God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
2 Corinthians 9:7
We were sitting in an airport terminal recently and observed an older couple seated across from us waiting to board the same plane. She leaned over and asked him a question, looking directly into his eyes. We didn’t hear what either of them said, but he smiled and patted her on the knee. A minute later, she got up and brought him a cup of coffee. He looked surprised and delighted.
It wasn’t dramatic. In fact, it was barely perceptible. But this couple showed a series of small acts of emotional generosity within a few minutes. And those small acts are what one researcher calls “the best marital life insurance policy there is.”
Researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project recently studied the role of generosity in nearly 3,000 marriages. Generosity was defined as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly” — like simply making them coffee in the morning or offering a little back rub (it has little to do with spending money) — and researchers quizzed men and women on how often they behaved generously toward their partners.
The responses went right to the core of their unions. Men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. The benefits of generosity were particularly pronounced among couples with children. Among the parents who posted above-average scores for marital generosity, about 50 percent reported being “very happy” together. Among those with lower generosity scores, only about 14 percent claimed to be “very happy.”
“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful, but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate,” explains Brad Wilcox, who led the research.
Think about that: Couples who reported a high amount of generosity in their relationship were five times more likely to say their marriage was “very happy,” compared with those who reported a low amount of generosity.
A good marriage is a contest of generosity.
So how do you cultivate a generous spirit in your marriage?
You begin by putting away the measuring scales or the scoreboard. If you’re keeping track of who gets what (“he went golfing so I’m buying new shoes”) you’ll never get there. As Saint Theresa observed, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”
Second, you’ve got to focus on what your spouse likes. If you know it would mean a lot to your partner to gas up the car or turn down the bed or sweep the porch or watch a particular movie or play a video game together, then that’s where you want to put your energy. If your spouse delights in a triple tall nonfat latte, and you get her an almond mocha instead, you’ve missed the mark. Generosity works best when it signals to your spouse that you know them and their personal desires.
Third, don’t neglect the intangibles. Sometimes a spirit of generosity is found when we give our spouse the benefit of the doubt by not questioning their reasoning. It’s also found when we give our spouse credit for a good idea. And it’s certainly found when we give our time. A generous spirit simply sets selfishness aside and gives.
Finally, if you want to have a generous spirit in your relationship, give without expecting anything in return. This is crucial. Generosity is never a down payment on a gift you’re wanting. Generosity is only as valid as the motivation behind it. It must come from the heart with no strings attached. To paraphrase Bob Hope, if your generosity does not come from your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.
Reflect and Respond
What’s an example of a “small act of emotional generosity” either of you has done for each other? Or what’s an example of one you’ll do this week?
Go ahead, tell us in the comments.
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I love this reminder about generosity’s importance in marriage, and I would add that it is also important to recognize and appreciate generosity in your partner by thanking them and affirming their acts of generosity often. The spark of generosity can quickly die if it ignored and taken for granted.
So true, Alana. Appreciation spurs on even more generosity. Thanks for adding to this thought. You’re right on the money.
Dear Les and Leslie,
My husband brings me tea in bed every morning. I peel him an orange with his lunch to take to work. He hates sticky!!
Wonderful. Michelle, you two have a great little generosity dance you’ve perfected.
Hi I tried to enter your contest but since I live in Canada I could not fill in the information. I went to put my province but only the states names came up. It should be noted that this offer is not available in Canada.
For mutual sharing by all spouses, the only “marital life insurance policy” is the “knowledge of God” revealed initially by the “tree of life” (Gen. 2: 7-9), and generally by the seal of the “new covenant”, i.e., Christ’s death on the cross (Matt. 26: 26-29; 27: 50-56).
It is working for us!
P.S. My role models are Adam and Eve who could not be separated in spite of their disobedience to God.
Ephrem: Sure appreciate you sharing this!
Thank you for the reminder that generosity can be small acts. I’m always trying to think of grand gestures when all my husband wants is my time and attention. To show him that I choose him over other distractions…because let’s be honest, there’s no better thing to be distracted by then your spouse!
Yes! Jessica, you got it! Those small acts often add up to be more powerful than the grand gestures. So glad you found this helpful.
I work from home so I don’t have to get up early – but I do wake up at 6am to pack my husband’s lunch every day – I have to be honest – some days I just DON’T want to get up an pack his lunch but I do – out of love – it’s just a self sacrificing way of showing love – People will say to me ‘your are crazy- why don’t you just pack it the night before’ and I say ‘because then it’s not fresh’ – HA!
I loved this article – I am going to send it around to all my married friends and family – all of it so very true. and P.S. I am one of the ‘very happy’ married of almost 13 years!
Awesome! Love hearing this, Lorie. You’re keeping the love fresh!
Oh, and THANK you for sending this to all your married friends. We really appreciate that.
We have been married 43 years. Last week was one of the rare occasions when I forgot to change the empty toilet paper roll. We enjoyed a good laugh as my husband told me about this “first” in our marriage. ( In 43 years I am certain one of us has previously forgotten to do so.:-) This is only symbolic of generosity in our relationship. It is all a part of what we tell the couples we mentor; be intentional, give more than you hope to get.
Annetta Van Andel
Annetta: So good to hear from you! And thanks for all your mentoring efforts. Your investment in other couples is incredibly valuable. Blessings!
Wonderful article..On April 25th my husband and I will be married 21 years..Last Sunday at church I was in a lot of pain and needed to take some Advil but I had not eaten anything I was going to go to the foyer and get a cereal bar and my husband asked me what kind I wanted and I said I did not know just pick one for me and he came back with one of each so I could pick the one I wanted..That was so very sweet of him..I try my best to do nice things like that for him when least expected it has so much more meaning when you do it that way..
Debbie: Congratulations on 21 years of a loving and generous marriage!
My husband of almost 8 yrs continues to surprise me with thoughtful simple gestures everyday. Just yesterday, I was on a business call for a couple of hours and he sent one of our kids with a bowl of fresh strawberries for me to munch on while I worked. ❤️
Wow! That’s so fantastic, Mayra. You got a true keeper!
My husband will surprise me with a Tim Horton’s Ice Cap, which I love.
He may be on his way home from work or shopping or whatever but he thinks of me!
Anita: So sweet. And so Canadian! Love it.
This is a great reminder! I also want to reiterate the need to thank your spouse for these acts of generosity! This is also a great role model for your kids!
For sure, Tammy. Thanks for sharing this.
My husband and I were in an argument and my husband took off to run some errands still quite angry. I texted him and said I wanted to take off and did not want to stay at home. He came back….with the gas tank filled up for me. That was really sweet. As for me, when I go food shopping, I pick out little snacks that he likes that we usually don’t get mostly because we’re trying to be healthy…like gummy bears (i know i know..) or tic tacs. His face lights up.
So sweet, Sarah.
Fabulous article! 🙂 We just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary, and are so grateful for the work God has done with each of us, and continues to do for us. We try to do something for one another daily, that prevents the other from having to do it (i.e. putting the 4 kids to bed at the end of a long day, emptying/loading the dishwasher, grabbing that last load of laundry). I’m so grateful that God has blessed us with 20-something years of friendship, which help us to really appreciate the kindness of the other. These nice gestures are simply reminders of how much God loves us (even when we don’t deserve it).
Congratulations on 18, Alison. Sound like you have a wonderful marriage that surely inspires other couples. Thanks for sharing!
My husband loves his back scratched. He even told me in a marital excersize we did a few years ago. Yet every night at bed time, I’m too tired or preoccupied on my phone. I’m only willing to do it if he asks-which is horribly selfish of me. Tonight, I want to be generous, and scratch his back…free of charge and full of love.
Ha! That’s funny, Jaime. Bet your husband LOVED his back-scratch session with a generous spirit!
My husband brushes the snow off of my car windows in the morning before leaving for work, when it’s covered. I make sure to thank him and tell him how that feels like love to me.
And I make his lunch every morning and remember to keep sardines in the cupboard for him to snack on, even though I think they are so gross!
Showering love on my stepson is another thing I do to show generosity to my husband. 🙂
Jenn: These are wonderful acts of a generous spirit. Way to go for both of you. P.S. We’re with you on the sardines. 🙂
My husband takes our son to school each morning to give me a few extra minutes to get ready for my day, he graciously cleans the kitchen and mops the floor, makes certain the car is serviced, shovels snow before work, and when the weather is bad he calls/texts to make certain I arrived safely. This week he has researched the best deals for our summer vacation and taken care of all the reservations and details. Feeling very loved……..
Rhonda: Tell your husband he’s making all the rest of us look bad! You are a blessed woman.
[…] important to cultivate a spirit of generosity toward your spouse. In fact, it’s the best marriage insurance you can invest […]
Brian, my story is on the about me page:Briefly, my wife began having an aafifr about 9 months ago, and in typical fashion told me she was done and had found her soul mate, etc. I found shortly thereafter and began applying the program. It’s not a quick-fix solution: such things don’t exist. There are a few individuals peddling programs promising to turn your marriage around quickly, but these are nothing more than manipulative strategies that might work short-term but are almost totally ineffective for the long haul. You can absolutely turn your situation around with ; the success rate is 90% for people who really do it.
It’s good to get a fresh way of looking at it.
I’m really into it, thanks for this great stuff!
Thanks for finally talking about >Drs. Les and Leslie
Parrott Why Some Couples Are Happier Than Others
– Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott <Liked it!