We all need praise and appreciation on a daily basis – it’s nourishment for our souls. We may say we don’t need it but it is well known that kindness and genuine appreciation have an incredibly soothing effect on our central nervous system and raises our serotonin levels. It can calm us and help us to keep going when the going gets tough.
Learning to acknowledge instead of making your partner wrong is one of the most powerful relationship survival tools available to you. John Gottman is a researcher and family therapist who has worked extensively in couple therapy. He talks about the disintegration of respect and goodwill in a relationship when there is too much criticism and not enough praise. In my experience as a relationship counsellor I have found this applies to working with families as well. Where there is a deficit in praise and acknowledgment, a relationship starts to break down, disappointment and resentment can set in. It is very hard to steer things to a better place if damage is long term.
What Creates Positive Change?
The ratio for keeping a relationship buoyant, for maintaining good will and respect is 5 acts of praise for every 1 criticism.
Praise, gratitude and acknowledgement keeps the relationship goodwill pistons rolling and is a strong foundation for happiness. There is no doubt that children also flourish in a household where affection, acceptance and praise are part of the parental communication.
What Can Get In the Way?
Why can giving and receiving praise be so difficult? We know it works with puppies and babies why not with each other? Here are some thoughts
- Fear – people equate giving praise with being too ‘soft, too ‘touchy feely.’ It may even make us feel things we don’t want to feel, tap into our vulnerability.
- Being Big headed – If I give it, the other person will get a big head, If I receive it I’ll get a big head. It may sound like something from high school but this can still play havoc with us in our adulthood.
- Difficulty Just Receiving – there could be many reasons for this, too busy, don’t know how, it’s not something I grew up with, if I receive then I’m going to be in debt to that person.
Time To Challenge Outmoded Thinking and Get the Goodies
Here’s some things you can do today that will have an immediate positive effect on your partner:
- It may take some detective work -but, a) notice and b) catch those small, somewhat fleeting moments when your partner does something you appreciate. And c) Tell them.
- Giving praise and acknowledgment is like giving a gift. Make sure you’ve made time and space to give this gift. Not something you call out as you’re running out the door.
- Make sure it is something that is true for you about your partner. The best way to know this is if it bubbles up in your heart.
- When you give your praise put a full stop after it! Don’t add any ‘buts’, ‘except whens’ or other comments that may minimise or dismiss the gift of your appreciation.
- Allow your partner time to take it in. When you give someone a gift it can take a while to unwrap it and really look at it. If they are deflective – gently remind them to just receive.
- Smile when you’re giving your praise. It helps.
Get As Good As You Give
If you’re on the receiving end of praise and acknowledgment:
- Please take it in. Smile and take in a breath, pause. Let their gift sink into your cells and flow through your nervous system.
- Let your partner/friend/relative know you appreciate it. Say ‘thanks’.
- Notice and catch any tendency to minimise or dismiss what’s been said. Take time to suspend saying something back or throwing back a compliment. Speaking too soon can dilute what you’ve just received.
- Contemplate the possibility of the praise and acknowledgment as being true about you. Watch out for any critical inner figure that calls you a ‘big head’ or says ‘this is mushy’
Remember the 5 to 1 ratio. Build on the love, goodwill and respect in your relationship with simple acts of kindness. They may seem insignificant at the time but they have a way of growing into a long term investment.