I need to hear things like this from time to time.

 

Ultimately, only YOU are responsible for the way you feel about yourself.  Relying on kind words from others (– even our spouses, nice as it would be) is a recipe for a very fragile self-esteem.

If you need to for your own sanity, stop working so hard to please him. Trying to meet our spouse’s needs is great, but is not the same thing as doing something to earn their affection and attention.  The former kind of effort is for him and the latter is for you, so doing something for him — only to feel resentful later when he doesn’t respond as you desire — is counterproductive.  I know you sometimes feel like a wilting flower just waiting to be watered by words of praise, but finding ways of giving yourself what you need will bring some relief and be good for you for other reasons.

In sum, make yourself look better to make yourself feel better and leave it at that.  If he likes what he sees, that’s great.

If not, take heart: you’ll probably never know.  😊

 

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