A culture of appreciation is the strongest culture for a healthy marriage. Here are 6 ways to appreciate your spouse.
I like to stay across what a lot of leading voices on the fields of faith and relationships have to say. I follow a lot of people on social media and make sure at least a few times a week that I’m checking in on someone’s video podcast or teaching series or Ted Talk or book or something. Doing relationships can be very difficult and they change over the seasons and so to do well in my own marriage and also in helping others, I myself need all the help I can get. Personally my current mission is trying to be a lot better at doing marriage and parenthood well.
One of the recent series driven by well known teacher Craig Groeschel caught my eye, in particular the responses he was getting to some of his content. He was posting some videos about how men can specifically value their wives, and how women can specifically value their husbands. Some of the comments on his observations on how to appreciate women were in resounding agreement, and most of the comments on appreciating men amounted to “not relevant to me” “tried it” “doesn’t work”.
You don’t have to look too far to see how frustrated or lost people can feel in their marriages. When you feel like you’re trying your best and you’re reaching the same end, having the same fights, stuck in the same loop, or maybe even feeling unseen or small.
A UK study showed 83% of divorced women citing feeling unheard, and 70% of divorced men citing blame and nagging. Both of these speak to one common issue – feeling unappreciated.
In the book Courtship after Marriage, Zig Ziglar writes “I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person. But I do know that if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all“. In other words, the way we treat our spouse matters more than most other things do.
Appreciation is the language of together. So all of this has been to say – appreciation is important. And it’s not always as regular as it should be in our marriages.
So here are 6 meaningful ways to show appreciation to your spouse. A culture of appreciation goes a long way to keeping the environment of your marriage well watered and moving forward.
#1: Listen for why (not just what) they’re saying
Your wife is asking you for your opinion on something. Your husband is talking about what he wants to do in the next few years. Your spouse is running you through their day and telling you what they bought from the shop, what they struggled with at work, what’s tripping them up in their parenting.
At face value, it can be very easy to hear words and sentences and be distracted with your own thing while your spouse is trying to talk to you. But to truly appreciate your spouse, you need to realise there is way more going on in these seemingly “small” behaviours.
The Gottman Institute highlights that your spouse is constantly trying to make bids of connection. When they try to hold your hand, or to go for a walk with you, or watch a show with you, they’re looking for ways to be able to connect with you.
And this is exactly what is happening when they’re trying to talk to you. It’s more than just a brain dump, it’s an invitation into their world. They’re screaming “I want you to be interested in me” and “I want to hear that we’re on the same team” in this. And very rarely will those be actual screams, but if we don’t hear them, we’ll miss the significance of the conversation that’s happening right now.
It’s not that she wants you to pick a colour – it’s that she wants you to be interested. It’s not that he needs to fix what’s going on – it’s that he needs a safe place to rest his head.
It’s much more obvious that it hurts a woman when she feels unheard, but I’m here to tell you as well that men are even more fragile around this in my experience. I’ve heard a lot of people say their husband doesn’t talk anymore. I would encourage you to go back in time to the last conversation where he did talk, and urge you to consider if he felt heard or not. Almost every man I’ve ever known to have “gone silent” in the marriage is still stuck at the last conversation where his opinion or voice was squashed (or felt squashed) in the conversation.
In this way, marriage truly is a sacred and solemn responsibility in that we have this level of influence and trust placed on us for the wellbeing of the other person’s heart. Use it wisely, even when it’s “just words”.
#2: Believe in your man
A temporary deviation on shared advice here to highlight that men really need you to believe in them. This was one of the big points Craig Groeschel has been highlighting in his recent series, and also a surprise and/or point of contention to some of his audience.
There isn’t a better book on this topic than Love and Respect by Dr Emerson Eggerichs, who writes “The problem many women have today—including Christian wives —is that they want to be treated like a princess, but deep down they resist treating their husbands like the king. They aren’t willing to recognize that in the depth of his very soul a husband wants to be the one who provides and protects—he wants to be an umbrella of protection who would willingly die for his wife if need be“.
I have a lot of friends with young boys at the moment, and you can already see this need in men from their earliest years. Everything they do, they want to be told that they are capable and strong. They look for approval. They yearn for mum and dad and whoever else will tell them that they can do it, that they carry great potential, and that it’s a brilliant thing when that potential is realised.
The truth is, boys never really grow up in this regard. This need never leaves our lives. In some ways it just gets even bigger.
The easiest way to show your husband you believe in him is to actually mean it. The apostle Peter writes of the story of Abraham and Sarah, with Sarah being held up as a paragorn of respect for all to follow. The interesting thing is that we have no record of Sarah actually using such language out loud to her husband, but only within her own heart. The encouragement then is that respect must start and continue from the inside out.
After all, whatever is within us eventually comes out.
Who is this man called to be, and how can you help him become himself?
#3: Cherish your woman
Cherish. What a word. And what a difficult world when your reality is far from being cherished.
A lot of women in our worlds feel completely undervalued. There are so many voices – male and female – out there that are constantly ragging on the value that women possess, and many women have lived lives full of people who have devalued or used them.
So husband, if she’s trusted you to be in her life, don’t you dare add your name to the list of the ones who’ve treated her that way.
My favourite example of what a husband should do in this regard comes from the Song of Solomon. The husband in the story is constantly complimenting and speaking life into his wife. So much so that at the start of the story, she’s really down on herself about being too dark and the fact her brothers made her stay out in the sun too long. She is so changed by his constant encouragement that at the end of the story when her sisters are nagging her about having a flat chest, she shuts them down immediately and informs them “when my lover sees me, he will be satisfied”.
And one of my favourite lines from all of the Song: “I became in his eyes as one who finds peace”.
Does she find peace in your eyes? Or is it just turmoil, complaints, laziness, and taking her for granted? Appreciate your spouse with all you have.
#4: Sex matters
It really, really does.
If you don’t think it does, look at the countless resources and studies that spell doom for a sexless marriage, and more than that, the subreddit DeadBedrooms is full of husbands and wives who are absolutely destroyed the absence of sex in their marriages. And by full, I mean hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, over multiple years.
I remember being personally surprised by how much this was important after I got married. I was a virgin when I got married and I thought I was a good guy and it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t super often or whatever. But I was shocked to discover like most married men (and married women to be fair), that it meant way more to me than I initially realised.
It’s because sex speaks to us in our most intimate places. The nakedness and vulnerability of the physical act also mirror the emotional and spiritual reality of the act.
And like everything else in our marriages, the balance flips over time. One day it’s you wanting it more, one day it’s the other. Work and financial stresses can change things. Having kids can change things. Having schedules change can change things. And our own development and growth can change things.
Sexologist Laurie Watson points out that “Sex gets caught in a power struggle between the need for connection and the wish for space“. It’s a struggle that exists for almost everything in marriage to be fair, but it’s a struggle where the marriage needs to win in a way that works for both partners.
There’s a lot of need for non-sexual appreciation and affection in marriage for sure. But we promised each other forsaking all else. Even the spiritual and celebrate apostle Paul told married couples in Corinth that they shouldn’t withhold sexual intimacy even for the most spiritual of reasons.
More in 9 Obstacles to Sexual Utopia and would recommend some great resources from Esther Perel, Laurie Watson, Dr David Schnarch and Dr Kevin Leman.
#5: Small things often
It’s hard to talk abut how to appreciate your spouse without mentioning this simple three word advice from Dr John Gottman. To repeat: small things often.
John Gottman’s research over 40 years showed that there is a magical ratio of 5 to 1 in marriages that work. That is, 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. This means the overall culture of our marriage, our interactions, the things we speak about and the way we work together, the culture should tend towards encouragement and positivity. That gives the framework and support for when the (necessary) difficult points of difference and disappointments come up and we need to work through them.
Have you ever been in a successful greenhouse? There’s a great amount of light coming through, and there is an atmosphere of moisture to keep the plants hydrated and continually growing.
This is what our marriages should be like. Lots of light to keep everyone safe and avoid any harmful secrets, and a culture of appreciation which keeps everyone growing and healthy and whole.
To appreciate our spouse is to continually appreciate our spouse. Not just the big occasions or when things are going good, but always.
I once heard someone say that the big things in marriage are just lots of small things. I think they were right.
#6: Stay amazed
This continues to be the best marriage advice I have ever received. Pastor John Burns has said for decades – stay amazed.
All the best times in my marriage have happened when I’ve been living this out, and all the worst times have happened when I haven’t been.
The truth is your spouse is an amazing person. Obviously there was something amazing enough about them that you decided to choose them for life.
Can you still see it?
Can you see the way she carries herself with others, leaves room for them to be themselves, shows them grace?
Can you see the way he puts it all on the line for you, the way he is generous, the time he’ll spend with people to make them feel more than enough?
As soon as the amazement goes, the marriage ends. All it takes is one partner to decide that they’re not going to stay amazed anymore, and everything will lead to decay.
But when your heart is open and you allow yourself to see the greatness in the one you love, then you will truly be able to think of others above yourself and love them to the best of your ability.
And don’t just see it – say something. To appreciate your spouse properly, if you see a good thing, say a good thing.
There are many other ways to appreciate your spouse – I’ve written quite a few posts around this before from various angles. Check out the related links down the bottom of some of my Featured Posts for some more ideas.
But I do think this is a topic that all of us need to keep at the forefront of our lives, minds, and marriages if we are going to be people who enjoy marriage to their fullest potential. I think that marriage is God’s main gift to deal with the issue of loneliness. When people are in happy marriages, they live longer, they go further, they achieve more. Conversely when you are in an unhappy, unappreciative marriage, it’s like doing life with an anchor tied around your legs.
In The Marriage Book by Nicky and Sila Lee, they write the following: “Marriage is about two people being joined together to become one, and is therefore the closest, most intimate relationship of which human beings are capable. Some might object that the parent-child relationship is closest, given that the child’s life begins within the mother. However, a healthy parent-child relationship is to be one of increasing separation and growing independence with each child leaving the parental nest to make a home of their own. The marriage relationship is altogether the other way round. Two people, at one time strangers to each other, meet and subsequently get married. They enter into a relationship marked, at its best, by an increasing interdependence“.
Growing together takes a lot of work at the start, in the middle, and all the way through to the end. If we own our part well in appreciating our spouse, there’s no telling just how far we’ll be able to go and how much we’ll be able to achieve in life together.
How about you? What are some ways you think you can appreciate your spouse?