This Counseling Exercise Changed My Marriage

When you go to counseling, let’s face it. You do some cheesy stuff on the comfy couch.

Feeling this, and feeling that; hold each other by the hands reciting, “I was wrong”…all in the comfort of…the counseling office!

Although I’m now on the giving end of these corny exercises, I’ve been in your warmed dent on the sofa.  I know how it feels.

But they really do have value.  The one I want to share took me by surprise almost 23 years ago. I reluctantly plowed through the motions only to get to the end and be intimately embraced by my wife, who was now in tears (tears of joy, of course). This is what the counselor presented to me, gazing directly into my overconfident eyes:

When was the last time you praised, or appreciated, your spouse?

For most, this is a convicting question. Reality is, we’re flying through life at mach two in our career, parenting, and family responsibilities. We miss the vast majority of the ways we could fuel our lives and each other. And that’s in a typical healthy relationship! Insert a stressful or even volatile husband and/or wife, particularly one that heightens your insecurity, and extending the gift of praise to each other is the last thing on your mind. And if those don’t compose enough material to defy our best intentions to encourage, observe, and appreciate, our natural inclination will always be to criticize–because of the effects of sin.

Left to ourselves, we will go on a sin-, fault-, and general your-not-who-I-wish-you-were hunt. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, God calls us to go on a praise hunt, sifting through our day and our mate for gratitude; for signs of God.

Now, unquestionably your spouse continually displays faults and will until death parts you. But certainly, some areas deserve your praise or appreciation. In fact, a lack of recognition in deserving areas could be subtracting the courage, vision, and security from areas where they need to grow.

Encouragement of one another is God’s idea and largely precedes his call for us to change in other areas. Look at how Paul did this with the problem-laden Corinthian church…whose lengthy list of faults looked more fitting among a posse of ex-cons. Check out how Paul addressed them in I Corinthians 1:4-9:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

What fascinates me about Paul toward this group of backstabbing, arguing, stubborn, immoral rogues: His vision for who they still are and all they can be in light of who God is. 

In full (not naive) view of all your spouse’s problems, how do you choose to address them? Does your partner see more of who God is because of how you see them? 

How should we praise? Here’s a few tips:

  • Publicly – Although some people despise this, a similar size group of people wants to be esteemed and respected in front of others. As appropriate–and in light of your spouse’s particular comfort level–look for ways to praise your spouse in front of others.
  • Praise character vs. achievement – Instead of praising your husband’s promotion at work, honor the faithfulness and perseverance that led to the promotion. Achievements are fleeting and temperamental. While it’s important to recognize these temporary milestones, make the character behind them the center of your attention. Start praising your spouse for the fruit of the Spirit you see evident in their life; for the evidence of their courage and God’s transforming power (see Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Be specific – Always tie your praise to a particular event so that your words are grounded in reality and examples instead of a frothy, nebulous desire to build someone up. Instead of praising her humility, praise her for the time she resisted peer pressure to be defined by her friends’ distorted values.
  • Praise often – Make it your goal to praise your spouse at least one time per day. Ideally, do this in person, but don’t let that stand in the way. As God brings something to your mind, PRAISE! Send an email or text. Call them on the phone. Post it on their Facebook page. 

But remember: your spouse is not an agenda. The goal here is to allow God to change your heart–and worship Him through seeing Him in the gift before you. It’s to love your spouse more than yourself instead of checking off the box. Ask God for the power to see your spouse and their God-given strengths.

Put it into practice tonight

Pick a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a specific event where your spouse demonstrated that fruit. Let it rip! “I want you to know how much I appreciated you when you demonstrated (insert fruit of the Spirit) when you (insert specific event).”

The only thing left is for you to pick up this tool. Go for it–even if it seems cheesy.  Never underestimate the power of a spouse who feels respected, appreciated, and loved for who they are.

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