I've noticed that many people prefer not to rely too much on praise in their relationships. This comment from the boards describes a fair number of relationships, I think:
My DH expects praise or acknowledgement for just about every household item he does on his own. I thank him if he does something I ask, but if it's something like putting the laundry away I don't feel like I should have to praise him. I mean he never acknowledges that I'm the one that washed, dried, and folded the same batch of laundry?
I am definitely guilty of appreciating praise when it comes to things I do around the house and for the kids. In general, I've noticed that praise and acknowledgement is more important to me than it is to Mrs. Bee. Why is that? I have no idea. When I took the Love Languages quiz, "Words of Affirmation" wasn't even at the top of my list. But I've learned that I love to have my contributions acknowledged, especially when it comes to household chores and childcare.
I've noticed, though, that a lot of people are resistant to overusing praise with their partners (usually men). The reasons I've seen cited most are:
* FAIRNESS: My partner doesn't praise or acknowledge when I do things, so why should I praise him?
* SMALLNESS: My partner expects praise even for little things that don't really deserve a pat on the back.
* DUTY: My partner should be doing this stuff anyway, since he lives in this house and is the father of our kids.
* RESENTMENT: It's hard for me to praise my partner for one little thing, when I do so many more things than he does around the house (and for our children).
All totally valid reasons, and eminently logical. But if it's important to your partner, why not go ahead and acknowledge his or her contributions anyway?
Here's are some positive aspects to praise:
1) Praise is a great antidote for dad insecurity
I will be the first to admit it: it's very easy to bring a sense of insecurity to being a dad. Mrs. Bee grew a baby, gave birth, made food within her body and fed it to our children. That's amazing! In comparison, my powers of diaper-changing and bottle-giving seem pretty sad and pathetic.
Given this, some dads struggle with feeling like they're being a good parent. This can create a vicious cycle, where dads don't develop a sense of confidence and eventually disengage from the day-to-day of parenting. I definitely struggled with this when Charlie was born.
I've been noticing that as I've become more confident in my dad skillz, I don't really need positive feedback as much as I used to. The opposite is also true too though. You know how when you're just starting out a new job and someone gives you some praise, how it can mean the world to you? That's a lot what it's like to get praise as a new dad.
Praise can have a vastly disproportionate impact on a dad who isn't yet secure and confident in their parenting skills.
2) Praise tells your partner, "Keep it up."
Positive reinforcement is one of the easiest ways to communicate to your partner that you'd like them to keep doing what they're doing.
Did your partner do the dishes last night, or take the LO to the playground so that you could grab a nap? Yes, it's just a small thing and he should be doing it anyway. And when you did the dishes and took your LO to the playground so that he could nap, he didn't say anything.
But putting all that aside, a little positive reinforcement will efficiently convey to your partner that you want them to keep doing what they're doing. Odds are if you priase your partner, they are more likely to keep it up.
3) Praise often works better than the alternative
Positive reinforcement (aka praise) often beats negative reinforcement in terms of effectiveness. Both genders are capable of negative reinforcement (aka nagging, something I've struggled with myself), so it's nice to have a positive alternative.
If you really want to supercharge your positive reinforcement, praise your partner in front of other people. Public praise is worth 1000x times more than private praise! At the very least, never make fun of your partners' parental shortcomings in front of others. Public shaming is pretty much the oppositive of public praise, and just as effective (alas, in the opposite direction).
A few parting caveats:
* Some couples have a great partnership that doesn't need any affirmation from either end. This post is for everyone else.
* I wrote this based of my own personal experience, and those of my male friends. But I should note that praise is effective regardless of gender, especially on all that value Words of Affirmation! And if you value Words of Affirmation yourself, it doesn't hurt to acknowledge and appreciate all the wonderful things that your SO does. That way, they feel more appreciated and they can also see what kind of words of affirmation you value.
* In my research for this post, I noticed references to a subset of partners who love to hear praise but never actually do anything. I have no insight into this situation, but I do think that praise should be genuinely earned or it quickly loses its power.
Overall, praising your partner is the rarest of all endeavors: something that takes very little effort, and has the potential for huge rewards. Try it out on your partner, and let me know if you notice a difference!