The best gift for your partner this holiday season
The best gift for your partner this holiday season is practicing a spirit of generosity all year long. In research, generosity is strongly correlated with having a long-lasting, loving relationship. This may seem obvious, but so many couples are so mean and stingy with one another that perhaps it’s not. Let’s look at 5 types of generosity you can practice this year, and for the rest of your life together, to increase both your happiness and your partner’s (and to increase the chances that you remain together).
- When your partner reaches out to connect, “turn towards” them instead of turning away or against. The concept of “turning towards” comes from the Gottmans’ research, which found that couples who “turned towards” at least 86% of the time stayed together longer, and were happier. (Couples who divorced “turned towards” an average of 33% of the time). Here’s an example of what this looks like: your partner comes home from work feeling stressed and tired. They start to tell you about their day, and the annoying student who got under their skin. But you had a long stressful day too, so you ignore what your partner is saying and continue playing a game on your phone. Your partner feels hurt, angry or lonely; you missed a chance for connection. Moments like this add up in a relationship, and cause distance. So instead of turning away, be generous with your attention and with your listening. Act interested. Express empathy. You will be practicing emotional generosity that could help your relationship stay happy and healthy for a long time.
- Couples can get stuck in “negative habits of mind,” in which they interpret even neutral events negatively and see their partner in an overwhelmingly negative light. Not surprisingly, this creates a culture of unhappiness in the relationship. The antidote is to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Notice positive things about them, instead of always picking out the negative. Don’t ruminate about everything they are doing wrong; practice gratitude. Fill your mind with loving thoughts about how much your partner brings to your life, not angry thoughts about their faults. This will create a “positive habit of mind” that will benefit both of you by making you happier. You can’t change them anyway, so why focus on what they’re doing wrong? Freeing up mental energy from overfocusing on their faults will let you pay attention to yourself and what you’re wanting to work on in the new year. What are your goals and how can you take responsibility for them?
Generosity in conflict
- The most important time to practice generosity is during conflict. When you’re upset, you can still approach your partner calmly and gently. Don’t attack, criticize or yell; let them know how you feel and what you need or want. Self-control takes some self-sacrifice and that’s where generosity comes in.You have to be able to tolerate distress yourself instead of displacing your feelings onto the other person. Avoid the self-gratification of an outburst, even though it may feel good in the moment. Practice sharing your feelings with your partner, and listen generously in return when they respond.
Generosity of time
- If you love your work but you never make time for date nights with your partner, your relationship will suffer. Making time to invest in your relationship can involve sacrificing other pursuits, but that’s the loving thing to do, rather than neglecting someone important to you. Couples benefit from regular times of connection every day, every week, from twenty minutes chatting at the end of the day before bed to a night out every weekend. Prioritizing your relationship by investing time into maintaining it will take you a long way.
Generosity of energy
- Partners can also be generous with their energy in terms of helping their spouse around the house or with chores. If there’s an imbalance of domestic labor in the relationship, that can cause a lot of resentment. Research suggests that right now, women in heterosexual relationships are still doing 65% of domestic labor and childcare, even in supposedly egalitarian households. Darcy Lockman, a psychologist, writes that it will be “75 years before men do half the work.” If this is a pattern in your relationship, stepping up and being more generous with your time and efforts could heal an area of your relationship where you may have experienced ongoing conflict.
The more generous you are with another person, the more you’re likely to receive that back from them, a wonderful feedback loop. You’re also less likely to feel depressed when you’re practicing gratitude rather than ruminating about problems. Your fights will sting less if you both are kind and gentle. And when you’re generous with your time and energy, you and your partner will feel closer, more connected and more joyful.
You may have purchased some kickass presents for your partner this holiday season, but that won’t make up for being stingy (emotionally, mentally or in other ways) every other day of the year.
If you’re having trouble putting generosity into practice, you could benefit from couples counseling. Feel free to reach out for a free consultation.