Who knew that something as generic as generosity could transform your marriage? It has the potential to increase marital quality, make conflict resolution easier, increase your own happiness, help you to see other people’s perspectives, decrease divorce risk… Basically, make everything better except for my poor finger…

Today, we’re offering some variety! I (Caleb) injured my finger and while it is not exactly life threatening (like such horrors as a man cold), I am not supposed to type. Sooo, this week Verlynda has gone through the research and written up this episode. Wasn’t it just last week we had an iTunes review asking for more input from Verlynda? Well, here you are! Ok, let’s get into the topic of generosity.

What Is Generosity?

Bear with me while we go through some boring definitions, but they really do lay the foundation for looking at how generosity affects marriage.

Marital generosity is defined as “giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly[i]“. Generosity is considered a “marital virtue”: a character trait and personal strength which naturally leads a person to act in ways that are good for the marriage[ii].

More practically speaking, within marriage, generosity can be seen as investing in the relationship with behaviors such as putting your spouse’s needs above your own, and freely giving of your time, effort and energy without any thought of personal gain[iii].

What Effect does Generosity Have on Marriage?

I think it’s obvious to say that generosity will have a positive impact on marriage. What I thought was neat though, was it had a positive impact both for the person acting generously and for their spouse. This is a win-win!

Generosity often feels good and satisfying personally. It also increases your spouse’s happiness and makes them more likely to act generously in return. So even though generosity shouldn’t be motivated by personal gain, people do still benefit from it.

Here’s a blurb from the research: generosity increases marital satisfaction for both spouses, reduces marital conflict and is negatively correlated with risk of divorce[iv]. These effects are true for both husbands and wives but are normally more pronounced in women. So, who wouldn’t want to add a little more generosity into their repertoire?

Generous acts also serve to protect the marriage from stresses such as financial pressure. A study from 2018[v] found that a husband’s levels of generosity mediated the link between economic hardship and his wife’s levels of marital quality.

Here’s something about generosity that I found really interesting. Generosity is related to specific acts that a person does for their spouse, but it is also a state of mind which affects how they see and relate to the world[vi]. Both aspects are important.

First, let’s talk about the acts or behaviors, and then we’ll look into the mind piece.

Acts of Generosity

Here are four key ways that the research[vii] gives to show generosity to one’s spouse. These are:

    1. small, everyday acts of kindness
    2. expressions of respect
    3. displays of affection
    4. willingness to forgive

These four kinds of generosity were linked to higher marital satisfaction for both spouses, reduced conflict and reduced divorce risk.

Generosity and the Love Languages

Once again we’ve created a bonus guide for our much appreciated patrons. This week we’re looking at how to practically inject more generosity into your marriage, taking into account the love languages you and your spouse respond best to. If you want to make sure your generosity really hits the mark then you’ll want to pick up this guide. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.

Household labor! This is another important area that marital generosity impacts. Research from 2012[viii] found a link between generosity and willingness to share household and childcare labor. Deciding to share these jobs fairly (rather than doing them out of obligation) led to couples seeing each other as more generous, which led to higher marital quality.

Like the other day, when I hadn’t got the dishes done, and had done a ton of baking, so the counter was full, and after supper, Caleb just started on washing. It was totally unnecessary as I had made all the mess, but you were so generous with your time and your wrinkly dishpan hands and you finished them all for me. That was total generosity. I’m quite sure our marital quality went up!

Ok, onto the mind!

A Generous Mind

Having a generous personality or mindset positively affects marriage through the way it causes you to see your spouse and the way it motivates you to act.

Other-Centered

Generous people are naturally other-centered: they think more in terms of other people than about their own needs. This means that a generous spouse is better able to perceive and respond to his or her spouse’s needs, and more motivated to think about their spouse’s needs before their own. A generous mindset also makes it easier to see other people’s perspectives, making it easier to resolve disagreement[ix].

Who wouldn’t want to be more generous after hearing that? But it gets even better!

Seeing The Best

Generosity also allows a person to view their spouse in a more positive way. So instead of assuming the worst about them, you assume the best. For example, if your spouse snaps at you, a generous interpretation would be that they had a bad day, rather than thinking they are just an angry person. (Check out our episode on misinterpreting your spouse for more about this) This willingness to look for the best in your spouse makes forgiveness and conflict resolution easier.

Generosity also affects how you see your spouse more generally. As one researcher put it, “Generosity reflects a willingness to focus on a spouse’s strengths and work around his or her weaknesses[x]“.

What I love about this, is that it becomes an upward spiral. We hear about the downward spiral of negativity, but if we’re proactive with the generosity, we can cause an upward spiral of positivity. Being able to view your spouse in this way of focusing on their strengths will increase your own happiness and satisfaction with the marriage, and will cause you to act in ways which increase your spouse’s happiness too. And if they’re happier and generous, it will continue to increase their own marital happiness and cause them to act in ways to increase your happiness, and on and on it goes!

So how can we increase our generosity?

Increasing Our Generosity

In 2012[xi], researchers identified 3 other personality factors which naturally lead to more marital generosity. These were:

    1. Egalitarianism: the belief that fairly sharing out all the roles and responsibilities between both spouses is important. I was thinking about this one. I think if I felt like I had to do the most work, then I would be less likely to be generous and help Caleb out too. But if I felt that we shared things fairly, then I would be happy to help out (generosity!).
    2. Commitment: high levels of commitment to the marriage makes spouses more likely to invest in each other through generosity
    3. Faith: the Bible teaches the virtue of putting other’s needs before your own, so religious views naturally lead to a more generous mindset.

Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at the topic of Generosity, and I hope you’ll join me this week (and ongoing…) in putting it more into practice in your marriage. Remember generosity is a mindset – a way of thinking about your spouse, and also actions. I’d love to hear what sneaky little ways you’ve found to be generous to your spouse when they’re least expecting it, or perhaps when they least deserve it. Except that you’ll be thinking so generously of them, you won’t even notice that…

References

[i] Jeffrey Dew and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality,” Journal of Marriage and Family 75, no. 5 (2013): 1218–28.

[ii] H. Wallace Goddard et al., “Qualities of Character That Predict Marital Well‐being,” Family Relations 65, no. 3 (2016): 424–38.

[iii] Dew and Wilcox, “Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality.”

[iv] Dew and Wilcox.

[v] Jeffrey Dew and Mark Jackson, “Commitment and Relationship Maintenance Behaviors as Marital Protective Factors during Economic Pressure,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 39, no. 2 (June 1, 2018): 191–204, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-017-9550-7.

[vi] Wallace Goddard et al., “Qualities of Character That Predict Marital Well‐being.”

[vii] Dew and Wilcox, “Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality.”

[viii] Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, “The Date Night Opportunity: What Does Coupe Time Tell Us About the Potential Value of Date Nights?” (The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, 2012), http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/NMP-DateNight.pdf.

[ix] Wallace Goddard et al., “Qualities of Character That Predict Marital Well‐being.”

[x] Dew and Wilcox, “Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality.”

[xi] Wilcox and Dew, “The Date Night Opportunity: What Does Coupe Time Tell Us About the Potential Value of Date Nights?”