Everybody loves a compliment.

Mark Twain once said that he could live a full month on nothing but a single compliment.

The next time you meet someone at work or at church or even at the local grocery store, compliment that person and watch the reaction. Chances are he will smile. Chances are you just made his day.

While we all enjoy receiving a compliment, most of us aren’t very good at giving them. Some people think complimentary things but rarely share them for fear of sounding silly. Others aren’t even sure how to give a compliment. Perhaps they were never complimented as children, and now they subconsciously carry on the pattern of silence. Still others are simply too lazy. A good compliment takes work, and some people don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to make the effort.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your marriage, you can start with a compliment.

There are many different types of compliments. While each type is appreciated, some will be more treasured than others.

One type is a compliment of possession. One might say, “What an incredible car,” or “I love your earrings.” These compliments, though a bit superficial, provide a good place to start if you aren’t used to complimenting your spouse.

Second, there are compliments of appearance.

“You look wonderful,” or “That shirt really shows off your eyes.” These compliments are more personal and let your spouse know that you find him desirable. We all like to be complimented on our appearance, but it’s common to receive this kind of affirmation more from friends and relatives than from our partner. This is sad, because we most want and even need this appreciation from our spouse.

If your spouse doesn’t compliment your appearance, don’t look for it elsewhere. Talk to your partner about how you wish to please him. Find out what you could do to encourage more of these compliments, and then try some of these things. On the other hand, if you haven’t complimented your spouse lately, it’s time to start. Don’t miss a powerful opportunity to communicate your love and strengthen your relationship.

A third type of compliment is related to behavior.

When your spouse does something good or kind or sacrificial, what do you say? Too often a spouse says nothing. I recently heard a psychologist explain that it’s normal for a couple to take each other for granted. He said we should accept this as the typical progression of marriage — the longer we are married, the more you take each other for granted.

Well, I refuse to accept this. It’s not right, nor is it healthy.

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Your spouse does a lot that deserves your appreciation. Maybe it’s keeping the house or yard in order; it might be managing children or finances; it could even be going to work or to the grocery store. Most people like to be recognized for a job well done. My wife, Tami, works hard to keep up with all the everyday tasks that need to be done for a family of five, and she appreciates it when I thank her. Unfortunately, sometimes I get so busy and distracted that I fail to notice all that she’s doing. When I neglect to compliment her for her hard work, it’s easy for her to become discouraged.

Our friend Susan had no idea how much Randy did around the house until a car accident forced him to remain in the hospital for a month. Now that he’s recovered, Susan thanks him often for the hundreds of things he does that she once took for granted. In addition, the compliments and encouragements Randy received from Susan reminded him that he also needed to acknowledge his wife’s acts of service. So now they both look for opportunities to compliment each other’s behavior.

“You are such a wonderful cook,” Randy says.

“And you go to work each day without complaint,” says Susan. “Thank you.”

When you feel appreciated, you tend to feel loved.

The fourth type of compliment is the most powerful of all. This is the compliment of character.

Tami is one of the most generous people I know. She gives to her friends and family and neighbors. If anyone needs anything, Tami does whatever she can to meet the need. She watches the neighbor kids, volunteers at the local grade school, works in the church nursery, takes meals to the sick, and performs hundreds of other acts of kindness. There are times I think she is too generous for her own good.

Yet it’s important that I compliment Tami for this noble trait. Every time I see her selflessly reach out to others, I try to let her know how much I appreciate her.

Compliments of character — such as kindness, courage, responsibility, or wisdom — may be best, but any compliment is good. Make a list of sincere and personal compliments for your spouse, then every day offer at least one.

It will make a difference, I assure you. You will encourage your spouse. You’ll make him smile. You’ll draw him closer to you and you will improve your marriage.

Copyright © 2006, Dr. Steve Stephens, Used with permission.

Dr. Steve Stephens is a licensed psychogist, marriage and family counselor, radio host, seminar speaker and author of nine books. His best-selling Lists to Live By series, compiled with John Van Diest and Alice Gray, has sold more than 600,000 copies. He lives in Clackamas, Oregon, with his wife and their three children, where he also serves as president of Every Marriage Matters.