Three Seconds to a New Relationship

As women, we can often be our own worst enemies, especially when it comes to our relationships.

(I assume men can be their own worst enemies as well, because we’re all human and ruled by the same brain chemicals, but having never been a man, I can’t say for certain.)

As wives, though, we’re very quick to make decisions about how our husbands feel about us.

In fact, I have my own Husband-to-Kendra Translation Dictionary.

When my husband says, “I’m really proud of you for writing on your blog and putting your thoughts out there,” I thumb through my trusty Husband-to-Kendra dictionary and find, “He really thinks my writing is silly and takes up too much time, but he’s trying to be nice.”

When he says, “This is a really good meal,” my dictionary tells me he means, “It’s polite to say nice things when someone has spent this much time making dinner.”

“You look adorable!” Dictionary says – “This is the only wife I’ve got and my only chance of having sex in the foreseeable future, so I’ll squint my eyes and look past the dirty hair and sweat pants smeared with dog slobber.”

To be fair, I don’t always pull out my Husband-to-Kendra Translation Dictionary. Sometimes I take my husband’s words exactly as he says them. (To which I’m certain he would say, “ThankyouThankyouThankyou!”) On the other hand, sometimes I don’t pull it out because I’ve already memorized the entry from sheer repetition.

Perhaps you don’t have a Husband-to-You Dictionary. But I bet you have at least one translation dictionary on your mental bookshelf. Mother-to-You. Child-to-You. Friend-to-You. Annoying Co-worker-to-You.

“Great job on that project!” Dictionary says – “What does she want from me?”

“Your new haircut looks great!” Dictionary says – “I have to say something nice because it’s obvious she got her hair done.”

It can be time-consuming and energy-draining to have the equivalent of Google Translator in your head. And it’s not very healthy for our relationships, either.

But we’re going to change that!

I’m big on small steps – really small steps! – and challenges. So here it is:

For ONE WEEK – every time your husband (or co-worker or friend – choose only ONE) pays you a compliment, smile big, say “thank you”, and resist the urge to pull out your translation dictionary.

It takes less than 1 second. Smile big, “thank you,” period.

Whether you deep-down think he means it or not, ACT like he does. And leave that translation dictionary on the shelf. If you start to reach for it, smile again, big like you mean it.

The big smile first is crucial. Seriously.

There’s this physiological concept called the facial feedback hypothesis. It seems obvious to most people that when your brain tells you you’re happy, it causes your face to smile. But the opposite is also true. When your face smiles, it tells your brain you’re happy.

Let me repeat that.

When your face smiles, it tells your brain you’re happy. Your face gives feedback to your brain to tell it how to feel. Hence, the facial feedback hypothesis.

As you might imagine, this is a weaker signal than the reverse. When you’re enjoying a sunny, 70-degree March day relaxing on the deck with sunshine on your face, it’s hard not to smile. In fact, I bet reading along some of you couldn’t resist the urge to smile just a bit at the description.

The facial feedback hypothesis works – but it’s not “sunny March day” happy. So you have to give it all you’ve got. The bigger the smile, the more likely your brain will catch on. (And even if it doesn’t right away, we’re going to practice this all week, which is going to keep building those neural pathways, a bit like repetition weight training incrementally builds your muscles.)

This won’t banish the dictionary for good. And it won’t eliminate all of our dictionaries – remember, we’re working on just ONE relationship this week, so pick the most important one. But it’s a little step. {Come on folks, less than a second each time – what’s to lose?} And I bet we’ll see pleasant results by the end of the week. It can’t hurt. Who’s in?


  1. Sherrey Meyer

    OK, dictionaries placed on the shelf for one week. Just one! Every word you’ve written here is true, and I’m so glad you wrote this out. I loved it — it’s a great post. 🙂

    • Kendra Burrows

      Thanks Sherrey!! Enjoy a dictionary-free week!

  2. Stella Myers

    Kendra, I have been working on the “thank you” and smile, because I have a terrible time not explaining where I got, how I got it and why I’m wearing/carrying it. Thank you for this. Will join and see if I can lesson my dictionary load.

    • Kendra Burrows

      Great! The fewer of us carrying dictionaries, the better! 😉

  3. Terry @ A Mom's Many Lessons

    Great picture of how we translate what other’s mean by their words! I’m really going to think on this one – with my kids, my husband, and all those other people I hear during the week. It just might be the ticket to true communication! Novel idea…..

    • Kendra Burrows

      You won’t regret it, Terry! Thanks for stopping by.


    Kendra, I promised I’d come back and leave a comment when I was off that silly iPhone. Your post is great. It made me smile. I spent the rest of my day smiling at my husband and son before they even had a chance to say anything and didn’t use the spousal translator at all, and it was amazing how pleasant a day it was. The facial feedback hypothesis works at any time and on anyone. I started doing this years ago to help with depression and while I felt like an idiot, that subsided into contentment. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Kendra Burrows

      It’s good stuff, isn’t it Tonia! Except people start to wonder what you’re up to 😉

  5. Melinda Lancaster

    I’m in because I know this is true. Good stuff, Kendra!

  6. Dawn MichelWalton

    This seems to be true for me too, I have so many dictionaries I sometimes get them confused with someone else’s. Why, oh why, must I process everything through my own narrow filter instead of just accepting and moving forward happily?!

    • Kendra Burrows

      It seems like something we could all use a little work on. 😉 Glad you stopped by!

  7. Debbie Simorte

    Oh my gosh! Great practice and great reminder. I was once on a shuttle to a conference, when a woman complimented my bag. My “thanks” turned into “Thanks, I think I found it at TJ Maxx” and bla bla bla bla bla, as if she’d asked how someone like me could have such a nice purse or something. Turned out she was the speaker for that night’s dinner and used our conversation as an example to just take the compliment. But geesh, I still need the reminder.

    • Kendra Burrows

      Fun to get called out in front of everyone. 😉 But I’m sure you handled it with grace. It’s amazing how much time we can spend telling people we’re not good enough or trying to talk them our of their feelings about us. “Nice outfit!” Oh, this old thing? 😉

  8. Denise Jackson

    What a GREAT idea. Yes, I have several of my own translating dictionaries. You have analyzed this well. It is so true for me. Thanks for expanding my thinking!

    • Kendra Burrows

      Why do we try to read people’s minds but get upset when others don’t take us at our word? Fortunately, it gets better with age. {Remember the teenage years? ugh.} But I still feel the need to take an active part in eliminating the dictionaries. Glad you stopped by!

Hi, I’m Kendra

I help bright, successful over-thinkers change their negative thoughts using Scripture and the science of how God made you.

Let’s be Friends

Search the Blog

Search by Category

Recent Posts