My Hardcore Research on the Power of AppreciationNo criticizing or adjusting my partner for a week. Instead, only noticing what's good. Will it work?
As a smart powerful woman, I’m prone to what I call “super-competent syndrome.” You know, that unshakable sense that I can do ANYTHING! Which on good days has me feeling like a confident, fiery She-Ra Queen of the Universe. And on less-savory days, has me acting like an embattled Know-It-All who doesn’t need anyone and can do everything better than you can—especially when “you” are my partner.
I’m going to admit it right now upfront: I have fallen into the highly offensive myth that “men are idiots.”
Today I cherish men’s natural design, have learned to rely on them, and receive the massive support and adoration they want to give me.
And I DID NOT start out that way.
I want to rewind a few years back to the heyday of my super-competent She-Ra. I’ll paint you the picture.
Back then, thinking “men were idiots” didn’t seem like an insult—it just seemed TRUE! At that time, my guy seemed to be flailing. His attempts to connect with me and others were fumbled, inefficient, and uninspiring. He seemed unmotivated. I bemoaned that I was pulling all the weight in the relationship. I claimed to want “the real deal” of a true partner—not some wimpy, checked-out sidekick who cried when I yelled too loudly. I wanted him to match my intensity and hold me—yet when he tried to show up for me, I would belittle him. I belittled him half to prove that he couldn’t match me, half to try to wake him up into finally pushing back and showing up.
Therefore, I justified a wide variety of demeaning behaviors: rolling my eyes, openly yelling at him, harboring critical thoughts—spoken and unspoken, second guessing his decisions, and withholding my affection.
While I told myself I had high standards and wanted the best from my man, I also had to admit my relationship was proof that I had NO CLUE how to get it.
Because my methods were not working. In fact, not only were they driving him further away from me—but also, they were driving ME away from me. I felt TERRIBLE inside.
I remember driving home from an appointment one day about a year ago, fuming. My body felt tense and frustrated. I was playing a judgement I had about my partner over and over in my head, scowling. As I did so, my body felt like a toxic waste dump filled with bitter, acidic emotions and sensations.
That was the moment that I realized this pattern had to change. Not because he was suffering so badly at the hand of my wrath—but because I WAS.
I began to think as I drove, and this is embarrassing to admit, but this is how I dug myself out of this particularly malignant hole: “If I’m the one dating this man, and he’s “an idiot”… then what does that make me?!”
I realized two things:
- I had been blaming him for everything that was wrong in my life. Granted, he gave me hard evidence to prove it. Everything was undeniably, held-up-in-a-court-of-law his fault. (He even agreed with me half the time on this.)
But even so, I didn’t break up with him. Why?
- I hesitated to admit it, because it would be tantamount to defeat, but deep down I actually really liked him and liked being with him.
It was so simple and obvious, yet it felt almost embarrassing to admit. I was so stuck in trying to “improve” him and fix our relationship. But the truth was, I was with this guy for a reason and that reason was he was sweet, kind, supportive, and sexy.
Why was that so difficult to admit?
Firstly, it felt to me that if I admitted that I liked him and that he was doing good by me, then he would mean certain stagnation—as if once I appreciated him he could rest on his laurels and stop growing, changing, and evolving. That thought terrified me!
Secondly, I worried that appreciating would give him a free pass on all the stuff he’d done that I actually DIDN’T like—the legitimate problems between us. I feared, back then, that if I complimented him or enjoyed what he did too much, then he would develop an over-inflated sense of self-importance and none of my needs would get met.
I thought these through as I drove him, and realized that I had caught myself in a pattern of criticism him that was spiralling downward for both of us.
What’s true is I felt lonely, stressed out, bitter and miserable. A far cry from how I wanted to feel as an intelligent, powerful, 30-something woman.
So I decided to do what I often do when faced with a major challenge: I set some research. This particular bit of research had to be hardcore, because my pattern of criticism was hardcore and was causing some hardcore suffering as a result. In order to break that pattern and fully investigate what was truly going on, I needed something equally drastic.
I called a friend as a witness and told her my plan for research: I decided to halt ALL criticism and adjustments for one week. And in the place of every criticism I’d normally utter, I was instead going to GENUINELY APPRECIATE my partner.
No criticism meant not a peep from me, no matter what! I decided I wouldn’t even ask him to slow down when he was driving (a MAJOR pet peeve of mine). No nit picking his appearance or questioning why he was late. No making light fun of his frantic reaction to his cell phone alarm going off. Nothing.
In the place of my suggestions and corrections to his behavior, I would instead genuinely appreciate him with the same tenacity, frequency, and enthusiasm with which I normally criticized him.
That one was the real kicker.
Packed inside of a criticism is a whole lot of power and energy. I knew that if I simply kept quiet and stop criticizing, all that power and energy was going to stay stuck in my body. And I would literally explode. (Cue his funeral. Or mine…)
Rather than let that happen, I decided to USE the energy of the criticism to actually FUEL my appreciation.
With my research set in place, I decided not to tell my partner what I was up to. I enlisted my girlfriends to support me, plugged my nose, and dove in.
The results were literally magic.
Let me tell you, I am a very practical person who barely believes in magic. But this—this was the real thing.
This man, who not one day before had looked wimpy and annoying, transformed before my eyes into someone I was deeply drawn to. A man who was hot, powerful, and competent.
My first test came just an hour into my research.
I arrived at home to an empty house. I knew my boyfriend was with a client from 7 to 8pm that evening. At 7:30 I started cooking dinner. I cooked lamb steaks, because we both love lamb, steamed tons of vegetables and drenched them in butter. At 8:15pm I excitedly plated the food and set it on the table, knowing that he’d be home any minute based on how long it took to get from the office to our house.
And then, I waited… 8:20pm came and went. 8:30. I texted him. No response. 8:45… I ate my food. At 9:15pm, he finally walked in the door.
As he stepped into the kitchen, I saw him brace himself for impact. He knows I don’t like lateness, especially around meal time. He was expecting a solid freak out from me about why he hadn’t called or texted to tell me he’d be late.
I felt the bubble of tension inside of me wanting to come out and attack him—and that was when I seized the moment! I took that very same bubble of energy and USED IT to find something I GENUINELY appreciated about him right there in the kitchen. A few seconds later, I had it. Instead of bash him for his lateness, I walked up to him, embraced him, and said, “I love how much of your attention you give your clients, and how you won’t leave until they’ve gotten exactly what they need from you, even if it means you go later than expected.”
Then I walked him over to the table and gave him his food. I sat across from him just looking at him and truly appreciating what a kind, professional man he was.
And then, he got really happy.
He was actually beaming. He looked at me with awe-struck bewilderment, and at his plate of beautiful food, and stuttered, “Wow!! This is amazing—you—you look beautiful!” And then he ate with true relish. His shoulders and chest seemed to swell as we sat there, with me just appreciating him and him feeling useful, valuable, and good.
Just hours into my research, I knew I wanted to adopt this experiment for life because it simply felt better to be good to him than to tear him down.
There were moments in that week-long experiment when I was SO ANNOYED with him—and I successfully kept my mouth shut! I did the work of digging beneath the criticism to find something truly good about him. It was honestly humiliating to do that digging, to actually admit in the face of my fury and frustration that there was anything good at all.
But I did it, over and over again, because I had lived the toxic alternative. And that was not getting me what I wanted.
I learned two Big Things through that week of research:
- Appreciating my guy and focusing ONLY on that which IS WORKING has the power to transform my relationship, my partner, and my own sense of fulfillment. The intimacy in our relationship skyrocketed. I felt more open, beautiful, and relaxed than ever. Ironically, when I took away my ability to criticize him was when I finally trusted him.
- Underneath every critical thought I had was a real and beautiful desire. My expressions of criticism hurt him, tore him down, and caused him to withdraw. But my expressions of desire—no matter what the desire was about—compelled him, inspired him, and caused him to want to be closer to me.
The power of appreciation turned my relationship from a battleground to field of genuine love, power, and goodwill. Do you want to try this research for yourself? Post in the comments below and I’ll cheer you on or answer and of your questions about it! Here’s to both of you getting happy.
HEY POWERFUL WOMAN!
Want to understand how you’re training your partner to show up less than he* wants to—and learn the unexpected way to get him motivated?
*insert your sweetie’s gender here