I remember when I was 12 years old, playing in a peewee hockey game where we were getting destroyed. My father (and coach) stormed into the dressing room between periods and yelled at my teammates, “Listen up, you guys! Just give the puck to Paul and get out of his way!”
I was mortified at the time, but later on it hit me. My Dad thinks I’m pretty good! I’m not sure how the other players felt, but in his own way, my dad was telling me that he believed in me. Times like that gave me the confidence that I needed to fulfill my dream of playing in the NHL.
All of us need cheerleaders in our corner. As a husband, one of my greatest responsibilities — and greatest privileges — is to support and encourage my wife to become the woman that God created her to be. A big part of that is helping her to feel good about herself, to give her the confidence and courage to step out, take risks, and grow.
The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). How exactly do we do that? My Dad had his own way, but here are a few suggestions that might help your marriage.
1. Go Back to School
You need to become a student of your mate. Watch their life, and get a sense of their potential, their goals and their dreams. Determine where they could use some encouragement or empowerment to overcome a fear.
I always believed that my wife Eleanor would make a fabulous public speaker. But for many years, she just couldn’t see it and was even terrified of trying. She didn’t have self-confidence. But that was okay — I had enough confidence for the both of us! I spent our early years encouraging her and helping her sharpen her speaking skills, and now we speak together regularly at FamilyLife marriage conferences across Canada . What once was a huge area of fear for her has become one of our greatest joys as a couple.
2. Affirm Their Strengths
As I said, we all need a cheerleader in our corner, and no one should be a bigger fan of your spouse than you. When you see an area of competence and excellence in their life, tell them! Be specific in giving them examples of where you have seen them be wise and discerning. Praise them for whatever they do well, whether it’s cooking, decorating your home, caring for the children, helping people, excelling at work, or being a person of character. Your enthusiasm will put a smile on their face and will give them a confidence that they can achieve their goals.
3. Critique Carefully
If we are serious about helping our spouse become a better person, there will be times when some constructive criticism is necessary. This is dangerous territory – tread carefully!
There is a fine line between exhorting and destroying. Our job is to build one another up, not tear one another down. Communicate your intentions to help in the best possible light so your spouse does not become defensive or feel put down. Paint the picture of a diamond in the rough; it just has to be mined ? polished, cleaned up, refined. Focus on the diamond not the rough — remember that it takes seven positive comments to outweigh one negative.
4. Public Praise
One of the most damaging things we can do to our spouse is to criticize them in front of others. On the other hand, there is nothing as empowering and uplifting as public affirmation. A lot of people today seem to enjoy cutting down their spouse in the presence of others, whether friends, acquaintances or children. Instead, always speak well of your mate, whether or not your spouse is present.
I tell everyone I meet that my wife is the most wonderful woman I have ever laid eyes on. (And she is, too ? you should see her!) You will never catch me complaining or even making negative jokes about her. She is God’s precious gift, and I want everybody to know it!
5. Work as a Team
Although I may tell my wife how wonderful she is, if I never listen to her or value and acknowledge her suggestions, my words will ring hollow. Individualism creates a feeling of worthlessness in the other person. Seek your mate’s input in your decision-making. God brought you together because you complement one another. Work as a team, and you will not only make better decisions, you will communicate, “I value you.” You will also discover how often God will speak to you through your spouse.
6. Provide Security
Dave Currie makes the excellent point that you should be a safe place for your mate to land. Create an environment where your mate knows that they can share anything openly and freely without the slightest hesitation.
Be sure to remind your spouse often how much you love and cherish them. I tell Eleanor all the time how much I admire her and want her. Assure your mate that you will always be there for them and you will never leave them. The security of knowing that there is someone who is always behind you, no matter what, creates an environment that encourages a person to take the necessary risks to chase their dreams.
Above all, point them to the other Person who is totally enamored with them. As people created in the image of God, each of us is exceptionally valuable in His eyes. He has plans for each of us that are far beyond our comprehension. Our great honour as a husband or a wife is to help our spouse fulfill God’s vision for their life. Nothing is more rewarding!
Copyright © 2004 Paul Henderson. Used with permission.
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Paul Henderson played professional hockey for 18 years but is best remembered for scoring the “Goal of the Century” in the first Canada/Russia series in 1972. Paul is the director of The Leadership Group, an Ontario-based ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. He and his wife Eleanor are regular speakers with FamilyLife Canada . The Hendersons live in Mississauga , Ontario and have three daughters and six grandchildren.