Early in our marriage, Gail and I attended a church led by a dynamic, thirty-something pastor. He was an extraordinary communicator. He was a wise and empathetic counselor. As a result, the church grew rapidly.
But as we got better acquainted with him and his wife, we started noticing a disturbing trend in the way they related to one another. They would often make disparaging remarks about the other in public.
At first, it seemed cute. Their comments seemed playful and humorous. Everyone laughed. But over time, they became more and more pointed, thinly masking their frustration with one another.
We ultimately left that church. But several years later we learned they suffered an ugly divorce, both admitting to multiple affairs. They lost their family, and, of course, their ministry. To this day, it grieves me to think about it.
Conversely, I noticed that Sam Moore, my predecessor at Thomas Nelson, always spoke highly of his wife. He would often say, “I hate to leave her in the morning, and I can’t wait to see her in the evening.” They have been married now for nearly 60 years. Last time Gail and I were with them, they were holding hands. It was obvious they were still in love.
In reflecting on these two experiences, I am convinced that praising your spouse in public is one of the most important investments you can make—in your family and in your leadership.
This is important for at least five reasons:
- You get more of what you affirm. Have you ever noticed that when someone praises you, you want to repeat the behavior that caused it? This is just human nature. It can be a form of manipulation if it isn’t genuine. But it can be a powerful way to motivate others when it is authentic.
- Affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse. Words are powerful tools. They can create, or they can destroy. They can build up, or they can tear down. I believe most people have a drive to align their actions—and their attitudes—with their words. If you start speaking well of someone, you start believing what you say.
- Affirmation helps strengthen your spouse’s best qualities. Encouragement is also a powerful force for good. All of us need positive reinforcement. This is why when we are losing weight and people notice, it gives us the strength to stick with the program. This is true in every area of life.
- Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery. When others see you are happily married, they are less likely to proposition you. It’s like a hedge that protects your marriage from would-be predators. You simply stop being a target.
- Affirmation provides a model to those you lead. To be a truly effective leader, you must lead yourself, and then you must lead your family. Your marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. When you speak highly of your spouse, your followers are more likely to trust you. It takes your leadership to another level.
Affirming your spouse in public is an investment that pays big leadership dividends. In a world where fewer and fewer marriages last, it can be a difference-maker.