My boyfriend can’t accept a complement

Dear Lisa,

A couple of years ago my boyfriend and I did the quiz on Love Languages and found out that he really likes words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time, and that I really like physical touch, gifts and acts of service. For the most part, it has really been helpful for us to express our love to each other so that the other person can hear it.

I’ve noticed more lately than ever, although I think he’s always been like this, that my man will jokingly say ‘who me?’ or look around the room when I give him a complement, and it sort of pisses me off! I’d love to know why he does that and if there is a way to make him hear me and really feel what I’m telling him.

–Love Linguist ( ♀ Edmonton)


Dear Love Linguist,

This is a great question! There are a few different ways to accept a complement, I for one, have tended to politely say thank you and then think to myself that the other person clearly doesn’t have any idea what they’re talking about. Others say ‘thank you’ and mean it. Some people say ‘I know’ and it goes straight to their heads. Still others will deflect it by doing what your boyfriend does, or saying ‘Nawww!’ in a joking kind of way. So, to answer your first question, how we accept complements is a clear indication of how we feel about ourselves.

Unfortunately, in answer to your second question, the ‘complementer’ can’t do anything about the way the ‘complemented’ feels about themselves; only your boyfriend can decide that he is worth the complement. My first suggestion is to take some time to observe the situation, starting first by observing yourself: do you complement him all the time about everything? Or just once in a while? When you complement him are you looking him in the eyes and saying it with love in your heart, or are you trying to say things that will make him feel good about himself or better about something he’s done? Basically, are you complementing him out of a sincere and genuine expression of admiration, or are you trying to make something happen/get some result?

After you’ve observed for a while, and made sure that you are being completely genuine in your complements for a few weeks, if he is still responding in a way that hurts you, you can let him know how it feels for you to hear him throw your complement away the next time it happens. Depending on what you feel, you could say ‘ouch! I feel dismissed when you say ‘who me’ in response to my complements.’ (making sure that you talk about how you feel, and not accuse him of something he might not be doing like slamming a door in your face, dismissing you or rejecting you, etc.) That might be enough for him to see his reaction from another perspective. If the emotion is real and fresh, it will be easy for him to hear, but if it is loaded with past resentment, you will need to understand the situation a little better before you can let go of how you feel.

Understanding the situation means that you need to approach the subject at a neutral time, when it isn’t happening, so that you can let him know how you feel, and better understand what it’s like for him. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but as an example, you might feel like he doesn’t take you seriously when you complement him. Avoiding the ‘why’ word, let him know that you’d like to give him words of affirmation, and tell him that you feel he doesn’t take your complement seriously because of his reaction. Give him a chance to respond and then ask questions. You might have the opportunity to ask him if your complements make him uncomfortable, or maybe how you could give him words of affirmation that he can receive. The most important thing is to listen to what it is like for him, and then have him hear what it is like for him. At the end, you could let him know that in the best of possible outcomes, you would really consider whether the complement you are giving is flippant or habitual and you would love it if he would please try and take it in, or at least not deflect it.

This is a pretty vulnerable topic for a person. You are basically asking to know how he feels about himself, and he might not even have an answer for you. The key is to make sure that you completely understand what is going on for him, rather than trying to convince him that he should be able to take a complement ‘properly’.

I’d love to hear how it goes,

– Lisa



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