"Your wife was bragging on you last week," my friend Marissa told me in the church foyer.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"We were having our usual Monday morning coffee together with a few other moms," Marissa continued, "and Leslie told all of us how you masterfully got your little boy to quit fussing about what he was wearing to school."
"Oh, right. Jackson was being headstrong about wearing the same hooded sweatshirt every day."
"Whatever you did," Marissa said, "it impressed your wife. She was going on and on about you being a great dad. Way to go!"
Have you ever heard a secondhand compliment from your spouse? If so, you know how much it can do for your spirit — and for your marriage. Knowing that your spouse is saying good things about you when you're not around is almost as important as hearing these good things directly. In fact, in some ways, it's even more meaningful because these words of admiration are given without any assurance that you will ever hear them.
In media circles, it's called "positive press." Public figures pay significant sums to obtain it. Why? Because good press always benefits a person's public image. In the same way, "good press" can positively influence your spouse's personal image, too.
Few things boost a person's self-esteem more than hearing that his spouse has been showing him in a positive light to others. And when two people are doing that for each other, they reap a double dose of love. That's why, if you're dedicated to enjoying the best marriage you can build, you can't ignore the importance of becoming your partner's publicist.
Did you know that how you talk about each other to your friends and family and even strangers may predict your success as a couple? That's what researchers at the University of Washington report. A 10-year study followed 95 couples, beginning six months into their marriages. The initial hour-long interview together probed their relationship, their parents' union and their marriage philosophy.
More than what was said in the interview, researchers noted whether couples expressed fondness and admiration for their partner, talked about themselves as a unit, finished each other's sentences and referenced each other when they told a story. Turns out that couples characterized by these ways of talking about one another are far more likely to enjoy lifelong love.
In fact, with this information alone, the researchers predicted with 87 percent accuracy whether a couple would end up divorcing. The study found that the couples with lasting marriages described their spouse in glowing terms. Those who eventually divorced talked about their spouse with cynicism. Think about that. How you talk about your spouse is a huge indicator of the state of your union.
How can this be? It comes down to the fact that your attitudes shape the way you view your spouse. If you publicly praise your spouse, you will inevitably look more favorably upon him or her and discover a deeper appreciation for your partner than you had before. In other words, what you say about your spouse, for good or ill, shapes the way you think, feel and act. That's why giving your partner good public relations is valuable to both of you.
However, seemingly innocent complaints about marriage can all too easily seep into our conversations with others. It's a common communication problem — even for couples who have been married for years.
Consider Jenifer, married 12 years, with three children under the age of 4. She was grousing to a group of fellow moms: "If Kevin would put down his cell phone or quit doing e-mail long enough to lend a hand and help me pick up after the kids, I think I'd faint." The result? Her friends chimed in with similar complaints, and without ever intending to, they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a gripe session about their husbands.
It's just harmless conversation with friends, you may be thinking. Perhaps. There are times when we need to talk freely with a trusted friend about what matters most in our life. But we also need to keep in mind that what we say about our spouse to others has a significant impact on how we feel about our marriage. Here's the bottom line: When you have the urge to whine about your spouse to others, reconsider, and don't let a good opportunity to praise your partner in front of others pass you by.
Here are a few tips on how to get started practicing good PR techniques for the benefit of your marriage:
Give positive press in the next 24 hours. If right now you were to shine a spotlight on something you appreciate about your spouse, what would it be? Chances are it will take you some time to think about that. For some reason, we humans don't always notice and remember the things we value in our spouse. So here's a challenge: Be on the lookout for something to publicly praise your partner about and then express it to someone within the next day. Make it a goal. No need to tell your partner. And don't worry about whether he or she ever knows. Just be intentional about giving your spouse positive press.
Be sure your PR is genuine. The late comedian George Burns has been quoted as saying, "Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made." Of course, you can't fake it. Everyone has a built-in phoniness detector. So if you're going to give good press in the next 24 hours, make sure it's coming from the heart.
You can tactfully say things like, "Linda really knows how to keep our family organized; we'd be a mess if it weren't for her." Or "David is such a great dad; he's always taking time to meaningfully connect with each of our kids." But if you're saying these things without meaning them, forget it. To be your spouse's publicist, you have to believe in what you're promoting.
Make known your partner's accomplishments. Only narcissists like blowing their own horn. Most of us shy away from the mere appearance of vanity. But that doesn't mean you need to keep quiet about what your spouse has achieved. When you know your friends or family would enjoy hearing the good news, be the one to make it known. Say things like, "Sarah just got a promotion, but she won't tell you that." Or, "Rick may not mention it, but this week he secured a huge grant for his company." These kinds of comments not only keep arrogance at bay, but they also enliven a conversation with friends and family.
Begin thinking of yourself as your partner's publicist today, and your marriage will be the better for it. After all, the research makes it plain: When you give your spouse positive press, you fortify your marriage with an abundance of love.
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are the founders of RealRelationships.com and co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their books include Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts and Love Talk. This article first appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. Used by permission.
Read the related Web article by the Parrotts, "Saying 'I Love You' Without Uttering a Word."
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