Real appreciation is a gift of love straight from the heart, an acknowledgement of another’s greatness and beauty, and a way of showing your partner that you really care.
Many women need specific kinds of appreciation. And many men don’t understand this. Here’s an example:
Nick wanted Emma to know how physically beautiful she was. He appreciated her face, her hair, her breasts, her legs, and many other anatomical features. After each attempt at appreciation, Emma would slightly smile but say nothing. Nick shared his frustration about this, one day, in a couple’s therapy session. I asked Emma the question Nick should have asked, “What kind of appreciation would feel the best to you?”
Emma hesitated at first to answer. She worried that telling Nick what she needed would be adding another chore to his “to-do” list. She may get the specific kind of appreciation she desired, but would it be real or forced?
I encouraged her to take the risk anyway. Emma finally admitted that Nick’s appreciation of her body did little for her. Because she had begun to develop early, her body had been the source of too much attention. She did not feel seen for who she was inside, her inner qualities and uniqueness. She started crying.
I noticed Nick’s eyes were moist from hearing her emotional vulnerability, so I asked him to try a different way of appreciating Emma. He looked deeply into her eyes and began to speak, “Emma darling, you light up the room every time you enter… I love how you get enthusiastic like a little child about the simplest things in life. You bring magic and sparkle to my life…” Although he wasn’t finished, Emma was now sobbing, so Nick reached out to hold her. He had just appreciated Emma in exactly the way she needed and wanted.
Some of this particular example can be gender-specific. Many women can relate to Emma’s feelings about her body. Perhaps the deeper lesson here is about communication, taking the risk to find out from your partner what he or she really needs, rather than only trying to guess.
In most cases, it’s fine to appreciate a woman’s body if you also appreciate who she is inside her body. Too much focus on her body can give her the message that you want something (i.e. sex) from her, or that you don’t care about her inner beauty.
I feel most loved by Jim when he so lovingly admires those qualities in me that others have seen only in a negative light. For example, my devotion to being a good mother was seen by my daughter’s dad as "over mothering," my strength has been perceived as nothing but stubbornness, my strong feelings as "too emotional," my shyness as arrogance.
Because Jim sees the beauty in all of the qualities I have been led to believe were weaknesses, I feel that he is truly seeing and understanding me, allowing me to feel so deeply loved and accepted. –Rebecca Lipson, Tucson, AZ
Sean often said the words “I love you” to Erin. He felt this adequately expressed his love for her. Erin, however, needed more. She needed to hear what it was that Sean loved about her. The words “I love you” were nice but too vague. They lacked specifics. They could be said without real conviction or feeling. They could be said automatically.
It turns out that Sean, like many men, was uncomfortable expressing genuine appreciation. This truth came out during a workshop. “I love you” was really a token gesture, a cop-out from vulnerably letting Erin know what he loved about her.
With a little guidance, Sean was able to tell Erin, “I love how you feel everything so deeply. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be married to you.”
Erin looked like a child on Christmas morning.
So if you find yourself only saying “I love you” to your partner, think details – what do you really love and appreciate about her. Remember, love is often in the details.
Josh often appreciated all the things Madison did for him, for the children, for the house, etc. He didn’t understand how Madison felt trapped in the role of taking care of everyone and everything. For Madison, Josh’s appreciation felt to her like an enabling of her dysfunction. It was a turn-off for her.
What did she need instead? In her own words, “If only Josh could appreciate who I am rather than what I do. All my life, I was only praised for doing, or accomplishing, or achieving. If I’m not taking care of everyone, I feel worthless. But taking care of everyone, I still feel worthless. I feel trapped.”
Madison was on the verge of crying, and her vulnerability opened Josh’s heart. He held Madison and lovingly spoke, “Right now, right here, you don’t have to do anything for me or anyone else. You deserve to be taken care of. Your beauty and goodness have nothing to do with what you do. I’m in love with who you are, not what you do.” Those words triggered a flood of tears, because they came straight from Josh’s heart, and were exactly what Madison needed to hear.
Your lesson as a man: many women can get trapped in the role of caregivers. Many women feel like a mother and often view their partner as another one of their children. If your partner is in this category, appreciate her childlike qualities like her innocence, her joy, her creativity, and especially her deserving love even when she does nothing. The highest appreciation in a case like this, more than the words, is to create the feeling in your partner that you are taking care of her, and doing it because it is your joy – rather than your duty.
I feel really loved by Jay when he says “I love you” or “I’m sorry” in the words that I understand and I use rather than the words he understands and uses. – Cathleen Sullivan, Tinton Falls, NJ
Once again, find out what she needs rather than appreciating her in the way you need to be appreciated. For Nick, Emma’s beauty was much more important to him than to her. But more to the point, his focus on her body reflected his own need to be validated as good-looking.
In a previous book, Light in the Mirror, we demonstrated how our intimate partner is a mirror for us. The things we love about our partner are a reflection of our own goodness. The things we don’t like about our partner are a reflection of the things we don’t like about ourself.
Projection is the psychological term for seeing parts of ourself in our partner, parts that may be invisible to us. In Nick’s case, he was projecting his own need to be seen as handsome onto Emma. It was his need, not Emma’s.
Sean’s hollow “I love you” reflected his own lack of vulnerability, his discomfort with seeing what was loveable about himself, even his own discomfort with being seen, really seen.
Similarly, it was Josh’s, and not Madison’s, need to be appreciated for the things he did. Josh was the one who felt insecure about doing enough for Madison. Madison’s insecurity was feeling trapped into doing too much for Josh and everyone else.
I may be having a difficult day where Prem and I may not see each other until late in the evening. He tenderly cups my face, looks deeply into my eyes, and says, "I love you.” Then, after a pause, he says, “I REALLY love you!" It’s something about the way he says it. At that moment, all of my doubt and insecurity is completely washed away. –Liz Ellison, Felton, CA.
When you as a man can truly look at your loved one and see her rather than your own wishes, desires or fantasies, only then can you appreciate her for who she is, and only then will she feel appreciated.
Every man can do this if he wants to. It doesn’t require some magical quality or gift. You don’t need to be a public speaker or a poet. You only need the courage to look at your beloved just a little closer, discover what is there in front of you, and then speak the words to describe what you see and feel.
Most importantly, you need to desire to give her a gift, more than a physical one. Sure, giving her flowers, making her dinner, or arranging childcare is nice. But really seeing her, and appreciating her in the way she needs, will transform you from a regular husband into a real lover.
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Feb 12-17, 2019 — In-Depth Couples Retreat at our HomeCenter; Jul 21-26, 2019—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon; and Sep 24-30, 2019 — Assisi Retreat, Italy. For further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org.
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.
To Really Love a Man
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
How does a man really need to be loved? How can his partner help to bring out his sensitivity, his emotions, his strength, his fire, and at the same time allow him to feel respected, secure, and acknowledged? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.
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