We all want to feel valued. When we feel appreciated, we’re more likely to cooperate, collaborate and deal constructively with issues. By expressing gratitude, we foster positive connections with friends, family, co-workers and especially with our marriage partner.

Jewish people are innately grateful (even if this quality doesn’t stand out in all of us). The Hebrew name for Jew is Yehudi, the root of “Yehuda” is “to thank.”1

So, if we are naturally inclined to be grateful, whyWhy don’t we thank people more often? don’t we thank people more often? Perhaps we lacked role models for expressing gratitude. Or maybe we learned to focus on what’s lacking in our lives instead of noticing more what’s going well. Or we are aware of people’s excellent traits or behaviors, but just don’t tell them.

How can we move from taking people for granted to complimenting them? The “Modeh Ani” prayer said upon awakening provides a model. It translates literally as “I give thanks.” In other words, we are saying, “I thank, I admit, I acknowledge my indebtedness! I am grateful.”

The root of modeh can also mean to “submit.” To submit means to yield to or accept the authority or will of another. When we acknowledge that someone has benefited us, we are in effect putting our self-centeredness aside.

The Power of a Compliment

How do we apply this knowledge in marriage? While it can be easy to take a spouse’s superb qualities for granted, couples who remember to compliment each other often are usually much happier.

When we focus on complimenting our partner regularly, we increase our positive feelings for our mate. By looking for opportunities to express appreciation, we notice what we like more often. We pay less attention to irritations that are minor in the grand scheme of things. The wish to please each other grows. We gain more intimacy.

This scenario happens with others besides our intimate partner. Being complimentary towards friends, relatives, co-workers and so on nurtures our relationships and helps us create a happier, more optimistic outlook.

And in the long run? Compliments increase the likelihood that the person you’ve expressed appreciation to will do what you liked more often. A behavior that is rewarded is more likely to get repeated.

How to Give a Heartfelt Compliment

  • Begin each appreciative comment with the words “I appreciate,” “I value” or “I like.” Doing this may feel awkward at first, but it becomes comfortable with practice.
  • Be specific. Mention precisely what the person did that you liked or precisely what about your partner’s appearance pleases you.
  • Mention a positive character trait that your partner demonstrated by doing what you liked.

For example, “I appreciate how kind and patient you were with my aunt when we were visiting her. You showed her how to fix the problem with her computer.”

Start a Compliment With ‘I’

A husband told me he’s more comfortable saying “thank you” than starting a compliment with “I.” Of course, saying “thank you” shows good manners, and we like to be thanked. It’s also easier for many of us to express appreciation with a simple “thank you.”

Yet by saying, “I appreciate you for” or “I liked it when you ... ,” we’re being vulnerable, opening our insides to be viewed by the receiver of our compliment. Starting with “I appreciate” can take courage, especially for people who grew up in an atmosphere where they weren’t encouraged to recognize and express their feelings, but it’s a habit worth developing and becomes more comfortable with practice.

Phrase Compliments Positively

When a woman was describing to me which traits she found attractive in her husband, she said they have similar values and interests, and “he’s not bad-looking.” I explained that I’m picky about words and helped her change “not bad-looking” to “handsome.” Her husband perked up when she described him as handsome. The unconscious doesn’t recognize a negative. The unconscious hears “bad looking” more clearly than it understands the “not” in front of it.

Also, avoid backhanded compliments like, “I appreciate that you finally emptied the garbage.” Just say, “I appreciate you for remembering to empty the garbage.”

Cultivating a Lifelong Habit

By thanking G‑d daily when we say “Modeh Ani,” we move away from being self-centered. We remember that we’re not fully in charge of our wellbeing. Similarly, noticing daily what we value in others helps us to transcend ourselves and find a more positive perspective. When we compliment someone for showing a good character trait, we’re appreciating an essential, enduring quality they possess. By doing so, we’re communicating on a soul-to-soul level.

The key to giving compliments—to become skilled at expressing appreciation—is to see what we like about the people around us and pay attention to the details. By making it a habit to express gratitude every day for the gifts in our lives, we cherish our relationships and value our environment.