I remember the way it made me feel to hear her speak the nicest things in the world to me.
She went on and on about how talented I was, how nice I was, and how meaningful I had been in her life as a songwriter and pastor. The words felt good. Real good. They were incredibly gracious and over-the-top nice. But there was a problem.
She wasn’t my wife. She was someone else’s wife.
We stood side-stage after a worship service for only a few minutes, but as she placed her hand on my elbow and continued encouraging me, it suddenly struck me how dangerous it can be to receive more verbal affirmation from anyone who’s not your spouse than from your spouse.
I assume this woman was just being kind, and I was grateful she took the opportunity to speak a word of encouragement. When someone has a meaningful impact on your life, you should tell them!
But after that exchange, I realized how powerful it is to be cheered on by someone. I’m a “words of affirmation” guy, so naturally, words mean the world to me. If we’re all honest with ourselves, words mean the world to every single one of us. It may not be the highest value, but it’s certainly something that counts.
I told Jamie about the experience, and I think it was one of the most important conversations we’ve ever had. I didn’t like how much I liked that verbal affirmation. And, at the end of the day, I really wanted to hear it from Jamie. More than anyone else, I want my spouse to encourage and cheer me onward.
Cheering each other on— even when we don’t get it
Jamie isn’t a musician. She doesn’t know the difference between a melody and harmony. She doesn’t know what a note is, much less a key or chord progression. She doesn’t know many of the titles of songs I’ve written. And I swear, if you asked her the difference between a good song and a bad song, she wouldn’t know.
I’m not a sports fan. I don’t know the difference between a running back and a lineman. I don’t know who most famous athletes are. And I swear if you asked me what a sport analyst does, I’d ramble for about ten minutes trying to make something up then have to Google “sports analyst” before having any sort of good answer.
We are not into all of the same things. I think of melodies every day and schedule out live music shows I want to see. She thinks of interviews every day and can hang with the boys during every single football game, knowing all the plays, all the calls, and the names of most of the best players. She has season tickets to University of Texas games, and I have tickets to every Austin City Limits Festival. She releases a podcast every week, and I release albums every year.
Jamie and I don’t speak the same language, and we’re not into the same things. But we’ve decided to do our absolute best to cheer each other on, even when we don’t understand the intricate details of the other person’s passionate interests. And you know what? It takes work, intentionality, and words.
Your spouse’s biggest cheerleader
As Jamie and I have processed our desire to be each other’s biggest cheerleader, we often remind each other that no one should out-cheer our spouse. If I were to never hear kind, affirming, encouraging words from my spouse, it would make moments like that one with the “fan” incredibly dangerous. My heart would swell. I would crave it more and more. Words do that. If Jamie were to never hear positive and beautiful words of admiration from me about her job and what she does, it would be easy for her to find encouragement from social media and fans after a live event. But when both spouses agree to be each other’s biggest cheerleader, nobody else’s words can compare.
As we aim to complement each other, Jamie and I have made a serious determination to cheer each other on in life, both publicly and privately. And it’s made a massive difference in how we interact with each other, what is able to puff up our heart, and swell our pride.
The power of words
I guess I want you to hear this—words matter. You can’t truly have a marriage that complements each other if you don’t compliment each other. (There it is, the chapter was begging for it!) And I’m not talking about cheap compliments, either. I’m talking about owning the fact that your words are powerful. Words have the power to degrade and squash people, but they also have the power to lift people up and send them soaring. You can’t take words for granted. And whether you want to admit it or not, someone will encourage your spouse. It will be someone at work, or someone at the gym, or someone online. But, it will happen.
Most affairs don’t start by casually making out with a stranger. They don’t usually start with just a desire for sex but a desire to be known, understood, admired. Most affairs (either emotional or physical affairs) start with someone taking the place of the spouse by speaking words that the other person is desperate to hear.
The human heart can’t help but crave verbal affirmation. And when there is a void of verbal affirmation in marriage, a wide open door exists, making it all too easy for anyone to walk right in and speak a word of encouragement that blossoms into much more than anyone ever expected.
So, why not make an intentional effort to never be out-done in speaking highly of your spouse? Why not do whatever it takes to find opportunities to give the life-giving words of encouragement to the one with whom you’ve made a covenant to endure with until the end?
Excerpted with permission from Complement by Aaron and Jamie Ivey. Copyright 2021, B&H Publishing.
Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?
Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?