The word encouragement, literally translated from French, means to give someone else your courage. Courage, then, is like love—the more you give it away, the more you have.

Ladies, you may think that men have plenty of courage and they don’t need any of ours—but you’re wrong. I’ve made a discovery that will change the way you look at your strong, capable husband: Sometimes he still feels like a little boy.

When your hubby is rejected by a job interviewer who’s half his age, he feels defeated. If he’s told that his credit rating isn’t good enough to get the low-rate car loan, he feels like a failure. He needs to be reassured that you still think he’s wonderful, even if the rest of the world doesn’t.

We all need to be encouraged. If you help your mate in the following three ways, your home and heart will be a safe haven, and you’ll both look forward to being there—together.

Helping hands

Because Ron and I have learned to give each other our courage, we’ve weathered storms that might have drowned us. We had a financial crisis in the early 1990s. The California real estate prices went so low, they almost sank into the Pacific. We owned a vacant rental house that no one wanted to lease, and we watched our bank balance fall as our credit-card debt rose. We had some very lean years.

I learned to help with my hands by cutting back on luxuries like going to the car wash—I cleaned it myself—and instead of having my hair highlighted at the salon, I bought a kit at the beauty supply store. I also used my hands to clip grocery coupons so I could save money on home-cooked meals. My cooking is so awful, though, I think Ron would have preferred to just eat the coupons.

When Ron saw that I was doing things to help solve our problems, it made him feel like we were on the same team and encouraged him to persevere through that temporary setback.

A reassuring touch

Another way to use your hands to encourage is through touching. (No … not that kind of touching.) I’m talking about a reassuring touch when you’re driving in the car, sitting at church, or watching TV. Reach for your mate’s hand when you’re walking through a parking lot.

Men are human beings—trust me on that—and all humans need lots of contact with other humans. Women get to touch and cuddle with the kids, and girlfriends often hug each other, fix each other’s hair, and sit close together. Men, however, rarely get any contact from other men. And when they do, they usually just make grunting noises and slap each other on the back. Not very tender.

One woman came to talk with me because her marriage was boring. She said, “I don’t ever initiate a touch because he always thinks it’s a sexual advance.” I told her, “He’s probably starved for your touch and thinks the only way to get it is through sex. For the next week, touch him more, not less.”

She looked at me as if I’d just told her to shoot herself in the foot. “He needs to get used to your touch again,” I continued. “My advice is to hold his hand or kiss his cheek when you’re somewhere you couldn’t possibly have sex, like at a restaurant, in church, or at family gatherings.”

“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly. “I’ll do it for one week, but you’d better be right.” The next time I saw her she reported that they were both more affectionate and happier than they’d been in years.

Men are also encouraged by wives who understand them. The best way to understand our husbands is to listen to them when they do talk … when they talk about their childhood disappointments and triumphs, or their dreams about the future. Ask questions like, “What did you daydream about when you were a little boy?” or “What countries do you want to visit when we retire?” When we take the time to care about their answers, it shows that we care about them.

Crazy stories

Just the other evening I asked Ron, “What was the first movie you ever saw in a theater?”

He thought about it for a minute, laughed aloud, and said, “Well, the first time I went to a theater I didn’t see the movie; I just saw the bathroom.”

I was afraid to ask, but I forged on. “What happened?”

“There was a theater a few doors down from our house in St. Louis, and one summer afternoon I went there with my friends Jimmy Joe and Skidmark.”

I laughed, “Skidmark?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know how he got his nickname. The three of us tried to sneak into the theater because we didn’t have any money, but the manager saw us lurking near the back door and told us to leave. We were mad at him, so we decided to pay him back. So we stood on our tiptoes, peeked into the open bathroom window, and threw in a stink bomb!”

Ron was laughing so hard at the memory that he had to stop to catch his breath.

I was horrified, but didn’t let it show. “The three of us ran around to the front of the theater,” he continued, “and laughed our heads off as we watched the people tumble out of the door, gasping for fresh air.”

I was thrilled to see Ron so happy about reliving his childhood, so I said, “Tell me another story.”

He told me several crazy tales about his unsupervised childhood, and some of the silly—and dangerous—things he did with his cousin Larry. I’ve learned, through the years, not to interrupt him or be critical of his youthful tales of reckless antics. I just laugh, smile, nod, and listen.

Later that evening, when we were lying in bed, he held my hand and said, “You’re a good wife.” But I think he really meant, “You’re a good listener.”

Lip service: The power of a compliment

The Bible tells us to encourage each other—to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). One of the easiest ways to encourage someone is to give that person a sincere compliment.

Men and women have affairs for many different reasons, but a common complaint of both sexes is the lack of praise and the abundance of criticism from their spouses. If a person at the office is quick to compliment and a person at home is quick to criticize, which one would you be attracted to?

Florence Littauer, in her book After Every Wedding Comes a Marriage, devoted a whole chapter to “The Other Woman.” She tells the female reader to imagine what the woman who’s plotting to steal your husband might say to him. Compare that to what you say to him.

Bonus points

Another excellent way to compliment your mate is to praise him or her in front of someone else. You’ll get bonus points for this. Ron is proud that I’m a writer, and he often brags about my accomplishments in front of other people. “Did you know that my wife, the genius, has had another story published?”

I try to praise Ron in front of our son, Nick. “Did you know that Dad passed a really hard test and now he’s a Financial Planner? I’m proud of him, aren’t you?”

Barb, an acquaintance, admits that the downfall of her marriage began with the constant flow of criticism through her mind and out of her mouth. She now feels that if she’d made a conscious decision to turn off the negative cycle, her husband wouldn’t have chosen to find his solace in hours of peaceful conversations with the “other woman.”

Sometimes, of course, you need to talk to each other about problems or shortcomings. But if your attitude is usually one of praise, your spouse will be more likely to accept your constructive criticism.

Every marriage has problems and conflicts, but don’t be discouraged. Through prayer, God can give each of us His strength and comfort. He wants to build us up and encourage us as couples. You’ll have the strength to face uncertain times if you ask for the guidance of your certain Savior.

Taken from: Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome© 2004 by Nancy C. Andersen. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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