Why Compliments Are Important

You wooed, you won and now she’s yours. Guys: If you’ve got your girl, keep the romance alive with well-thought-out compliments.

By Bob Strauss

uick question: What do relationships and industrial heavy equipment have in common? Answer: they both require what’s known, rather unsexily, as Routine Active Maintenance — the constant tweaking, cajoling, improving and retrofitting that keeps society (and complex machinery) running smoothly. The trouble is, while Homer Simpson can easily spin various knobs and dials to prevent the Springfield
Yes, praising your partner’s looks is important…
Nuclear Power Plant from blowing up, the average guy doesn’t have such user-friendly tools at hand. And that, my friends, is why the Relationship Gods invented compliments.

It’s a scientific fact (I don’t have the random controlled double-blind studies to back this up, only 40+ years of experience) that women require classier, more heartfelt compliments, on a more regular basis, than men. As Josh from New York says, “I think it’s terribly important to compliment your spouse or significant other on a daily basis. I’m not talking about the same old ‘You look nice today,’ but different things each time. I’ve been married for five years and I make it a point to compliment my wife each day.”

So how can a random, clueless guy brush up on his complimenting skills? Here are a few tips.

Mix It Up
As Josh hints above, a rote “gee, your hair looks terrific” every day over breakfast for 17 years straight won’t keep your lady happy. Yes, praising your partner’s looks is important, but you should also throw her the occasional curve ball by complimenting her sense of humor, her dedication to her work or her taste in friends. (That’s not to say you should get too arcane; avoid statements like “You know, I really admire how you reject the categorical imperative in favor of a Sartre-style analysis of existentialism.”)

Be Honest (But Not Too Honest)
We all have our days when we don’t look as good as we’d like and it seems that women are more likely to be aware of these days than men are. If your partner has been ill and therefore looks like death warmed over, don’t go out of your way to compliment her on her appearance; it’ll only cheapen all the other times you actually mean what you say. (On the other hand, blurting out something like “What’s the matter, honey? You look like you feel terrible” will only make the situation worse.)

Take Advantage of Your Opportunities
Marty Babits, author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple’s Guide to Renewing Your Relationship,
It’s difficult to deliver a convincing compliment if you hem and haw.
recommends “picking the low-hanging fruit.” Babits says, “If you are sitting across the table from an attractive person, your date or your spouse and you let that person know that you find him or her appealing, engaging, exciting, beautiful or intelligent, taking advantage of the moment by giving that compliment nudges your relationship in a positive direction and can counteract a negative mood or trend that may have developed.” In other words: If you see the opening for a harmless compliment, go for it.

Don’t “Cheat” On Your Partner, Compliment-Wise
Nothing will start a weekend of bickering and recrimination like telling your waitress “I really like the way your dress matches your eyes” especially when you haven’t said anything remotely as romantic to your girlfriend lately. In her eyes, complimenting other females — sisters, friends, co-workers, the only possible exception being her mother — will seem like flirting rather than Routine Active Maintenance.

Let Her Fish To Her Heart’s Content
Loaded statements, like “I don’t look like I’m 40, do I?” or “I handled that situation with my family the right way, didn’t I?” aren’t invitations to an exhaustive, dispassionate analysis complete with footnotes and flow charts; they’re pleas for well-delivered, sincere-sounding compliments, which needn’t even be particularly honest to work their magic. Be careful, though: if your girlfriend is constantly fishing for reassurance, that’s either because she’s pathologically insecure or (more likely) you haven’t been throwing enough compliments her way.

Learn How To Receive As Well As Give
It’s difficult to deliver a convincing compliment if you hem and haw over, object overmuch to, or just plain tune out the accolades your significant other tosses your way. Accepting a compliment isn’t like receiving the Nobel Peace Prize; it’s an everyday social transaction, kind of like saying “please” or “excuse me,” that greases the wheels of society. So if your girlfriend kicks off the day with “you look really sexy today,” smile and thank her rather than rebuffing with an embarrassed brush-off, like: “Do I really?” Trading compliments is a sure way to keep your romance alive.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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