You know that couple. The one who has been married for many years and seems just as madly in love today as when they said, "I do." You know who I'm talking about. Do you ever sit back and ask yourself how they do it? I do. If you could sit down and talk to them, you might be surprised if they told you that it takes more than love. That kind of love takes effort. It takes intentionality. But there is one other component present: generosity.
What is generosity in marriage?
The National Marriage Project defines marital generosity as "the virtue of giving good things to one's spouse freely and abundantly." It's giving without expecting anything in return. Giving with no strings attached. Their survey of 1,365 married couples explains that generosity is small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection, and a willingness to forgive each other's faults.
This doesn't mean we view marriage as 50/50. If you're married, you know you have to give way more than 50%. You're all in.
It means that we give generously, not to receive. It's giving without expectation. Maybe that means you go above and beyond with the household chores. When your spouse has a rough day or a work deadline, you take on more responsibility around the house. You don't expect them to repay you. Your actions are genuinely rooted in love.
According to Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, generosity in marriage is "signaling to your spouse that you know them and are trying to do things for them that are consistent with your understanding of them."
Why does generosity matter in marriage?
In an interview with The New York Times, Wilcox frames it this way: "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. Living that spirit of generosity in a marriage does foster a virtuous cycle that leads to both spouses on average being happier in the marriage."
Researchers found that spouses who show generosity view their marriage as more satisfying. These spouses were the ones who gave, not received, the acts of kindness and appreciation. When we shower our spouse with selfless acts, we are more satisfied with our relationship.
Does this mean that more generous spouses have a happier, more satisfying marriage? Is the secret being more generous? Maybe. It sure doesn't hurt!
Researchers did find a correlation between generosity and marital satisfaction, but they couldn't pinpoint which came first. Does being more generous lead to more satisfaction? Or is it the other way around?
I can't answer that question (and they couldn't either), but both are a good thing. What matters is that these spouses genuinely love and care for each other.
So where do I go from here?
You can express radical generosity toward your spouse. You don't have to shower them with gifts or a trip to a tropical island. (Although, who doesn't love both of those?) You can start today with small gestures. In marriage, it's the little things that mean the most. Make their coffee. Send a text to show your appreciation. Show genuine affection. Forgive them.
Ready to get started? Ask your spouse to finish this phrase: "I feel loved when you " Then find ways to be generous in making them feel more loved than ever.
Mitchell Qualls is the operations director at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at email@example.com.