Couple kissing after being generous with each other.

It might be hard for anyone to feel generous in these days of COVID-19 and political unrest. Feelings of anger and fear are close to the surface. It may be especially difficult to be giving and thoughtful toward your partner, who you likely interact with every day.

The definition of being generous is  “liberal or sharing, unselfish.” (dictionary.com). It is about an individual acting in this way. To answer the question of why your husband is not being generous, however, we need to look at the bigger picture, that is, the context, your own behavior, and the relationship as a whole.

The Context: What Does Generosity Mean In The Context Of Marriage?

  • Generosity in marriage is not necessarily a material thing. Psychologist Joseph Norwinski, points out that true generosity is not “being extravagant” or “expecting something in return.”  It is not the kind of “pseudo-generosity,” he says, that is motivated by a desire to impress your partner.
  • Generosity is expressed in marriage through words as well as deeds. Research by psychologist Terri Orbuch shows that women express generosity more through words and men more through deeds. Also, husbands show that they need generosity more than their wives do though men may be less likely to request it. So, ask him what he would like you to do and do more of that.
  • Generosity does not mean just getting your way. Like the definition above suggests, it means sharing and being unselfish. It is the willingness to give and receive freely in your relationship. In the context of your marriage, it means both partners taking actions and speaking to promote happiness and fulfillment for yourselves, each other, and your couple. That may not always be the way you think about it!

Look At Your Own Behavior

Instead of waiting for your husband to be more generous, you might have more success looking at what you can do to generate more generosity from him.

Here are some things you can look at in terms of your own attitude and behavior:

Are you being generous to your husband? You may be withholding being giving to him out of resentment for him not giving to you. As they say, charity starts at home, so consider starting with yourself. Think about what you could offer him without him asking for it.  It’s like saying, “Do you want fries with that?” or “can I bring you XX” out of anticipation of what you expect he might need.

Though it might be difficult, be who you want to be rather than waiting for him to do something generous. One husband we worked with said he wanted to give his wife flowers, but he was waiting for her to show she “deserved” it. We coached him to do it anyway because his real wish was that she would act lovingly towards him. Waiting for her to act that way and giving her a “reward” of flowers missed the mark. Instead, by giving her flowers, he was able to be the husband he wanted to be, and she responded lovingly in return.

Does your husband know how you have tried being generous towards him? As Dr. Orbach showed in her research, men crave generosity even more than women, but they notice and express it more through deeds than words. So make sure that you are showing generosity to him in his “love language” –and make sure that he knows your love language as well.

How are you asking for and receiving what you want? Do you make clear requests? You may feel uncomfortable with the idea that you “deserve” generosity, so you may unknowingly withhold letting him know what you want.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It doesn’t reduce the quality of what you receive if you ask for it first. Without asking, there is usually very little receiving. Accept your husband’s gifts, thoughtfulness, and kindness with grace and gratitude, whatever it is.

Look at the Relationship As A Whole

Being in a marriage is like being part of a team. Think about how a team works best: when the players ask for what they need, with the success of the whole enterprise in mind. Asking for what you need furthers your own goals, builds trust, and is good for the “team” and your marriage. 

A good example of this in our own marriage is how we work together to exhibit Phyllis’ watercolor paintings. Phyllis is an award-winning artist, and Peter is excellent with tools. Phyllis was able to ask Peter to help with framing her paintings, and Peter was generous enough to comply. As a result, we both got to enjoy the finished product and exhibits. And as a bonus, we get to celebrate winning together as a team!

Go beyond the 50/50 mindset of fairness.  You may feel that being generous yourself is not “fair” if you don’t get something back in return. Keeping score in this way leads to resentment and fear of being taken advantage of.

If you are focused on fairness, you will miss the chance to give generously from love and for the sake of loving each other. In this case, you may miss feeling the joy of whatever your husband does give you. Going beyond the 50/50 mindset leads to more possibility of feeling fulfilled and connected to each other and your mutual goals.

When we first got married, we tried to divide up equally all of the household tasks. We took this to the point of weighting some tasks more than others to make it fair. Surely vacuuming deserved more weight than dusting! This got so complicated that we were forced to accept that it would never be “fair.”

We finally decided to take on the tasks that we each did best for the betterment of our marriage. When Phyllis got pregnant, we knew we couldn’t do that “equally,” so Peter generously offered to do the grocery shopping–which he continued to do through the next pregnancy. Love will find a way!

Think about being generous as “Couple Generosity.”  We formed this perspective 30 years ago when we co-founded the organization Couples Coaching Couples. Our goal was to create a supportive couple’s community that fosters healthy individual and relationship goals. Couple Generosity as we define it creates a safe place for giving and receiving to flourish and grow.

Tips & Exercises To Encourage Being Generous 

Understanding the difference between individual and couple generosity is not enough. Next, you need to practice and reinforce it in your relationship. Here are some ways to do that:

Get comfortable with making requests. To keep generosity flowing in your relationship, you may need more practice making requests until it becomes automatic. Try the “Asking for What You Need” Exercise in our book Lifelong Love: 4 Steps to Creating and … – Amazon.com. Briefly, you make one request to each other each day. Repeat the request to make sure both of you understand it completely. Then, practice accepting, declining or making counter-offers to the requests.

Give acknowledgments frequently. Acknowledge each other for the generous words and actions you receive. Frequent acknowledgment that is continually noting and communicating appreciation and caring to each other is how close friends operate. Doing this will empower you to start to see your marriage as a friendship. Then you will start to treat each other as you would good friends, rather than taking each other for granted.

Include acknowledgment of how hard you’re working together and how the generous actions you each contribute to making the relationship stronger. For example, if you want to be acknowledged for how hard you worked to get a raise, be sure to acknowledge how much it helps that he picks up the kids at daycare. Be generous with your acknowledgments. No need to be stingy here! They are a free and economical way to show your love.

Do a “Sharing Praise” Exercise like the one in Lifelong Love. A great way to be generous with each other is to keep a list of things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. Then begin and end each day by sharing praise and acknowledge the things each of you has contributed to the day. Tell your husband how much you appreciate being a couple with him. Be generous with your praise. You will soon notice how generosity breeds more generosity!

Seal it with a kiss! Thank your husband for his generosity with a hug or a kiss. Adding physical touch and connection reinforces that the generous behavior will reoccur and adds to the enjoyment for you both.

As a couple, we have practiced generosity in our marriage for over four decades. We have helped other couples do so for just as long in our private practice and workshops. Contact them to expand generosity in your own relationship by calling 434-971-4701 for a free consultation or to make an appointment for a session or weekend intensive. 

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