From upstairs, I heard the happy swish of our elliptical trainer pedals. Eric was exercising! Hearing him run made me happy, so I ran down the stairs and jumped into cheer-leading mode. “Go, Eric, go! Go, Eric, go!” In an instant, he whipped his face around and offered me an extremely disapproving look and a stern, “No.”
This later sparked a discussion on the type of encouragement he needs and desires. Due to my exuberant mistake, I learned Eric does not need cheer-leading; and, not only that, but he finds enthusiastic cheering demotivating. On that memorable evening, I discovered a quick, unemotional, “I am proud of you for exercising,” is all the verbal affirmation Eric wanted and needed.
Giving and Receiving Encouragement
Giving and receiving encouragement is a precious element in relationships. At some level, we all desire to be encouraged – especially by the one we love – but encouragement comes in all different shapes and sizes – as I learned that night in the basement. While I want Eric to shower me with (honest) verbal praise and snuggle me frequently, my best friends would desire something completely different from their men. One might find encouragement in a long, meaningful conversation about travel or career aspirations. Another may need an impromptu trip to the beach for some rest and perspective. Others may wish for nothing more than a short letter saying, “I appreciate you for the following reasons…”
Support and encouragement do not come in a one-size-fits-all package. We all have different needs and desires based on our personalities, life experiences, and current seasons of life. So, before you start pouring your version of support on your special someone (which we understand comes from a good place), first find out how he or she desires to be encouraged. Does he want a post-workday hug as soon as you see him? Does she want fifteen minutes of uninterrupted conversation? Does he want dinner dropped off when he works late? Does she want you to rescue her from her chaos and take her to a movie?
We do not start relationships knowing our sweethearts intimately – such understanding comes with time. Even years into our marriage, I still did not know how Eric wished to be supported, praised, and encouraged (and, unfortunately, I was not trying hard enough to find out). While your love story is still new, start discovering how your special someone prefers to be inspired and nurtured. Scratching the surface, here are ten ways you can support your sweetie (or friends or family). Which of these resonate with you? Which ones resonate with your boyfriend or girlfriend?
- Verbal Encouragement – Verbal encouragement is the most common way to support others. It is socially acceptable and something you can offer to a stranger without seeming inappropriate. A genuine “Your necklace is beautiful” or “your performance this morning was spectacular” can be delivered without anyone batting a wary eye. Because society widely accepts verbal encouragement as normal, and because it requires minimal effort (for most – not all), it is the go-to form of encouragement for many of us. Verbal encouragement is one of my favorite forms of encouragement to give and receive, which is why I threw out enthusiastic verbal praise to Eric while he was exercising. When I clean the kitchen from top to bottom, I find Eric and shamelessly ask him to get up and go look at it. So, he musters up as much emotion as he can, and exclaims, “Wow, it looks great in here!” And, I walk away smiling!
A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential. – John C. Maxwell
- Actions Speak Louder than Words Encouragement – Eric would fall more into this camp, preferring I show my support rather than talking about it. Instead of me cheering him on while he exercised, he would have appreciated me putting on my sneakers and getting on the elliptical as soon as he finished, meeting him downstairs with a post-workout smoothie, or thoroughly cleaning the shower.
Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often. – Mark Twain
- Quiet Support Encouragement – “Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load.” – Charles Henry Parkhurst. Some find sitting in silence with another person unbearable, but the closer a friendship becomes, the easier it is to sit in comfortable silence. Sometimes, the best way to support someone is just by quietly sitting next to him or her. When you do not know what to say, say nothing. Just be there. Most of the time, people do not need more words when they are sad or frustrated. But, we all appreciate presence and knowing someone has our back.
Well-timed silence has more eloquence than speech. – Oscar Auliq-Ice
- Teammate Encouragement – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV) Being his teammate is another way Eric receives encouragement. When he is running late in the evening, but comes home to coffee made, client files loaded, and pre-session worksheets prepped, he feels like the world is slightly less heavy on his shoulders – because we are carrying the load together. Some people do not want to talk out their problems, some do not want a hug (though I cannot personally fathom that ~smile~), or a gentle hand on their backs. Some just want their friend or partner to stretch, lace up, tag ’em, and jump in the race! Do you want to encourage me? Then, go through the journey with me!
I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot. – Kobe Bryant
- Physical Touch Encouragement – One of the first questions I ask new friends is, “Are you a hugger?” Growing up, I hugged everyone and thought it was completely normal. My grandmother was extra cuddly, my mom hugged me practically every time I left the room, Dad politely tolerated me snuggling up to him while he was watching TV, and my Pentecostal church family hugged everybody – no exclusions! So, it took me some time to realize not everyone enjoys a good, old-fashioned squeeze! And, looks can be deceiving! Many are amazed when I tell them Eric is a world-class hugger (and cuddler). He seems matter-of-fact, but he has an intensely snuggly side which I dearly love. On the flip side, I have ended great conversations with new friends thinking, “A hug just seems natural right now!” only to discover they were not into physical touch. Yes, some are huggers and some are not, but for those who are, you can have an entire conversation with a ten-second I love you. You are not alone. Someone is here for you. You will get through this and I will be with you through it all. You are a desirable person. I like you. You have a purpose. This mountain is shorter than it looks. You’ve got this, Friend, all day long. Physical touch is one of the ways I find encouragement, and if it is one of the ways your loved one receives encouragement, you are in luck! A gentle backrub, hug, or hand hold can communicate more than a half hour conversation.
I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words. – Ann Hood
- Physical Reminder Encouragement – One of my dearest friends is a gifts person. She frequently gives the ones she loves small tokens of appreciation. It makes her happy and it is how she says, “I love you.” Knowing this about her makes her gifts extra special (like the blue unicorn I am looking at right now!). Cards and letters, like gifts, are physical tokens which remind us that others are thinking of us. One afternoon when I was visiting her, I noticed a familiar card sitting next to her chair in the living room. It was the I love you card I sent her a few weeks prior and it warmed my heart to think it was still bringing her encouragement weeks later. Never underestimate the power of a small card, letter, or gift – especially to a gifts person.
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. – Winston S. Churchill
- Make Me Laugh Encouragement – God brings people into our lives for different reasons, and I am certain He gave me some of you for uncontrollable belly laughs. Anyone who can make me laugh until I cry is an automatic friend because I love to laugh! All of my closest friends are those who can make me laugh until I am sick. Laughter is not appropriate in every setting, but the time to laugh is never far in the future. A few hours of laughing with a friend is the best therapy ever.
A best friend is that friend who can make you laugh when you bet on never smiling again. – Unknown
- Get Me Out of Here!!! Encouragement – “I just want to airlift my mom out of there!” My friend said this to me when her mom was going through a particularly stressful time with her family. Everyone needed her and it was a thankless job! Seeing her mom’s weariness, she wanted to helicopter over her home, throw down a rope, and rescue her from her life! Sometimes, your friend or sweetheart needs a change of scenery. Getting him or her out of the house might be exactly when he or she needs to feel better again – the two of you, together, going anywhere else.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. – Izaak Walton
- Help Me Process the Situation Encouragement – When we were teens, I often called my friend, Nateefa, and ran my mouth. She remained mostly quiet as I went on and on and on about everything bothering me about life. When the conversation was over, not only did I feel better, but I often had answers to my “What should I do?” After each “conversation,” I would thank her for her help, and she would jovially respond, “I didn’t do anything.” But, she did! She listened. She listened well. She listened when she probably wanted to yell, “Heather, get a grip!” Her listening skills gave me the power to find solutions. Sometimes all a person needs is a friend with two “big” ears.
Talking with a friend is nothing else but thinking aloud. – Joseph Addison
- Lighten My Load Encouragement – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – (Galatians 6:2, ESV) Much like teammate encouragement and actions speak louder than words encouragement, lighten my load encouragement puts good intentions into actions. When you seek to make someone’s life easier, you are not necessarily jumping into their world as a teammate, but you are removing obstacles, even if just for a day, from his or her plate (e.g., babysitting so an exhausted mom can go shopping alone, cleaning your friend’s home because she has company coming and has no time to prepare, getting your boyfriend’s car inspected and washed because it is one less task he has to think about during his busy work week, etc.). The little helps add up to one huge When company is coming over, and I am scurrying around the house like crazed toddler with a vacuum, Eric often cleans the dog fur off the living room couches. It seems like a small job, but he does it with excellence and it is amazing how much better I feel having that one (super annoying) task off my to-do list.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. – Charles Dickens
What do you think? Which encouragement styles fit you? Share this post with your significant other and discuss how you both wish to be supported and encouraged. Take notes and take his or her words to heart! And, cheerfully receive when your loved one tries to encourage you!
Relationships are full of challenges, but they are also full of pleasures. Having someone to boost and inspire in life (as well as having someone to nurture you in return) is one of the greatest joys in relationships. Learn to do it well. Become an expert at supporting and encouraging your partner.
“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
What is the best way to encourage your special someone?