Praise and affirmation are essential to the health and vitality of a marriage. Genuine praise and verbalized thankfulness are like marital fertilizer (think Miracle-Gro®) in the soil of your spouse’s heart. They have the power to help heal an ailing marriage or strengthen an already healthy one.
So you might expect me to say to just do more of it. Husbands: be more affirming! Wives: give more praise! But here’s the thing that’s easy to miss. Praise and affirmation spring from enjoyment—they flow naturally from delighting in and valuing something or someone. This means that not affirming our spouses is deeper than a matter of words; it’s a matter of not valuing them enough. So the question to ask is not “How can I learn to praise my husband or wife more?” as if just speaking more words would solve the problem. The proper question is “Why don’t I value and enjoy my spouse more?” Affirmation spontaneously overflows when you appreciate and enjoy someone.
How then do we cultivate delight in our spouses? Is it even possible to grow in valuing and enjoying another person? The good news is yes, it is possible, but like anything worthy of effort, it requires frequent, intentional thoughtfulness. Paul’s words to the struggling Philippian church give us a great place to start:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Phil 1:3–4).
Then later, he writes,
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think [and pray!] about such things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8–9)
Paul models in Philippians 1 what he emphasizes in chapter 4. He prays with thankfulness every time he remembers them and urges them to focus their thoughts on what is noble, right, excellent, and praiseworthy. So to follow his example, pray for your spouse. And always give thanks—with joy—for something that is specific, praiseworthy, and true. Always. You may secretly think, “But I don’t often pray for my spouse.” This takes us back to the question of valuing and enjoying. So pray. Pray for your spouse. And though it may take conscious effort and thoughtfulness, frontload your prayer with unambiguous thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6) is the most powerful path to growth in valuing, enjoying, and encouraging your spouse.
As you grow in this, it will do more than strengthen your marriage. When we praise one another, we are, in a sense, practicing for glory. Paul writes, “you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor 1:14b). Praise and affirmation are surely synonyms for boasting in one another. It is our joyful and solemn responsibility to help each other on to glory, looking for the good, affirming Christlike character, and pointing out evidence of Jesus himself in our spouses in a way that encourages, builds up, and refreshes.
And don’t wait. Pastor and author J. R. Miller (1840–1912) wrote about “Kindness That Comes Too Late.” He contrasts a funeral where friends and family gather to speak good and pleasant words about a deceased person’s character to the story in Luke 7 where a woman anoints Jesus with perfume before he dies. She doesn’t wait until he’s dead to break open the alabaster jar to refresh Jesus’ tired and weary feet. Miller pleads with us,
“The kind words are lying in men’s hearts unexpressed, and trembling on their tongues unvoiced, which will be spoken by and by when these weary ones are dead—but why should they not be spoken now, when they are needed so much, and when their accents would be so pleasing and grateful?”
In marriage, let us encourage each other daily and not wait until the eulogy—where it brings no blessing to the deceased. Let us commit to building up and encouraging each other today.