The following excerpt is from Kelly Clements’ book The Power of Play, Praise and Purpose for entrepreneurial couples.
Entrepreneur couples and the power of praise. What we appreciate, appreciates. How to support your entrepreneur spouse through the power of praise.
For a man, one of the most powerful forces in the world is a woman’s love. A well-loved man can and will move mountains for his love. The only thing stronger than a woman’s love is her rejection. If a woman’s love can make a man, a woman’s rejection will break him.
As with all married couples, what initially attracts us to our spouse can quickly become the very things that frustrate us about him or her. It’s the classic case of our greatest strengths turning into our greatest weaknesses. However, in entrepreneurial couples, this is magnified because entrepreneurs tend to have a more dynamic spectrum of talents and gifts. What makes us successful in business can be a real challenge to manage at home.
In fact, did you know that from a psychological perspective, quite a large number of entrepreneurs are similar to psychopaths? It’s true! Entrepreneurs have just found better ways to channel all that mania.
A 2016 study by forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks of Bond University found that 21 percent of CEOs have the same psychological profiles as psychopaths. However, inThe Wisdom of Psychopaths, Dr. Kevin Dutton describes how the psychopathic traits that we ordinarily associate as negative actually manifest as positive and powerful attributes in some of the greatest historical figures and political leaders of our time. The 21 percent of CEOs who are “successful psychopaths” adopt traits such as fearlessness, confidence, ruthlessness, charisma, and focus, and find ways to productively channel them into business.
These studies illustrate how a character trait can be viewed as a strength or a weakness, depending on its context and how it is expressed—and perceived. You can view the very same qualities in your partner as either powerful strengths or detrimental weaknesses, depending on your perspective and what you cultivate through praise or criticism.
Qualities that most entrepreneurs share
Let’s look at the qualities that most entrepreneurs share: they’re confident, resilient, independent, driven, innovative, and have an eye for excellence. These qualities are strengths needed to build a successful business. However, when pressure gets turned up or there is a loss of control, these very same qualities can show up as arrogance, stubbornness, tyranny, mania, eccentricity, and perfectionism. Understanding the triggers that flip a strength into a weakness can help to us foster a relationship focused on strengths and praise, not weakness and criticism.
Another factor that is not openly shared is that most entrepreneurs constantly doubt that they are truly good enough. They may look poised and confident from the outside, but inside, they are battling feelings of insecurity. The moment our spouse validates those thoughts through criticism, we lose even more hope. Conversely, being affirmedby our spouse can quiet those unruly fear patterns.
Wired for potential
An entrepreneur’s concept of praise is an area in which his strengths can work against him. Entrepreneurs are wired to see possibility. They often see potential others cannot see. Because they can see potential so easily in others, they are quick to offer guidance and suggestions, even if unsolicited. In the absence of praise, these suggestions can seem like criticism. It is essential to see and appreciate the good, not just the potential.
Criticism is fine; we all have times in our relationship when criticism is necessary. However, when we criticize more than compliment, we devalue our relationship with every passing comment. It’s important to recognize our partner’s strengths, because what we appreciate, appreciates. When it gets dark, it’s easy to think the world is against us. It’s easy to think we’re a terrible failure. And as we know, it can get really dark on the journey of any relationship. Add entrepreneurship to the mix, and it can become even darker.
Praise is about elevating you and your spouse to a level where you really believe in each other. It’s not based on hollow compliments—saying nice things just for the sake of saying them—but rather, on the idea of truly believing in someone. It’s truly seeing and being seen. The definition of intimacy is “Into me you see.” Intentionally seeing the best in our partners turns praise into an aphrodisiac.
We Expand to the Space We’re Given
Have you ever noticed that the most unified couples are the ones who consistently show appreciation for each other? If there’s anything they get right, it’s the ability to genuinely praise one another. It’s not because their partners are more perfect than ours; it’s because they choose to see the good. They are not complaining about their spouses or the confines of their marriage for entertainment value. They’re not seeking the pity of others for the “tough road” they have to traverse in their marriage. They’re shining the light, together, on the power of their partnership.
I know a couple is bulletproof when I hear statements like, “I couldn’t do this without my spouse,” “He believed in me before I believed in myself,” and “She’s my biggest inspiration, my biggest fan.” These entrepreneurs set for their spouses, and guess what? The spouses rise to meet those expectations. When others see the most extraordinary traits in us, we feel a level of connection and intimacy unlike any other. We rise to meet those high expectations when they are set through praise, not constant reminders that we are falling short.
No joking matter
Even when we criticize in a joking manner, it cuts deep. It not only hurts our partner, but it also diminishes our own positive feelings for him or her. After leading a webinar on this topic, I received an email from a participant who said, “You’re right; we bash our husbands like it’s a sport. My girlfriends and I are always complaining about how our men fall short. They’re all pretty successful, but we’re ‘joking’ about stupid stuff, and it affects the way I feel that night when I’m sitting next to my husband: irritated about things that don’t really matter.”
Men can feel that condemnation, and when they are chronically criticized, they will respond accordingly. In other words, when we hold low expectations of them and are heavy on the criticism, they shut down and prove us right. Conversely, when they feel that we hold them in high esteem and see their greatness, they will rise to meet those expectations and confirm our estimation of them every single time.
Power to transform
Your attitude and regard for your spouse has the power to transform him or her on a cellular level. If he’s never enough for you and you’re consistently disappointed, his contributions will continue to dwindle. But if you view him as a super hero, he will don his cape. If you see her for all that she already is, and not just her potential, she will step even further into her radiance. Your spouse will fill the space that he or she is given, whether it’s in constant disappointment or unwavering belief.
To have someone see and acknowledge your best qualities ratchets up the level of intimacy in your relationship. It secures the bond. You’re validated because your best qualities are recognized by the most important person in your life.
Become aware of your compliment-to-criticism ratio. Jon Butcher references this ratio in Lifebook, an intense personal-development program based in Chicago. I facilitated this program for four years and learned the importance of minding the compliment-to-criticism ratio. Of course, there’s always going to be times when we have to criticize or bring forth a complaint, but if that’s all you’re doing, your marriage will suffer. Constant criticism erodes a marriage. The way to offset necessary criticism is to inject profuse levels of recognition and praise by creating opportunities to find the good in each other.
Myth: He Doesn’t Need Another “Yes-Person” Around
In Chapter 2, we talked about how men need significance and women need security. In an entrepreneurial household, it’s easy for a man to get his sense of significance from work because that’s where he’s engaging with his employees, customers, and advisors. Because he’s in a position of leadership, it’s likely that very few of these people tell him when he’s falling short.
If, at home, he’s always receiving criticism, then, of course, he will spend more time at work. The home environment needs to be a place of refuge, safety, and significance for the entrepreneur, while providing a sense of security for the spouse. The fact that his spouse is likely to be the only one in a position to point out his weaknesses is yet another reason for her to also be one of his raving fans. It gives her more credence when she had to address his weaknesses.
Expressions of gratitude
More noteworthy is the realization that the entrepreneur may have a source of constant recognition from his business. Affirming staff, raving customers, and widespread publicity all speak to the accomplishments of the business owner. If the spouse does not work, she is likely not exposed to the same level of recognition or appreciation. In this case, it is CRUCIAL for the business owner to be mindful that he, alone, is her source of praise and encouragement. Expressions of gratitude will prove to be a game-changer for the spouse who has been feeling left in the shadows of success.
This is not limited to just compliments and criticisms—it also applies to our responses to success and failure. The degree of our reactions to positive news should exceed the degree of our reactions to negative news. When our spouse screws up, he or she knows it because we’re throwing a fit. They know when they have messed up. Yet when they do well, we tend to take it for granted and don’t celebrate it. The degree of celebration we have over successes should exceed the degree of disappointment we show in “failures.” It’s easy to be frustrated when the losses impact the family, but when things go well, it’s crucial to celebrate the wins with the same vigor. Expressing frustration is easy. We often do it without even thinking about it. Because of this, it is imperative to build the muscle of appreciation to fortify the marriage.
Praise in Action
Begin paying attention to your compliment-to-criticism ratio by trying out these different strategies. Consider sitting down with a pen and sheet of paper and making two lists of all the criticisms and compliments you expressed in the last twenty-four-hours. Write down every single one you can remember, regardless of how significant or inconsequential it may seem. When you’re finished, check to see which column is longer. Examine each line on your list. If the list of criticisms outnumbers the list of compliments, get to work on what you appreciate about your spouse. Work on that list until it exceeds the list of complaints. Seal the deal by sharing your newfound appreciation with your spouse.
Practice the art of the compliment. Giving compliments can generate positive perspective in oneself. Earlier in this chapter, I described how the same qualities can be seen as strengths or weaknesses, depending on our perspective and the context in which we view them. When you verbalize your appreciation rather than focus on complaints, it will cultivate your partner’s traits as strengths and draw out more of his or her good, inspiring qualities. Isn’t THAT the person you’d rather be married to anyway? Choose your view wisely, because it will determine who shows up for you.
Showing appreciation for each other
Showing appreciation for each other in simple ways on a daily basis can contribute to building a powerful and long-lasting relationship. For instance, consider something as easy as leaving notes in a wallet or near the coffeepot. What if we could start the morning with a compliment? Consider how it would feel to face every day with words of encouragement from your spouse. It could be like adding sweet sugar to your bitter coffee. Try this experiment: For one week, begin and end each day with a compliment to your spouse. Observe what changes, including how you and your partner feel about each other and your relationship.
The art of the compliment
The art of the compliment involves intentionality. It’s about enacting and verbalizing your appreciation toward your spouse, rather than just taking his or her good qualities and successes for granted. Speak to your appreciation of what your partner is providing for you. Begin with his or her name, and then acknowledge a quality you normally don’t recognize verbally; it can be a physical characteristic, an achievement, a personal quality, or a mind-set. Then share how it makes a difference in your life. You might say something like, “Renee, your intuition is always spot-on. Every time I honor your intuition, it saves me from so many headaches.”
Remember, acknowledge all the ways your partner contributes to the relationship: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, socially, sexually, and/or financially. We want to become conscious of everything we are receiving and cultivate more of what is going well in our lives.
Praise can also be used as a mirror and a tool of accountability for when our spouse’s strengths have turned into weaknesses. When you need to criticize, frame the statement in a way that is supportive and productive. Remember how a strength (like passion) can become distorted through a high-pressure situation and show up as a weakness (like anger). So when you want to be critical and blame, take a moment to reframe the statement as praise: “I can tell you’re under a lot of pressure. You’re at your best when you’re creative and rested. Right now, this isn’t you. How can we shift you back into your strength?”
Have an open attitude toward what you try, and keep in mind that these are just general recipes. The key concept is that there should be more compliments than criticisms in your relationship.
Find your partner’s power phrase
Find your partner’s power phrase. When my superman, David, talks about losing his business in bankruptcy court, he mentions how it was my affirmations that kept him alive. I sent him emails and texts not only to validate him, but also to remind him of his ability, purpose, and greater vision. My love for David was for who he was, and I believed in him. I saw his genius and nurtured his inherent strengths rather than reacting in panic to the external chaos he was experiencing. I recognized how there were specific and deliberate phrases that resonated with him: “I’m behind you all the way.” “You’ve got this.” “If anyone can do it, you can.” Those platitudes sustained him in his darkest hours.
Discovering your own power phrase, as well as the power phrase of your partner, is crucial—but most people don’t know what words will help encourage them and they don’t know what their spouses need to hear. A person’s power phrase is directly tied to our deepest fears. Verbally speaking out against these silent fears helps remind us of a more empowering truth, and that keeps us out of our caves of insecurity.
What are your fears?
My deepest fear is that I’ll screw up my kids. The power phrase I need to hear is this: “The way you see and nurture your children as individuals is empowering them to create their own extraordinary lives.” I need to hear this from the person I am closest with, because it’s an affirmation of how I can choose to believe in my vision instead of my insecurities and fear.
Fear is a vulnerable space we enter. It is one that is deeply intimate, and one where we must practice our greatest compassion and trust. To find your partner’s power phrase, you must first discover his or her greatest insecurity and understand that this insecurity comes from fear. We can choose to support each other in the areas in which we are most vulnerable by speaking to our appreciation and cultivating steadfast belief, strength, and love.
I’ve worked with couples that, at the beginning of our coaching sessions, were not even aware of how much they were struggling. These couples were simply resigned to what their marriage had become and were going through the motions. When we began discussing their issues and these concepts behind praise, I watched as they took a moment to look at each other through a perspective of deep regard. With their relationships reinvigorated on the spot, it was like they were seeing each other on their first day of marriage.
To love someone means to see them– all of them. It means to see them as their brightest, most alive and active self. To see them at their most valuable and insecure self. When you love someone and you can see them at their most basic, human level, then you can appreciate what is more important to them. This is where love grows. This is how the bonds of a relationship strengthen.