As you grow in this, it will do more than strengthen your marriage. When we praise one another, we are, in a sense, practicing for glory. Paul writes, “you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor 1:14b). Praise and affirmation are surely synonyms for boasting in one another. It is our joyful and solemn responsibility to help each other on to glory, looking for the good, affirming Christ-like character, and pointing out evidence of Jesus himself in our spouses in a way that encourages, builds up, and refreshes.
Praise and affirmation are essential to the health and vitality of a marriage. Genuine praise and verbalized thankfulness are like marital fertilizer (think Miracle-Gro®) in the soil of your spouse’s heart. They have the power to help heal an ailing marriage or strengthen an already healthy one.
So you might expect me to say—just do more of it. Husbands: Be more affirming! Wives: Give more praise! But here’s the thing that’s easy to miss. Praise and affirmation spring from enjoyment—they flow naturally from delighting in and valuing something or someone. This means that not affirming our spouses is deeper than a matter of words; it’s a matter of not valuing them enough. So the question to ask is not, “How can I learn to praise my husband or wife more?” as if just speaking more words would solve the problem. The proper question is: “Why don’t I value and enjoy my spouse more?” Affirmation spontaneously overflows when you appreciate and enjoy someone.
How then do we cultivate delight in our spouses? Is it even possible to grow in valuing and enjoying another person? The good news is yes, it is possible, but like anything worthy of effort, it requires frequent, intentional thoughtfulness. Paul’s words to the struggling Philippian church give us a great place to start:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Phil. 1:3-4).
Then later, he writes:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think [and pray!] about such things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)
Paul models in Philippians 1 what he emphasizes in chapter 4. He prays with thankfulness every time he remembers them and urges them to focus their thoughts on what is noble, right…excellent and praiseworthy. So to follow his example, pray for your spouse. And always give thanks—with joy—for something that is specific, praiseworthy, and true. Always. You may secretly think, “But I don’t often pray for my spouse.” This takes us back to the question of valuing and enjoying. So pray. Pray for your spouse. And though it may take conscious effort and thoughtfulness, frontload your prayer with unambiguous thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6) is the most powerful path to growth in valuing, enjoying, and encouraging your spouse.