What is the Role of Kindness, Compassion and Generosity in Healthy, Happy Relationships?

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You’ve probably heard that it’s better to give than receive—and this is also true for relationships! Research shows that being compassionate towards your partner has many benefits.

Research shows that doing something nice for your partner, such as making their morning coffee or showing them more affection, can boost your emotional well-being, regardless of whether or not your partner notices.

In fact, in one study, the emotional benefits for givers were 45% greater than benefits for recipients. These results led researchers to suggest that, “acting compassionately may be its own reward.”

It’s also important to remember that refraining from criticism is just as important as saying things that are loving and kind. The way we talk to our partner when we’re annoyed—the tone we use or the looks we give—can get in the way of the positive, compassionate things we do.

How to be More Compassionate

We can also train ourselves to be more compassionate. Learning compassion is not unlike learning a new academic skill or weight training. We can build “compassion muscles” that will enable us to respond to the suffering of others with more care and a desire to help.

In another study, researchers trained young adults to practice compassion meditation. They were asked to repeat phrases that helped them concentrate on compassionate wishes for others. The phrases included, “may you be free from suffering” and “may you have joy and ease.” Instead of turning away from suffering, those who practiced compassion meditation showed more caring and a willingness to help.

Three Ways to Show Generosity

A generous marriage or relationship that includes compassion and small daily acts of kindness is more likely to bring happiness to both partners. Researchers define generosity as: “[the] virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly.”

They identify three ways partners can express generosity:

      • Regularly engaging in small acts of kindness

      • Frequently expressing affection and respect

      • Regularly forgiving each other

Generosity creates a continuing cycle of joy. The process of getting to know our partner better, by learning what makes them happy, adds to our happiness too. Expressing our generosity by doing something for our partner, such as performing small acts of kindness, often shows that we care to know what our partner likes. When we learn new things about our partner our relationship becomes more meaningful. Our partner is also likely to meet our generosity with gratitude. And gratitude leads to happiness too.

Forgiveness is another way to express generosity that requires hard work because most people who are hurt by someone seek to retaliate or to distance themselves. Couples who can forgive are usually also better at dealing with conflict.

ELEVATE Your Relationship

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Written by Dylan Klempner, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Edited by Kristina Forman, lead editor, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

References

Dew, Jeffrey and Wilcox, W. Bradford, Give and You Shall Receive? Generosity, Sacrifice, & Marital Quality (December 8, 2011). National Marriage Project Working Paper No. 11-1. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1970016

Hampson, S. The Secret to a Happy Marriage? Small Acts of Kindness. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/the-secret-to-a-happy-marriage-small-acts-of-kindness/article1357638/

MacMillan, A. Random Acts of Kindness Make Marriages Happier. Retrieved from http://time.com/4674982/kindness-compassion-marriage/

Reis, H. T., Maniaci, M. R., & Rogge, R. D. (2017). Compassionate acts and everyday emotional well-being among newlyweds. Emotion, 17(4), 751-763. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000281

Reis, H. T., Maniaci, M. R., & Rogge, R. D. (2014). The expression of compassionate love in everyday compassionate acts. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(5), 651–676. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407513507214

Seppala, E. Compassion: Our First Instinct. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201306/compassion-our-first-instinct

Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., K., J. Z., Olson, M. C., … Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1171–1180. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612469537

Rowe, A. Brain Can Be Trained in Compassion, Study Shows. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/compassion-training.html