In 2014, researcher John Gottman listed kindness and generosity as the two most important elements in a lasting union. This is about 'turning towards' your partner - it's not about scorekeeping, expecting something in return, self-sacrifice or denying yourself.
Often when we think of generosity we tie it to giving to charity or giving gifts to friends or family. But it is just as much about how we relate to others, ourselves and the world. It is about having a willingness to open up and share what you have. This is about understanding that when you give, you are connected to each other.
Speaking to couples from the most locked down city in the world to date - Melbourne - during the COVID-19 epidemic, this can be one of the hardest qualities to maintain, particularly when we feel it is difficult to have enough to even give to ourselves. So, we have to make sure we give to ourselves generously too - in rest, play, sustenance, connection with others and stimulating ideas, in asking for help, and in kindness (including how we talk to ourselves).
Generosity is something that can be cultivated, but needs regular practice. In her book, The Mindful Day, author Laurie J. Cameron includes the following tips on how to be generous, which equally apply to our couples relationships:
Be present for loved ones. The greatest gift you can offer anyone you love is your presence, according to Thich Nhat Hanh. Before you spend time with a loved one, close your eyes, breathe, and allow your body to settle, letting go of any stress or tightness. Now you are ready to be fully there for your companion.
Listen generously. Pay attention with an open mind and genuine interest Make time and space to take in not only the content of the spoken words, but also the feelings and emotions of the speaker.
Embrace gratitude. Make a list once a week of the things you are grateful for and why they matter. Focusing on what you have instead of what you don't will build a sense of abundance and make it much easier for you to be generous with others in all aspects of your life.
Give your time. Align your skills and strengths with your community's needs. Volunteer at a school, cook a meal, mentor someone who is learning. Every small act counts - holding the door, carrying groceries, fixing a neighbour's car.
Generate positive thoughts. Make it a habit to be generous in how you think about others. Counter your tendency to judge or compare others with focusing on the good in each person you encounter - especially your loved ones. Express appreciation specifically and frequently; send 'thank you' notes, emails, texts - whatever gets the message across.
You can start today with small gestures. In relationships, it’s the little things that mean the most. Make your partner a coffee. Send a text to show your appreciation. Show genuine affection. Genuinely listen when they talk and be curious.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.