The Impact of Generosity in a Successful Marriage or Divorce

The New York Times recently reported on the role of generosity in a successful marriage.  The research came from a recent study of 2,870 men and women conducted by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project (“State of Our Unions” report from the National Marriage Project).

According to the research cited in the article, “[w]hile sexual intimacy, commitment and communication are important, the focus on generosity adds a new dimension to our understanding of marital success. Though this conclusion may seem fairly self-evident, it’s not always easy to be generous to a romantic partner. The noted marriage researcher John Gottman has found that successful couples say or do at least five positive things for each negative interaction with their partner — not an easy feat.”

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful, but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate,” explains the University of Virginia’s W. Bradford Wilcox, who led the research. “Living that spirit of generosity in a marriage does foster a virtuous cycle that leads to both spouses on average being happier in the marriage.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the same is true in divorce.  Human nature reflects kindness and generosity.  The couples who use the mediation process to get divorced run the gamut from the very amicable to the truly acrimonious.   However, just as litigation draws out the worst in people based on the combative nature of the process, generosity in divorce mediation begets a much smoother divorce process.  While it is not necessary to have an amicable relationship in order to use mediation for your divorce, spouses who concern themselves with the well-being of their soon to be ex-spouses are very successful.  The process moves quickly and each party prevails with an agreement in place that everyone can live with in the future.  A special fringe benefit of this act of generosity is the value for the children that they can see their parents working together for the best result under their current circumstances.