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5 Reasons We Stop Complimenting Our Partners (and What You Can Do About It)

In my last two blogposts, I talked about the different kinds of infidelity and why people cheat in the first place.

There are many reasons that people stray from their partner and from the relationship they took so much time to create and develop.  Why do people tear down what they put so much effort into building up? Why do they sometimes seem not to care about each other anymore?  Why do they sometimes replace compliments with put-downs so that partners feel like "He is always criticizing me!" or "She just doesn't like me anymore!"

One reason is that they do not feel appreciated in their relationship anymore as much as they did in the beginning. When we talk with couples, we often hear comments like "My wife never compliments me" or "He doesn't compliment me anymore" or even "He just doesn't like me anymore. He seems to be done with me. Take Ellie and Tom, for example.

Ellie and Tom have been together for 7 years.  They joke to each other that it is time for 7-year itch to develop and they are still waiting.  The joke is not as funny as they both would like it to appear. 

Tom is having issues, ones he can’t really talk about with Ellie because, he believes, “nothing is wrong.”  Except that something is wrong. 

When Ellie and Tom started their relationship, Ellie constantly was telling Tom how special he is—how smart he is, how handsome he is, how considerate he is, how successful he is going to be, how lucky she was that she landed with such an absolutely unique guy. 

Ellie’s feelings have not changed, but she has toned down the compliments.  She would feel foolish, now that they are both older, if she kept up the ego-stroking indefinitely, especially in front of the children they now have. She is always there for Tom, but by now he knows how she feels, so she does not feel the need to remind Tom everyday of just what those feelings are. 

Tom, though, is reminded daily at his office of how not quite up to snuff he is, and he feels that he is not quite the father he would have hoped to be—he’s just too busy trying not to get fired.  He is feeling ego-depleted. 

At least he has Maryanne at the office, who is constantly reminding him of how much better he is than the losers they both work for.  Maryanne, Tom feels, really understands him.  Maryanne feels the same way.  And, from what she hears, poor Tom is married to someone who no longer appreciates him.  That’s where she can make his life—and hers—better.  Really much better!

When people stray, the assumption often is that they are unhappy in their relationship or at least are missing the love they once felt.  Some affairs, however, especially for men, have little or nothing to do with the current relationship and a lot to do with ego gratification.  


The Role of Compliments and Flattery Early in a Relationship

In the early days of a relationship, especially when the relationship is just forming, couples tend to spend a lot of time stroking each other, not only physically, but mentally and physically as well.  They want to make sure the partner or potential partner knows how special they are to the lover (or potential lover).  They know a fundamental principle of interpersonal attraction: Ingratiation works!  

Flattery is one of the best ways to get and keep someone’s attention.  Of course, anyone in politics knows this instinctively, especially these days!  

The reason that ingratiation—sheer flattery—works so well is that most people, deep down, are insecure.  They constantly need others to tell them how great they are!

As time goes on, our attempts to flatter or compliment our partners decrease. We end up like Tom, agonizing "My wife never compliments me - what did I do?"

Five things can happen in a relationship that lead us to pay fewer compliments to our partners.


5 Reasons We Stop Flattering our Partners  

1. We may start to take the relationship for granted.

Check—we have that relationship. We move on to other goals we have in life.  Except that people’s needs to have their egos bathed in flattery do not decrease with time.  If anything, their needs may increase as they begin to wonder whether they are still as attractive and desirable as they once were.

2. We may become more acutely aware of our partner’s drawbacks, and show it in our behavior, even unconsciously. 

“Wow, I did not realize how rarely he bathes!”  “Yikes, he always leaves the house in such a mess!”  “Eek, what did he eat for dinner—it smells like a sewer in this bedroom!”  “Egad, not that joke again!”  The list goes on, but over time, people’s weak points inevitably show themselves.  I remember being warned about this when I took an administrative position as a dean at a university.  The provost told me that, over time, every weak point I had would be observed and exploited by those working with me. Well, your partner may or may not exploit your weak points, but they certainly will notice.

3. We may become more overtly critical of our partner. 

Criticizing a potential partner, especially in a significant way, is not a great way to get them interested in you.  But once you are in a relationship with them, you may let down your guard and start saying things you would have held back on before.  And as you know, negative information is much more powerful than positive information.  The positive things you say and do may be quickly forgotten; the negative ones probably won’t be.

4. As a relationship progresses, we get busy and don’t make the time to say positive things. 

We have our jobs; we may have kids; bills need to be paid; house or apartment repairs may start to consume our attention. (Right at this moment, Karin and I are waiting for the plumber to come to fix a leaky toilet!)  Even planning and taking vacations can become a hassle, especially if, as so often happens in our small town, planes are delayed, canceled, or just are supremely unpleasant.  

5. We may habituate to, and even start to write off, our partner’s compliments. 

“Yes, I know my partner likes me,” you may say. What else is new?  No new information in that.  So you may look for someone else to compliment you, because those compliments provide affirmation and support in a way that your partner cannot quite compete with.  In effect, we are hunters, hunting for new sources of ego boosts and self-esteem.  We want someone else to tell us we are not only worthwhile but great.

The bottom line is the same, whatever the reason.  Partners often find that the ego boosts they once got from their intimate relationship are no longer what they once were. 

Some people adjust, realizing that, well, life is that way sometimes.  They find other positive things in the relationship that make up for some of the negatives. 

Other people do not adjust, but their need for ego boosts is not so great that they need boosts to come from others. 

But then, there are other people who are insecure enough, and sufficiently in need of feeling appreciated and highly valued that, consciously or otherwise, they begin to look for new sources of ego gratification. It is not that they are truly unhappy with their current relationship, any more than they would be unhappy with any relationship.  Rather, their ego needs are just so great that no relationship will satisfy those needs over the long term. 

What can you do?


8 Things to Do to Make Your Partner more Appreciated

Relationship problems do not have single perfect solutions.  People like Tom and Ellie don’t need a single perfect solution.  But they need something, fast. 

There are at least eight things they (or you!) can do to solve the problem of ego depletion—of feeling unappreciated and lacking in ego gratification.

1. Compliment your partner more and mean it. 

Give compliments that are real.  Your partner probably knows you well enough to know when a compliment is fake.  Also, find new things for which to compliment your partner; don’t just keep repeating the old compliments about the old things.

2. Criticize your partner less. 

Some criticisms are important.  If your partner is spending you into bankruptcy or drinking him (or her) self to death, you have to say something.  But how many of the criticisms you give are really necessary?  And how many would best never being said?

3. If you criticize, do so constructively. 

OK, you have said what is wrong.  How can it be made better?  What reasonable and meaningful steps can your partner, or better, you and your partner take together to improve the situation?

4. Show concretely you value your partner. 

What does your partner really like?  Flowers? Candy? Jewelry? Being taken out to dinner? Being given time to pursue a hobby?  Find ways to show your appreciation.

5. Surprise and delight your partner. 

Surprise gifts have special value.  Everyone likes to get presents for their birthday but think how much more a present means when it is for no special occasion at all other than to show you care about your partner. Remember that surprises sometimes can backfire.  Be careful in choosing your surprises.  

6. Listen actively! 

As we spend more and more time in a relationship, we may start anticipating what our partner will say or feel that we just don’t need to listen all the time.  We’ve got other things to think about.  Sure, if you want your relationship to slide downhill.  Instead, listen carefully and respond.  Show you are interested; you care; you value your partner enough to pay attention.

7. If you need something, say something.  If you see something, say something (as they say with regard to subway crime). 

If you need something from your partner, tell them.  If you see something that troubles you, say something.  Don’t wait for things to get out of hand.  Don’t just go out looking elsewhere for gratification.  Give your partner a chance.  And another chance and another!

8. If things aren’t working, get counseling. 

Sometimes, partners can’t get things back to the way they were, or at least, the way they want them to be.  Get counseling.  Don’t wait until it is too late.

Affairs of the ego can and do happen.  But you can take steps to prevent them.  Now is a good time to start.

Sources used in this article:

Gordon, R. A. (1996). Impact of ingratiation on judgments and evaluations: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(1), 54. 

Jones, E.E. (1964). Ingratiation: A social psychologist analysis. New York, New York: Appleton-Century-Croft.


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11 thoughts on “5 Reasons We Stop Complimenting Our Partners (and What You Can Do About It)”

  1. I think that is an motivating point, it made me think a bit. Thank you for sparking my thinking cap. Sometimes I get so much in a rut that I just sense like a record.

  2. my girl friend doesn’t compliment me anymore:/ but she did so much at the start of our relationship, what do i do? how would i bring it up with out it sounding weird?

    1. It is not weird to bring it up! You want to be in a relationship in which, if you have concerns, you can talk about them. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to discuss.

  3. I googled this subject because after 8 years i still do not get compliments from him. I go out of my way to try to look attractive and he cant or wont appreciate the effort. its not just this going on. The first 5 years he was still obsessed with his second wife who is 10 years younger, i cant nor should i compete with that, but sadly I do since he would stalk her on social media. We also dont have sex, havent for years. When he is drunk he makes statements lime we are going to “this and that”, but it never happens. I have told hi. before to quit talking lime that because it IS all talk, no action.

    1. Sam,
      It seems that your partner has some personal emotional issues that he has not solved, he drinks and stalks his ex.
      It also appears to me that you are his safety net, no complements, no sex, and you are still there just waiting… maybe you need to shake things up a bit, don’t let this relationship affect your self esteem and prevent you from having a meaningful relationship that you deserve with maybe someone else.

  4. This really made me think and open my eyes on how much I want want want but I am not equally giving back to my partner. The beginning was amazing and we were both so happy and now that we have moved into another step in our relationship we do have a lot going on. I simply forget to be appreciative for the things he does like never missing date night once a week, grooming himself, daily working out, cleaning up when i am tired. I crave the attention I’m not giving back to him.

  5. My husband and I have been married 36 years ….. sadly he has never been one to compliment me ….. which is hard ….. I was a very successful business person ….. but moved when he retired ….. I feel lost ….. we lost a child a few years ago and it seems worse …… he has always been very opinionated about his thoughts only ….. I am Truly at my witts end …..

    1. Yes, the situation you’re in would be hard for anyone. You are grieving multiple losses, and it does sound like your husband is very concerned with himself. But you have a right to be seen and heard in your relationship, and your feelings are valid.

      Generally, I would suggest that you see if you can develop a love story that resonates with both of you so you can set goals for your relationship and life together that are appealing to both of you and you find your way together again (see more information about love stories here:

      However, if your husband is very opinionated he may not be willing to seriously consider your feelings or try to change course with your relationship. In that case, you might be best off to try counseling.

      In any case, you’re in my thoughts and I wish you the best of luck!

  6. Okay… I have never been one to do this. I only read the articles and comments…
    I have been married for 4 years now. My husband is 11 years younger than me however we never notice our age difference unless we actually talk about it or someone asks our age.
    He and I get along very well almost feels like the best roommate I could have ever asked for (eye-roll)! Over the last 4 years, we both gained a little weight and now one would call us a little chunky lol… My mother said it is because we are happy and comfortable and I would have to agree. I do know if being happy means gaining weight, I want no part of happiness. I am just joking.
    The issue is that I am always the one initiating intimacy with him and he spends most of his time on the phone browsing social media. I wait until he is done unwinding and initiate intimacy with him and at this point, he has become too tired. I have never met a man who is not wanting to be intimate with me during a relationship. I am older, only 42 but I truly do not look my age. I question myself all of the time… Is it me, am I more driven than him… He has not complimented me in… I don’t know how long. I could dramatically change my entire hair color and wait a week before I ask him if he likes it and at that point, he will look at me quickly and say “yes baby it looks nice”.
    I always talk to him about why I have to ask you if you want to be intimate and he laughs it off like it is a joke when in fact I feel embarrassed and have made a decision that starting today I will no longer ask, initiate or nothing when it comes to sex! Also when we do it’s over more quickly than I would like. I feel this is an opportunity for him to make an effort and please me in other ways. Unfourtinitall that doesn’t happen
    Men are too naturally chased and yet he does not chase or look at me long enough to see my hair is different or if he notices he doesn’t even say a word about it.
    If his sister dramatically changed her hair he would easily compliment her. If a pretty girl is walking by he will be sure to take a look!
    What am I missing? Is it Me? Can someone chime in and explain what the issue could be?
    The other thing is. I can not change him nor can I force him to do any of the things I am looking for. I know that if he wants to do them he would which leads me to understand that he does not want to and I think it is that part that bothers me most.
    I do what I need to do to always give myself self-love and what makes me happy comes easy for me as I have been in an abusive relationship previously and learned to love myself from the core of my soul. I do not need him to do these things in order for me to be happy but they sure would help me to have clarification that his interest is still with me…

    1. Thank you so much for posting, Luna! As with any relationship, there are a lot of different issues packed in your situation.

      First of all, I totally get it with the social media. There are also plenty of studies that show that relationships suffer when people spend too much time on their digital devices when in the presence of their partner. Have you shared with your husband his excessive use of his cell phone is bothering you? Often, people are so involved with their phones they do not even notice the impact they have on others. How about if you both stayed off digital devices for the last hour before bedtime? Or maybe you could try having a device-free evening or afternoon every week? Even if your husband is not enthusiastic about that, he may be willing to try it for a limited time — and perhaps he’ll even start to like it!

      With respect to the compliments and looking at you, I think it’s important to take your husband’s personality into perspective. Has he ever been a keen observer and paid you lots of compliments, or is he a more subdued person? I recently bought my husband a new canary and he did not even notice there was an additional bird in his aviary until, after a day, I took him right up to the cage and had him look at each bird individually… Again, this is something I think you should bring up with your husband to see what he has to say. Also, share with him which acts of his are most important to you — are you missing verbal compliments, or are you maybe missing his attention in general?

      People’s desire for intimacy varies significantly, and it’s not always men who crave physical intimacy more than women. I know quite a few couples where the opposite is the case. Again, it would be helpful to know more about his reasons. Is he not interested because he’s tired, because he just has less of a need for physical intimacy, or is there a possibility he has lost interest in you and your relationship (I’m not suggesting this is the case, but as you can see there are lots of reasons why someone feels less of a desire to be intimate).

      This is all to say, I’d start with communicating my feelings and wishes with him and I’d also try to regularly schedule some purposeful couple quality time where you minimize distractions so you can concentrate on each other. Think about things you’d like to do together — hang out at home and cook together, take a walk, go to a new museum, etc.

      We also have an article that I think might be of interest to you. It talks about a paradoxical way to get closer to someone you love. It might be worth trying out as well 🙂

      Ultimately, what you say is very true — you cannot change your husband. He is who he is. But from what I read between the lines in your comment, it also seems he cares about you and wants to make you happy. He may appreciate it when you bring your wishes and desires to his attention. Try to phrase them in a positive way: Rather than saying “I don’t like it when you…” but rather “I’d really like it if you…” or “It would mean a lot to me if you…” Give him a chance to see how he reacts.

      You’re doing a great job caring for yourself. That’s very important, so please keep doing that. Maybe you’ll feel compelled to try out some of my suggestions above. Let me know how things go! And also keep in mind that there is likely no one partner who can fulfill our every need. It is OK to find some other ways to fulfill some of your needs — through hobbies or friendships with others, for example. You can only be happy in your relationship if you’re happy with yourself. My best wishes to you!

  7. Cookie monster

    Okay same question my partner never compliments me no more I don’t care but she used to all the time

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