It turns out that kindness and generosity are the two qualities that, more than any other, distinguish happy couples from the also-rans. New research by the Gottman Relationship Institute says that happy couples exhibit significantly higher degrees of kindness and generosity than less happy couples. Of course, you might be tempted to say “Well, that’s obvious!” but it isn’t as obvious as you might think when you get down beneath the surface.
Kindness, according to the researchers, has to do with how we relate our feelings, especially our feelings of anger, impatience and frustration with our spouse’s imperfections. Kindness doesn’t require you to stuff your feelings, but it does require to express them…kindly. For instance, if an unhappy couple is angry with each other, they might put things in a more accusatory, blaming way. But if a happy couple was upset or disappointed with each other they might say, “Listen, I really love you, but I’m really frustrated about this thing you do. What can I do to help you get past that?” Or “I’m really having a hard time with X. I really need your help to figure this out.” Kindness enables us to see irritations as problems to be solved, not clubs to beat one another with.
Generosity has to do with a couple’s ability to remember to step outside of their comfort zones and find little ways to make each other’s day a little easier or more pleasant. Happy couples ask each other each day what they can do to help lighten each other’s burdens and make each other’s days more enjoyable. Less healthy couples, on the other hand, wake up in the morning and act like they’ve been shot out of a canon. They do what they need to do and don’t look up again until they fall into bed at the end of the night. They aren’t opposed to being generous. It just never occurs to them to do it because “they don’t have time for it.” The truth is, happy couples aren’t less busy than other couples they’re just more mindful. Generosity gets squeezed out in less healthy marriages because the couple doesn’t prioritize it. Being generous requires us stop saying, “What do I need to do to get through the day?” and ask instead “What can I do to take care of my partner so that we can both get through our day with a little more peace love and understanding?” That takes a level of mindfulness and consideration that doesn’t come easily to most people but its as simple to cultivate as asking the question, “What can I do to try to let my spouse know I’m thinking about them and I care–right now. In this moment.” And asking that a few more times throughout the day.
We often hear about how nice it would be to make Christmas last all year long. We can. By intentionally cultivating the kindness and generosity that healthy relationship require, we can experience a more incarnate love–the kind of love that comes from God’s own heart. The sort of kind and generous love that God reminds us–each year at this time–that he made us to experience.
If you would like to increase your experience of kindness and generosity in your relationship, check out these resources: