I've written many books having to do with relationships, but each focused on different aspects of relationships. The most important ones, I think, were The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands and The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage because I pointed out the real element that makes a marriage work is when each person gets up in the morning and thinks about what they can do to make the other person happy and happy they're married to you. In fact, that was so important, I put it on the back cover. No surprise to me to see this show up in other forms.
In December, in the New York Times, they talked about the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project. It studied the role of generosity. Not in the sense of being generous with money or a lot of gifts, but about that moment where you think, "What can I do to make them happy at this moment, much less if they're married to me?"
So generosity is about going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small, little things, small acts of service -- making an extra effort, such as being affectionate, bringing somebody coffee in the morning, or rubbing their feet.
It turns out men and women with the highest scores on generosity as a scale were far more likely to report they were very happy in their marriages.
Now, you've got a lot of things going on in your mind, heart, body and day so it's not always easy to be generous to your spouse. One particular researcher suggested successful couples say or do at least 5 positive things for every negative interaction with their partner, so they make it 5 to 1...5 to 1. That's really important. It's important with your kids too. If you're going to give them holy hell about things all the time, you really have to balance it with generosity. Children who see parents who are more engaged in this generosity tend to be more generous too (no kidding), which bodes well for their future relationships and their relationship with their parents. So, make small acts of service and an extra effort to be affectionate.
The top 3 predictors of a happy marriage among parents (because having kids is a big stress):
1. Sexual intimacy
And they put sex first because the portion of 18 to 46 year-olds with below-average sexual satisfaction who are "very happy" in their marriages is about 6.5%.
In one particular study, couples who reported a high amount of generosity in their relationships were 5 times more likely to say the marriage was "very happy". However, the generosity was not as important as sex. In this study, married men and women who reported above-average sexual satisfaction in their relationship were 10 to 13 times more likely to describe their marriage as "very happy". My assumption though, is this goes in a bit of a circle - i.e., the people who are more generous with each other probably are more turned on to each other because they're so generous with each other and it keeps going in a circle.
Something to consider: 5 to 1 - 5 positive things you say or do for each negative thing you say or do. Try it -- you might like it. You wonder why your marriage is not happy? The fix is actually simple. It's the motivation to do those 5 positive things that seems to be the biggest problem.