Dear Dr. Respler:
I wish to share with your readers and you what I did to enhance my marriage through the use of your suggested technique of countermoves.
My husband is, by nature, a closed person and has a hard time paying compliments. Many people have advised me to accept him and love him just the way he is, as he is both a good husband and good father. He is also a great provider.
But I was very frustrated with his lack of warmth and deficiency in giving compliments. He would often say that the “good is expected and the bad is noted.” This was painful, since I yearn for positive statements and warmth from him.
Even though my nature is to be warm and loving, all my praise did not seem to help him reply in kind. He told me, “I know that you are complimenting me to get me to compliment you, but I just do not need all this praise.” This pained me even more.
I finally said to him, “I know that you do not need my praise, but I yearn for your compliments. Nobody means so much to me, and it is only you who can fill this void.” Then I did something very creative: Every time I wanted a compliment, I would ask for it!
If I were wearing a new outfit, I would say, “Do you like my outfit?” After he would answer yes, I would ask him, “Do you think I look good in it?” I would add, “It would mean so much to me if you told me that I did.” Sometimes he would get upset, but other times he would tell me what I longed to hear. I used this strategy with many issues that were important to me. For instance, I tried to get him to compliment my suppers with this technique, my small successes at work, and even the way I handled the children.
I’ve been working on this for over a year, and surprisingly he is better at complimenting me. I tell him how much his compliments mean to me, and I show him my happiness. Occasionally he actually praises me on his own, and I am still persistent in getting his praise.
I see how his parents’ marriage is devoid of all praise and warmth. As a young couple, I do not want my husband and I to end up like them. Thus I think that if I keep at it, we will have a different kind of marriage, one that is more loving and positive than that of my in-laws.
For my part, I continuously praise him – an act that he is enjoying. I try to give him compliments that are important to him. As an example, he davens beautifully. So the other day I got a babysitter and went to shul at the time I knew he would be davening. He was shocked to see me there. I told him that I came since I knew he would be davening, and I really enjoy hearing him daven. He did not respond, but he could not stop smiling. He could not believe that I took a babysitter and made an effort to come to shul on a Shabbos that was not Mevorchim HaChodesh or Rosh Chodesh. (I know that many people are away in the summer and that the shul needed him to daven.)
I am so happy with the positive changes in my marriage that I wanted to share my experience with your readers. I hope that the details I’ve expressed help others in a similar predicament.
A Happier Wife
Dear Happier Wife:
Thank you for your amazing letter and your wonderful ideas. Your letter is an inspiration to all women, as well as to men who have closed and non-complimentary wives.
I have previously referred to the imago theory in my column and recently did a radio show about it. I often use imago therapy to help my patients. The imago means the image in which you grow up.
In essence it seems as if your husband comes from a negative imago, as there is, based on your description, little praise and very little warmth between his parents. In all probability his parents were also not warm toward him and probably did not compliment him. Therefore all this praise is alien to him. By using your technique, you are trying to create a new imago in your home so that you do not copy your in-laws’ marriage. You do not talk about your home life before marriage, but I would venture to say that you probably come from a warm, loving home. Otherwise, you would not be able to be so positive when faced with so much negative energy.