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Taking Compliments to Heart Strengthens Love

A couple holding hands in front of a sunset
Problem Area: 

Problem

People with low self-esteem feel less love from their partners and have more trouble in relationships.   

Solution

Teaching people with low self-esteem to interpret their partner’s compliments as deep and enduring, rather than as shallow and fleeting, helps them feel loved and act better in their relationships...

Details

Social psychologist Denise Marigold and her colleagues asked college students in romantic relationships to recall a time when their partner complimented them. Participants who were randomly assigned to the control group just shared their story without any further instructions. 
 
Participants in the concrete group were instructed to focus on the concrete details of the compliment, such as their partner’s exact words and the activity they were doing when the words were uttered. 
 
In the intervention group, participants were asked to think about the compliment more broadly and explain why their partner admired them and what their partner’s admiration meant to them and their relationship. 
 
For participants low in self-esteem, thinking about the compliment’s broad meaning and significance led them to feel happier and more secure in their relationships. These participants also became less likely to lash out at their partners.

Why This Works

Interpreting compliments as enduring proof that our partners admire us can help us feel loved and safe in our romantic relationships, which is especially hard for people with low self-esteem.

When This Works Best

People with low self-esteem or who otherwise have trouble accepting their partner’s love and admiration will benefit most from learning how to harness the power of compliments. This intervention also works best in relatively stable relationships. 

Original Studies

Marigold, D. C., Holmes, J. G., & Ross, M. (2007). More than words: Reframing compliments from romantic partners fosters security in low self-esteem individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(2), 232-248. 

Marigold, D. C., Holmes, J. G., & Ross, M. (2010). Fostering relationship resilience: An intervention for low self-esteem individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 624-630.

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