In a momentary interlude from our regular posts on the Gottman Relationship Blog, today we’d like to share an article by James Sheridan of the News Sentinel. In his piece, he discusses generosity in relationships, alluding to Dr. Gottman’s research on Turning Towards Bids in a quote from The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. Intimately tied to our recent blog posts about Dr. Gottman’s research on Bids And Trust and Sliding Door Moments, Sheridan illuminates Dr. Gottman’s research in the context of our general views on generosity. Read his article below!

Marriage Advice: 
Generosity Helps Build a Healthy Marriage
A column by James Sheridan

Americans are known for their generosity. We give enormous amounts of time and money to charities and civic organizations.

As a nation, we help many countries around the world. When natural disasters strike, we’re among the first to provide assistance. Unfortunately, we often forget the importance of also showing generosity at home to our spouse and our marriage.

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox defines generosity as going beyond what’s required or expected. In marriage, we expect fidelity, good communication, the giving and receiving of affection, and work supporting the household.

Generosity goes the next step with constant attention to the details of both the physical and emotional side of marriage. Generosity involves willingly sacrificing time and emotional energy on behalf of your relationship. It gives more than is expected, without expecting anything in return.

Marriage provides countless opportunities for generosity. We all make huge mistakes. A generous dose of forgiveness heals the hurts.

University of Denver researchers report that a danger sign for relationships is “score keeping,” i.e. keeping track of every time your spouse does that thing that irritates you. Routine forgiveness is so important for marriage that Wilcox includes it as an element of basic generosity.

Generosity also includes giving the benefit of the doubt. Your husband unexpectedly brings home a bouquet of your favorite flowers or your wife makes your favorite meal. Is your first thought to accept it as a loving act or to wonder what they’re up to?

Constant negative interpretation makes it impossible for your spouse to please you, since you attribute a bad motive to every kind act. Generously interpreting your spouse’s actions in positive ways opens up a panorama of wonderful possibilities to show love for both of you.

Generously passing an opportunity to take offense is also a gift to both your spouse and your relationship. Expert John Gottman gives the example of you asking where the napkins are. Your spouse snaps back angrily, “They’re in the cupboard!”

Do you take it as a personal attack, go into a sulk or snap back; or do you accept the information and let their tone of voice slide, realizing your spouse may simply be having a bad day?

It is also important to be generous with your compliments. Researcher Emerson Eggerichs explains that women need unconditional love, and men need unconditional respect.

Women may be loved by their co-workers, their family and their neighbors. But, there’s a hollow space in her heart if she’s not loved by her husband. Likewise, men may be roundly respected by all, but if he’s not respected by his wife, his world is bleak.

As author Sherry Holetzky advises, don’t hold back with your compliments. “Be generous and let your mate know how wonderful, smart, talented,” and attractive you think they are. She explains that your spouse needs “to hear pride in your voice, to be praised and reassured.”

And, be generous with romance and intimacy. Hugs, kisses and caresses make both of you feel better and help bring you closer. Go out of your way to romance your wife or seduce your husband. Your generosity in these areas will add a major boost to your marriage.

Don’t wait for your spouse to ask or just “go along” with their suggestion. Instead, take the initiative, plan something that your spouse enjoys or finds exciting. This is the hallmark of generosity.

Generosity gives without expecting anything in return. But generosity tends to cause your spouse to want to give back, not as a required payback, but, because … well, because you’re just so dog-gone nice and they love you for it.

©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

Read the article on the News Sentinel website here.

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James Sheridan on Generosity

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.