I recently ran across a helpful article by Christian psychologists Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. In their article they addressed an issue I believe is essential to maintaining a loving marriage.
It is the issue of building up your spouse’s self-esteem.
While there are many ways to be loving within a relationship, I believe that this single skill of esteem-building could be a game-changer for many couples.
The Parrotts discuss this in what is referred to as the “Four Legs of Self-Esteem,” which are mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. You could make the case that all of these areas are spiritual, and I would agree. However, it might be helpful to look at each one separately to raise our awareness of which of these our spouse struggles with the most.
Scripture repetitively reminds the church body to encourage one another.
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Barnabas. He was Paul’s right-hand man in mission work. His name, Barnabas, was a nickname given to him by the apostles. His real name was Joseph. They gave him the nickname Barnabas because it meant “son of encouragement.”
I think it’s beautiful that the apostles placed such a high value for encouragement, so much so that nobody remembers a man named Joseph in Paul’s life, just the man named Barnabas.
We could safely assume that if the apostles needed this kind of encourager in their lives, then we too would be wise to recognize the need ourselves.
In fact, if we disown our need for encouragement, we will dismiss that need in others as well. It’s a need we all have, and one we cannot provide for ourselves.
Encouragement is a part of being the interdependent community of the church.
And our marriages should be one of the primary places where we give and receive encouragement.
Before we get into how to do this, let’s look at what encouragement is not. Encouragement is not flattery. Flattery and repetitive compliments are often laden with deceit. They are often pretty shallow as well.
True encouragement goes deeper into the needs of the other’s soul. True encouragement infuses both truth and courage.
For instance, if you have a spouse who has struggled making decisions their whole life, then they would need your encouragement mentally. When you see your spouse deciding something on their own, do your best to validate their assertiveness. You could say something like, “that makes a lot of sense to me,” or “I love how thoughtful and clear you are.”
Never underestimate the power of your words in your spouse’s life.
If you know your spouse has a weakness in an emotional area, do your best not to use that against them. This erodes safety and trust, and ultimately crushes their spirit.
Instead, look for ways to point out emotional progress. When we struggle emotionally, it is tough to see ourselves in a good light. We tend to label ourselves and become self-condemning. Find out what your spouse struggles with emotionally, and see if you can become their biggest advocate.
Physical encouragement might not seem very “spiritual,” but the same spiritual principles can be applied here as well.
Most spouses want to be attractive to their mate. It shouldn’t be the sole focal point of the marriage, but couples should continue to foster admiration for each other’s beauty. When you see your spouse dressing nicely, trying a new hairstyle or taking care of their body, let them know how proud you are that they are your spouse.
This is one of those areas where you can use nonverbal encouragement, too. Hugs, kisses, hand-holding and sexual intimacy are all ways to boost your spouse’s image of themselves.
Lastly is spiritual encouragement.
Clearly, this is the most important way we can build up our partner’s concept of themselves. Some spouses struggle with their identity and don’t really know who they are in Christ. Some deal with nagging or other sin patterns. Others might deal with lies from the enemy.
Whatever the case may be, a timely, Biblical response can do wonders. When you speak the truth in love to your spouse, it brings God’s Word to life in their heart.
We all struggle against things in our spirit and come to false conclusions about ourselves. However, an encouraging word can be a salve that facilitates healing and wholeness.
Practice the art of getting to know your spouse’s weaknesses. It takes time to learn those weaknesses, and even longer to practice timely encouragement and affirmation. The payoff will be great, though—a stronger marriage between two stronger souls.
Nathan Thompson is a family ministry associate at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.