Multiplication Center

Generosity and Your Marriage: Keep the Flowers Coming

January 23, 2014

Those brave souls who study marriage are continually looking for the positive behaviors that add to marital satisfaction and longevity. In October 2013 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, W. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Virginia and Jeffrey Dew from Utah State University released their findings from “the first empirical study of the relationship between generosity and marital quality.”

The research

The study involved 1,365 couples between the ages 18-45 years old and explored three big research questions:

1. How generosity affected marital satisfaction
2. How generosity affected marital conflict
3. How generosity affected perceived divorce likelihood

The study’s authors offer up a few definitions of generosity:

“Giving good things to [one’s spouse] freely and abundantly”
“Giving good things to one’s spouse by regularly engaging in small acts of kindness, expressing affection, expressing respect, and forgiving one’s spouse”
“Giving behaviors designed to nurture the good of the marital relationship”
“An other-centered behavior performed without an expectation of reciprocity”

Here’s what they discovered:

“They found that generosity—defined here as small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection, and a willingness to forgive one’s spouse his or her faults and failings—was positively associated with marital satisfaction and negatively associated with marital conflict and perceived divorce likelihood.”

It is better to give than to receive
Although the recipients of generosity reported a significantly higher level of marital satisfaction (r=.30), significantly less marital conflict (r=-.14) and significantly less subjective likelihood of divorce (r=-.20) those participants who were generous toward their spouses reported even more positive results in satisfaction (r=.39), reduction in marital conflict (r=-.28) and perceived likelihood to divorce (r=-.33). Apparently, with generosity and marriage, it is even better to give than to receive. “Give, and it shall be given to you….”

Chickens and eggs
The authors point out the possibility that “it is equally likely that the relationship between these two variables goes in the other direction: that is, higher marital quality may yield greater generosity.” In either case by engaging in generosity towards your spouse as an initiation of a better relationship or the response to a better relationship, I believe either one of them will work. To be generous…to lavishly give gifts of time, attention, and affection keep the flames of love burning. To stop being generous…to be stingy with ourselves…withholding what we used to give freely makes our spouse feel worse and us feel worse and less hopeful about the future.

“There are two types of people in the world”

At the risk of alienating half of the readers (What about Bob’s Bob Wiley said to Dr. Leo Marvin, “There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t), look at Neil Diamond’s words in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.”

You don’t bring me flowers
You don’t sing me love songs
You hardly talk to me anymore
When you come through the door
At the end of the day

I remember when
You couldn’t wait to love me
Used to hate to leave me

Now after lovin’ me late at night
When it’s good for you
And you’re feeling alright
Well, you just roll over
And you turn out the light

You don’t bring me flowers anymore

It used to be so natural
To talk about forever
But ‘used to be’s’ don’t count anymore
They just lay on the floor
‘Til we sweep them away

And baby, I remember
All the things you taught me
I learned how to laugh
And I learned how to cry
Well I learned how to love
Even learned how to lie

You’d think I could learn
How to tell you goodbye
‘Cause you don’t bring me flowers

Talking about forever, writing love songs and bringing flowers is linked to generosity towards the one we love. So let’s keep the flowers coming.

Marriage Ministry Leadership Community forming
In the Fall of 2013 Leadership Network launched the first of two Marriage Ministry Leadership Communities. These Leadership Communities are designed to help you, as a ministry leader, improve the quality and longevity of marriages in your church and community. Each session taps into the best models, scholarship, and practices of effective marriage ministry—from preparation and enrichment to repair of troubled marriages. If you’re interested in learning more about marriage ministry, visit the Marriage Ministry webpage or contact Julia Burk at

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