It’s not often that I read a research article that completely intrigues me. And typically if I find it interesting, I forget about it after just 24 hours. However, after reading a particularly fascinating piece, I was inspired to do something different in my marriage — and I’ve been doing it every day for the past six months.
I admit that what I’m about to share with you will seem rather ordinary, but stay with me. After reading the inspirational article referencing Dr. Terri L. Orbuch’s research, I read her book. In 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, she applies what she learned from following 373 couples for more than 22 years. By assessing the behaviors of the satisfied couples in her study, Dr. Orbuch found that one simple thing happy couples do every day is give each other “affective affirmation.” She clarifies that affective affirmation “consists of offering words, gestures or acts that show your spouse that he or she is noticed, appreciated, respected, loved or desired.”
After reading Dr. Orbuch’s material, I found the shocking part of her research to be the fact that husbands actually seem to need affective affirmation more than wives. And they crave it most from their wives! I went on to learn that this affirmation from wives was found to be the greatest predictor of high marital satisfaction.
OK, enough of the research findings. So, how did I practically apply this research to my marriage?
Greg came home from work one evening and I immediately affirmed him by saying, “Hon, you are such a great provider. You give it your all at work all day long!” I immediately saw a little spring in his step as he went to change from his office clothes into his casual clothes. He came back downstairs and asked me if I was up for a walk with him. I jumped at the opportunity to emotionally connect with my husband.
While on our walk, I again offered Greg some affective affirmation by saying, “Hey babe, I’ve noticed you really have been spending a lot of time connecting with the kids and me after work — I so appreciate that!” He smiled and then looked at me and asked if something had happened that I needed to tell him about. He was beginning to wonder if maybe I had wrecked the car, got a speeding ticket or overspent on the grocery budget. When he learned that none of the above had happened, I could tell he was confused by my pleasantries.
As we walked, I shared with Greg about the research I had read and began asking him about how much he felt he needed to be affirmed by me. Ironically, Greg had read the same bit of research (my cover was blown) and he went on to share with me about why husbands long to be affirmed by their wives. Interestingly enough, Dr. Orbuch’s studies reported that women naturally give each other affirmation in their female friendships, whereas men typically do not receive affirmation from their guy friends. Women’s friendships tend to focus more on connecting emotionally while guys typically connect through doing activities together. In essence, I realized that I am the primary source of affirmation for Greg. He longs to hear it from me and he will be more satisfied in our marriage if he gets it.
I was inspired! Because my life is already full with four kids, a career, friends, meals, laundry and carpool, it was good to learn that I could easily build my marriage by throwing in a simple verbal affirmation for Greg.
Over the past several months, I have continued making it a priority to affirm my husband, and I truly can see an improvement in Greg’s emotional connection with me. Not only is he open to my verbal affirmation, but he is also more receptive to difficult feedback from me. In the past, I often focused on what Greg didn’t do rather than what he did do, and I needed to see my behavior change quickly. With the addition of affirmative words in my relationship with Greg, I implemented the necessary change in our relationship; my focus will no longer be on the negatives. I just wish someone had shared this nugget of relational wisdom with me during our first year of marriage — 24 years ago!
Count yourself blessed because you now know one easy secret to a healthy marriage that you have total control of. So, offer praise, respect and appreciation as you take notice of your husband. He is longing to hear those words of affirmation from you more than from anyone else.
Erin Smalley serves as the Program Manager of Marriage Ministries at Focus on the Family and is the co-author of several books including The Wholehearted Wife.