Him and Compliments

Recently, I spoke with a woman who had received a promotion and raise at her work. She was quite excited and told her husband as soon as he got home. “That’s great, babe” was his reaction as he passed her on the way to the bedroom to change his clothes. She was hurt at his lack of excitement but called her mother and soon there were plans made to celebrate her accomplishment the following weekend; her parents and brothers would be there, they would go out to her favorite restaurant, etc.

A week later, he, in passing, told her that his mother had called and said they, his parents, were not coming to visit as had been planned. “Oh honey, I am so sorry. I know you were looking forward to them visiting.” “Yeah, well….” was his only response as he booted up his video game and began to play. He plays video games a lot, especially when upset.

I have seen this dynamic before, in mostly younger couples….him having little sense of how to and the importance of compliments in a relationship and the inability to verbalize disappointment. In my experience, this leads to a lot of hurt feelings on her part and a lot of pent-up frustration and anger on his.

A couple of points….

  1. Women are taught and are hormonally geared to focusing on the needs and feelings of others. Girls watch their mothers, teachers, nurses, etc. take care other others. Further, their primary hormones are estrogen and progesterone and these facilitate the care-taking reaction with the people around them. Men, on the other hand, are taught to set, focus on and achieve their goals and provide/do for others, primarily their family; typically seen in the forms of a paycheck and “doing” things around the house. They have seen other men do this when they were young and their primary hormone is testosterone, which facilitates these actions. This explains some of his reactions above.

2. My experience is that men need to be taught how to give and the importance of compliments, especially when it comes to their partners. I                    have worked with a number of couples in which he really didn’t realize how important his compliments are to her…and had no idea how she                wanted to be complimented….and these were men from fairly well socialized families!

In therapy sessions, I frequently check out how he responds to her accomplishments…what he says to her, what he does, etc. and what his thinking is when he is not complimentary. Often, he will tell me he doesn’t think his compliments are that important…to her or anyone. He will also frequently report he had never seen any of the significant men in his life compliment their women. Men have told me they didn’t think their opinion/compliments meant that much to her or others and that if anything were to show his admiration for her success, it would be something like taking her out for dinner or buying her something (…or not complain when she does make such purchases.). You can see the male socialization impact in his reactions….doing is more important and saying and being (a provider) is more important than being present.

My suggestion: Women…understand your man may not know how important his compliments are. Explain this to him. He may not know how to compliment you, especially what to say. Tell him what to say when complimenting you. Only you know what the words you most want to hear.

Men…you need to develop this skill (unless you like sleeping with a sad, frustrated and/or angry woman!). You need to watch for opportunities to compliment her. You must learn it spot them. You need to think about what to say to her when complimenting her and/or ask her what she most wants to hear when being complimented and then say such at the appropriate times.


More later….