Dear Readers:

I apologize that last week I wasn’t able to answer a new question. I have been speaking every weekend for the past several weekends in addition to my regular counseling week. Last week I was speaking in Chicago until Monday and didn’t return until late evening. Tuesday I started right into counseling and so I didn’t have time to write a response to the many questions I receive. Below is an interesting question from a reader about her marriage. I think it’s worth answering on this forum because so many of us struggle to understand God’s plan in bringing two very different people together and making them one flesh.

Q. What does it mean for a wife and husband to compliment each other in marriage? I don’t mean as in praise one another but my sister recently remarked to me that my husband and I don’t compliment each other at all and I realized she’s right. Can you give me a definition of complimenting and ways to do it?

A. The dictionary definition of the word compliment means to praise or show respect. But I think what you are referring to is more about fitting well together so that as a couple you become stronger and better together than each of you would be alone.
However this fitting together well doesn’t usually happen without intentional work by both parties in the marriage. That’s where most of us fail. We marry someone we think will be a good fit with us. After the honeymoon period of marriage wears off, however, and our husband or wife starts to rub us the wrong way, instead of allowing God to change us through these experiences so that we fit together better, we try to change the other person, or when that doesn’t work (and it never does), we build walls of self protection, growing further apart.

Without knowing any specifics about you and your husband, let me give you some ways you can learn to better compliment him. Right now don’t worry about what he’s doing. You can start this change process all by yourself and do your part to make your marriage better. It’s important that you realize that this is important for you to do not only because it’s good for your marriage and your children, it’s also good for you. By taking this challenge to heart, you will grow to become the person God has called you to. Greater spiritual maturity is often forged within the crucible of marriage and family life. Where else do we learn to live selflessly and sacrificially? How do we learn forgiveness and how to speak the truth in love if we aren’t in intimate relationships? Hopefully as your husband observes your changes, he will be encouraged to make his own changes.

Here are some ways that you can begin to compliment (or fit better in with him). Start by asking yourself what were the things you were attracted to about your husband while you were dating. Was he more social than you were? More logical? More mechanical? Had the ability to relax and have fun while you were a worker bee? Opposites often attract and when you can recognize those differences with respect, you can and will compliment each other. For example, in our parenting together, my husband was always the more logical, calm parent. I tended to think more emotionally and reactively. Sometimes his strategies were absolutely necessary with our children and other times mine were more appropriate. We complimented each other because he didn’t have all the skills to raise our children in his tool bag alone nor did I. But together we had more than either of us had alone. However, if either one of us would have disrespected the other, especially in front of our children, then we would have not be complimenting each other but tearing each other down.
In addition to looking for your husband’s strengths, see how those strengths have now become irritants to you. For example, instead of seeing him as easy going and able to relax, now he’s lazy and unproductive. Perhaps he’s always been good around people and social, now he’s a smooth talker and superficial. Every one of our strengths also can be a weakness if carried to the extreme. My husband’s logical mind has a hard time being empathic with others or expressing his feelings easily. But he is great when he has to put together something from directions or fix my computer goofs. On the other hand, I’m terrific in expressing my feelings and being empathic, but weak when it comes to complex problem solving like figuring out how to turn on the TV from the DVD mode. But we all have a choice either to focus our attention on someone’s strengths or on his or her weaknesses. Pay attention to how much you have criticized or disrespected your husband. Doing so does not compliment him or shore up his weaknesses, but rather makes you both weaker and Satan can get a foothold, poisoning your relationship with bitterness, resentment and unresolved anger.

Look for new ways that you can help him be a better man, (husband or father), without rubbing it in that he needed your help. We all need one another in some ways or other and that’s what it means to compliment one another. The apostle Paul urged us to work hard to fit together in the body of Christ and strive for unity, using all of our gifts and abilities, although different, for a common good or goal. The same principles and strategies work for marriage and family life.

Practice these things and see what differences it makes in you and in your marriage. Write back in a few weeks and let us know what changes you’ve seen so that we can all be encouraged as God is working in your life and marriage. God Bless.

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