“I can live for two months on a good compliment,” Mark Twain once said. And couldn’t we all? Everyone gets a mood boost from a truly sincere compliment. But sometimes the old generic ones sound hollow, or too general, or even manipulative. So how do you give a good compliment — the earnest kind that the recipient really believes and feels good about, and then you feel good about giving?
These type of compliments are really win-win for everyone involved, and Psychology Today reported that these “compliments work best when they are forthright and not incidental… they must be genuine. The more specific they are, the better.” There’s been a great deal of research into the power of praise in teaching and learning, workplace productivity, and yes, love and friendships. In 2004, the Gallup Organization conducted an extensive study on “the power of praise and recognition.” And it turns out that good compliments do more than just make us feel good. They make us perform better, make us more social, and contribute to the longevity and happiness of an interpersonal relationship.
In the interest of finding out how we can hone our effective complimenting skills, I spoke with two experts on relationships: Shula Melamed, a relationship and wellness coach with a background in psychology and sexuality, and Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, a certified relationship coach and the author of A Conversation Piece: 32 Bold Relationship Lessons for Discussing Marriage, Sex, and Conflict. These two experts gave me some great insight into what makes a compliment really work. So what are you waiting for? Here are some ideas to get you started on giving the kind of compliment any woman will appreciate, whether you’re her partner, a suitor, or just a great friend.
I love the way your mind works
Anyone can look hot. Jessica Rabbit is a cartoon woman and she looks hot for goodness sake. So instead of a generic compliment about lookin’ good, target the thing that makes her special — her awesome personality. Does she make hilarious puns? Can she always correctly predict the murderer on Law and Order? Let her know how much you love that idiosyncratic stuff.
I asked Cunningham-Sumterher to weigh-in on how to craft a non-hotness-based compliment. She said that a compliment like ‘I love the way your mind works’ “confirms you’re attracted to more than a woman’s physical appearance. Women want to know you value her intelligence and her decision making abilities.”
You’re going to be the coolest old lady
You’re going to be a great mom/grandma is also good, but not every woman wants to/can have kids. So remind her that she’s got a lot to offer the world of the future even beyond her potential progeny. This compliment also tells a woman that you value her true self, and not just her youth and beauty. This compliment also says your affection for her has staying power.
Plus, as Cunningham-Sumter told me, “Women love to hear [love interests] speak about the future; especially when it includes her.” Similarly, Melamed made a point to say that a compliment about the future, “indicates that you would like to be in it for the long haul and for a woman who would like to/is settling into a serious relationship with you that is like music to their ears. Aging can be fraught for women because we are socialized to think youth and beauty are the most valuable things a woman brings to the table – slowly but surely the paradigm is shifting and comments like these are heartening.”
I’m not saying you’re perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing about you
This killer compliment comes from Kim Quindlen, a staff writer and relationship expert for Thought Catalog. Nobody is perfect, and women like compliments that ring true. So tell her you see how human she is, and how much you absolutely love it. Quindlen also talks about how a compliment like this can remind the receiver how much the giver loves their individuality, and that comes with an “unconditional” love connotation.
You make me want to be a better person
Yes, it could come off as a little bit cheesy. But if it’s said in earnest, this compliment slays! “Women want to know and understand the value they bring into their partner’s life,” said Cunningham-Sumter. It tells a woman that she’s special, important, inspiring, and makes you want to live your best life. That’s an energizing compliment!
But what would be even better than “you make me want to be a better person?”
“Elaborating on how and why will have the biggest emotional impact,” is what, according to Melamed. “Telling her how you would like to do it can bring about an intimacy building conversation that may get her to share how you make her feel the same.”
I wish I’d met you earlier
At some point every one of us could use some reassurance, no matter how self-confident we are. “A woman loves to hear that you are grateful to be sharing a life with her,” Cunningham-Sumter reminds us. “When you say you wish you met her earlier you’re saying that you recognize your life is better with her.”
This sweet compliment will show her that although all your past relationships or friendships are still important, none so much that you wish she hadn’t been around. And as Cunningham-Sumter told me, compliments about the future are winners, so telling her you wish you had met her earlier means that all the time in the future isn’t enough for you. You wish you could have the past too. Swoon!
I love the way you always [insert nice thing she does for you here]
Does she text you cute jokes you when you’re bored at work? Order another round for you when you’ve left the table for the restroom? She spends time doing nice things for you, and you should show her you don’t take them for granted.
“Women don’t do what they do for the thank you,” Cunningham-Sumter reminds us. But what’s really valuable here is the sense that “her partner [or friend] is paying attention,” to the details of their interactions. What’s one of the most common challenges in a relationship after the glow of the honeymoon period fades? Partners feeling as if their good deeds are going unnoticed, according to Melamed, is a “challenge in long term relationships especially.”
I love the way you always [insert nice thing she does for other people here]
Recognition for good actions is key. Again, we see the common refrain from our experts that, “a woman loves knowing her partner is paying attention. If you compliment her for what she does for others, you’re showing her you notice who she is, and believe me that feels good,” said Cunningham-Sumter.
More generic compliments like “you’re beautiful,” are nice to hear, but so much of being attractive has to do with genes, and not anything we deserve specific credit for. Appreciating things she does for you is a great start, but wouldn’t you like to also be noticed and celebrated for all the cool things you do even outside your relationship? She would love it too!
Show her that you see the lovely things she does for others, and you think it’s awesome.
You could gain 100 pounds and still look amazing
Even though it’s messed up and totally fatphobic and sad, many women have some internal insecurity about their weight. A national report on the state of girls’ self-esteem, commissioned and funded by the Dove Self-Esteem Project, found that “71% of girls with low self-esteem feel their appearance does not measure up, including not feeling pretty enough, thin enough or stylish or trendy enough (compared to 29% of girls with high self-esteem).” Isn’t that sad? Don’t you want to remind her that you’re not afraid of a little cushion, because her body type is not why you love her?
“On the topic of physical attributes,” said Melamed, “I find that instead of complimenting one body part, a holistic ‘you take really good care of yourself’ is very effective.” This phrase is nice because it can be applied to any kind of beauty.
And Cunningham-Sumter made a point to say that, “A woman loves to know that your relationship is deeper than the surface or the physical attraction. It feels good for her to hear that you love her beyond appearance.” Or even better, of course, that her physical appearance wouldn’t be negatively impacted by gaining a little more to love, and that there’s beauty to be found in any size and shape.
Spreading the love
According to Aimee Wood, LCSW and the clinical director of Sex Therapy in Philadelphia, a relationship counseling practice in the city of brotherly love, “Compliments can go a long way,” because “[w]omen want to be reminded by an outside observer that they are seen, heard, and most of all, appreciated.”
The women in our lives likely don’t do most of the wonderful things they do just to garner compliments and appreciation, but if they’re given in earnest by someone close to them, there’s nothing but upside. So get out there and don’t be stingy with the commendations, because the world could always use a few more good, happy vibes.