Who doesn’t like a sincere compliment? Well, some people have difficulty receiving acknowledgment or recognition, and that’s a whole other blog post. But many people do enjoy healthy appreciation sent their way, and most of us need more.

This isn’t big news. There’s a lot of good material out there busting myths about complacency being bred by too much acknowledgment and giving evidence that people of all ages respond well and do better in many ways when they feel appreciated.

My professional field is relationship counseling, and there’s no better place to look at the giving and receiving of appreciation and acknowledgment, and the impact therein, than our intimate partnerships.

Allow me to make sure we are operating with similar definitions. When I talk about expressions of this kind, I am using the following terms interchangeably: Compliment, Appreciation, Gratitude, Acknowledgment, Recognition.

Though there are differences in meanings of these words, the fundamental gist is the same for our purposes here – having your partner feel seen in a positive light, noticed for an admirable quality or trait, valued. It is a very substantial part of feeling loved.

A note about insincere compliments, or buttering someone up with flattery in order to manipulate getting something from them: Bad News.

If that kind of dishonesty and unclean energy exists in a relationship, that needs to be tended to first. It’s a toxic environment. Any attempt at giving real appreciation will fall flat at the very least, if not make matters worse.

For most relationships, it’s just a matter of needing some education, training and practice.

You do not have to feel a spontaneous, overwhelming flood of intense positivity to give a sincere compliment. You just have to tap into your own heart and find something positive that you genuinely appreciate or notice about your partner.

Expressed in a clear, connected manner, a simple appreciation goes a long way. It reaches the heart of the other, creates an opening for heart flow between two people.

For over fifteen years in private practice, when I start working with couples, the first tool I teach is called The Appreciation Dialogue. This gem is from my training as a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist.

The Appreciation Dialogue is one of the simple-yet-profound experiences. It has each partner give – and receive – a sincere expression of appreciation in a focused, connected way. Things that get appreciated range from physical appearance to behaviors to internal qualities.

One of the beautiful results of this exercise is that no matter what specifically is being expressed, the process brings it to a deeper connection between two people than if it was just said in passing, without the formality of the structured Dialogue.

Structure and focus bring presence. Presence is compelling. It can pierce the veil of distracted non-presence, which is epidemic in our society. With a little form and focus, what might be lost in the shuffle of the daily grind has a chance of landing in the heart.

I teach my clients to use The Appreciation Dialogue at home, as frequent to a daily vitamin as they can, but I also teach them to be Dialogical in their interactions as close to all the time as they can.

What does it mean to be Dialogical?

It means to give a little special attention to the way we communicate than regular, old, run-of-the-mill chit chat.

When compliments and appreciations are expressed casually, off-the-cuff, that’s nice, but it can be better. I’m not saying to nix the, “Hey, Babe, thanks for getting my dry cleaning,” or, “Honey, you look nice.” Those are good things to say.

I want to help you make your expressions of gratitude and fondness land more deeply in each other’s hearts, to enhance the opportunity for loving connection.

I am going to give you some tips to make your compliments more in alignment with the intentionality and presence of being Dialogical.

5 Compliment Tips for Reaching Your Partner’s Heart:

1.) Make Eye-contact before you throw the ball. Knock before entering. This enhances, extends and deepens the value of the whole experience.

  • In Dialogue, there is always an agreement made before starting. It literally sounds like, “I’d like to have an Appreciation Dialogue with you, are you available?” Structure. Form. Clarity. It makes for cleaner, more connected and more received communication.
  • To be Dialogical, when you give your partner a compliment, get their attention first. A simple, “Hey, Hon, I want to tell you something positive, are you available?” Or, “Knock-knock, I have something nice to say to you – ready?”
  • You may be having a reaction to this seeming too formal, too inorganic, stiff, business-like, unfamiliar, scripted, wooden, contrived. Can you tell I’ve heard these protests before?

My response: If we all used more business-like etiquette and conscious structure in our personal relationships, we’d have a much better time. Try it. Do an experiment. Give it a chance. It works magic.

2.) Choose something specific to appreciate, not general. It lands much more in the heart, and has the receiver feel much more seen, which is the point.

  • Consider the difference between these: “You look great. Nice dress.” and “That shade of purple brings out a warm tone in your skin. You look pretty.”
  • Which one would make you feel better?
  • Or these: “Thanks for dinner. It was really nice.” Or, “That restaurant was perfect. You have such good taste. I loved our dinner, thank you.”

You tell me. Which lands more in the heart? The more specific, yes? It makes a person feel more valued and loved. It pierces the default defenses and gets into the heart.

3.) Give to give, not to receive. Give freely and frequently.

  • When I teach my clients The Appreciation Dialogue, I instruct them to do the exercise often as a two-way, where it is a given that each will send and each will receive.
  • I also instruct them to frequently do the exercise as a one-way, where just one person gives, and the other receives.
  • In addition, I teach couples to be Dialogical in expressing less structured, but still somewhat structured, appreciations, as I am detailing in this piece of writing.
  • Ideally, we want to see a natural balance of giving and receiving expressions of love and appreciation. Of compliments and acknowledgments.
  • Depending on the state of health and emotional safety in your relationship, you may be able to successfully initiate a friendly ritual of giving and receiving compliments. Or, you may be the only one giving for a while. Appreciation begets appreciation in a healthy enough person.
  • You may initiate the structured way of giving appreciations that is described in this blog as an experiment at home. See what happens. It could grease the wheel for more heart connection. It could also reveal more of the underlying problems in the dynamic.
  • If you try this at home and it doesn’t help, or it makes things worse, professional guidance may be wise.

4.) Touch your partner when you are giving them your appreciation.

  • If there is emotional safety in the relationship for doing so (if there isn’t physical safety, this is not the article you should be reading – don’t try this at home!), touching your partner’s hand, arm, leg, back or heart is very warm.
  • Touch in a giving way, not a needy way. You are sending love through you to them. You are a conduit of warm recognition and generous, open-heartedness.

5.) Smile. Be joyful when expressing your compliment. Again, you are a transmitter of warm love. A smile is like hot fudge on the words. Yum!

This has been a little journey into the heart of giving a quality appreciation. With just a touch of what you’ve learned in this article, you can bring a little more depth and piercing power to your expressions, and warm your partner’s heart a little more.

And that’s a good thing!

To learn about my work, please reach out to contact me. I welcome connecting with you.

Thank you for reading.

Amy Jay