I was going to wait and save Words of Affirmation for last. After all, it’s the one I’m the WORST at, which obviously means (you guess it), it’s my husband’s primary love language. And I was hoping that by the end of this series I’d have some more encouraging illustrations to report on how much I’ve grown in this area.
But then a gentle voice whispered to me, “who are you kidding?” and I sucked in a deep breath and decided to just go for it.
Because, y’all, I’m the WORST at words of affirmation. And I personally need some serious help in this area.
What’s interesting to me is that I’m great at telling people I’m not as invested in how awesome and wonderful they are. Friends, acquaintances, even my kids are a piece of cake (okay, totally invested there). But when it comes to my husband, I suddenly clam up and throw a loose jab onto his shoulder and mumble under my breath.
It’s as if I suddenly feel like I’m 14 years old telling a teen boy how much I like him and I feel all goobery.
“Oh you, you’re such a great provider and you work so hard for our family.” (arm jab)
“You’re like, really cute, and I’m so proud to have such a good looking husband.” (mumble mumble)
See? I’m awful. I feel those things and more, and I could write them all day long, but to verbally speak them to Greg is so very, very hard for me.
And that’s the whole point for a words of affirmation person — they need to hear it verbally.
Words of affirmation is all about encouragement and verbal appreciation for your loved one. It’s acknowledging their importance and value they bring to your life. It’s giving them uplifting words and not devaluing ones; giving words of appreciation and not nagging; speaking truth in love, not lies.
How can you know if the country you’re traveling to is a one of words of affirmation? Here are a few ways to tell:
- They speak words of affirmation to you. Greg speaks things to me all. the. time. He encourages me, tells me he thinks I’m beautiful, tells me what a great mom I am, etc. He speaks encouragement to every single person he knows — telling them they’re doing a great job, he appreciates their service — all day long he speaks words of affirmation.
- They ask you questions to get words of affirmation out of you. This is SO easy to overlook. Your friend might ask you what you thought about her writing piece or painting. Your husband will ask how he did leading the small group. Your mom will ask how she looks and do you like her shirt. It might seem frustrating at times…like you can’t tell them enough…but that’s exactly what they’re trying to tell you: you’re not telling me enough!
- They ask, not demand. Your husband might say, “If you get a chance, would you mind going to the cleaners for me today?” instead of “Go get my clothes, woman!” They’re courteous in their requests, because they want courtesy reciprocated.
Here are some easy ways to literally speak love to your loved one:
- Say thank you. In and of itself, a simple ‘thank you’ for their help with the groceries, or cleaning, or meal will not fill their love tank. But verbally acknowledging them with gratitude is a start. When your husband gives the kids a bath and puts them to bed, make sure to clearly say, “thanks for your help with the kids tonight, honey. It helped me a lot.” Again, it’s not going to fill them up, but it’s a great first step.
- Compliment them. Tell your man the shirt he put on for work looks really good on him. If it feels awkward, say it in passing as you’re about to blow dry your hair. Walk past and say, “that shirt looks great, babe” and keep moving on so you don’t feel like a tongue-tied tween in front of Justin Beiber. (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)
- Be aware of your tone. You’ve experienced this — someone says one thing but their tone says something entirely opposite. Be aware of your presentation and tone of voice as you say “thank you” or “nice shirt.”
- Use humble words, not demands. Ask your spouse, “Think you’d be able to get the stuff down from the attic this weekend?” instead of “Geez, sure would be nice to have the boxes out of the attic.” Or if your friend calls but it’s a bad time to talk, say, “Oh my gosh, I so wish I could chat right now but I wouldn’t be able to give you the attention you deserve. Can I call you back tomorrow instead?” and don’t say, “Dude, there’s no way I can talk right now. I’ll call you back.” Soft and humble words are much smoother.
Words of criticism, discouragement and negativity are absolutely toxic to those who have words of affirmation as their love language. When words are the primary way they feel love, negative words absolutely crush them…especially if their tank is already low or on empty. That doesn’t mean you should never have honest conversation, but it means to be very aware of your presentation in sharing, and use a compliment sandwich: speak a compliment, say the truth, speak another compliment.
You are probably going to feel like it’s ridiculous that you should do that, after all, aren’t they grown ups and should be able to handle it? But just as neglect makes a quality timer wither inside, irresponsible harsh words will tear down your loved one.
In Psalm 81:10, God says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” And honestly, that is exactly what the challenge is going to be — simply opening your mouth to speak affirming words. You can determine ahead of time that yes, that’s exactly what you’re going to do…and then when the moment comes, your lips are cemented together and you just cannot open them.
I know, I’ve been there.
But listen, it’s easy to brush it away as being “too hard for me,” and “they know I love them.” But that’s not fair to your loved one, especially if they’re making efforts to speak love to you. The devil will do anything and everything he can to create division in your marriage and relationships — do not let your awkwardness win when it comes to speaking love languages — it’s too important.
The hardest thing about words of affirmation is initiating it, especially if you grew up in a home that didn’t speak encouragement. Speaking another’s language is always uncomfortable. But to the recipient, it’s not so much about succeeding as it is making the effort. If words of affirmation isn’t native to you, but you simply say one day, “you’re so naturally gifted at math (or public speaking or whatever).” I guarantee: love tank fill up.
The key to making all this work is grace and motive. If you trust your loved one’s heart is to please you, it makes it so much easier to forgive them for not being fluent and for mispronouncing a few words.
At least they’re trying.
What about you? Do you speak words of affirmation, or does your spouse? What has and hasn’t worked for you?