Give a Little Bit (and Get a Happy Marriage?)

Friday, December 16, 2011

This is a true story. More than that, it’s an honest story.

He walks in the door after a long day. He’s looking tired, but his eyes are always sweet, always kind. Too many evenings he gets home after (some weeks well after) our son has gone to bed. I know he’s not pleased about it. No one is, really. Then he looks to me for a kiss, a gentle greeting.

But you know what? I just don’t have it. I’m usually running on empty by then. That day I’ve been writing, working, running, driving around Connecticut on errands, taking care of this thing and the next in our house, and — most important — being an active, present parent. When my husband comes over to me (usually at my desk in my office) and leans in, it takes everything for me to present my cheek to receive the kiss. Adding more salt to all of this, I often launch into The Litany:  “we need to call/we should remember to/the electrician said/next Thursday we have…” I can hear myself, and I know I can do better. I know that showing him kindness, some generosity of spirit, will only help us as a couple and, by extension, as parents.

I’ve been working on it in recent weeks, though. Looking up from my laptop to meet his eyes when he walks in; saying hello with warmth instead of weariness; presenting no list of To-Dos, just my lips to accept his kiss; and reminding myself that this is my man, my husband — he matters.

A few days ago, we were sitting on the couch in our living room. It was supposed to be Couple’s Chill TV Time, but we couldn’t find anything decent to watch. I started doing a crossword on my iPhone and he picked up his iPad (yes, it’s a Mac Attack household) to browse the internet. After a short while, I felt him looking my way. He was reading something on one of his politico/current affairs blogs that he wanted to share. I thought, “Lordy, what did Herman Cain do now?” But what he read had nothing to do with the Beltway. It was about marriage and the key to having a happy one after becoming parents.

“[I]n today’s marriages both wives and husbands benefit when they embrace an ethic of marital generosity that puts the welfare of their spouse first. That is, both are happier in their marriages when they make a regular effort to serve their spouse in small ways — from making them a cup of coffee, to giving them a back rub after a long day, to going out of their way to be affectionate or forgiving.” ~ Elizabeth Marquardt and W. Bradford Wilcox, the authors of a new study from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. (You can download and read the full report [PDF], The State of Our Unions: When Baby Makes Three.)

As he read out loud, I was getting my face ready to give him the eye-roll of life. Uh, was he trying to throw a heavy hint at me?

He held up his index finger and continued reading:

So the lesson here is not for wives now to throw off an other-centered ethic as a relic of an ancient era, but rather for contemporary husbands to embrace this ethic for themselves and their families.

What was immediately clear to me after hearing that?

A) My husband knows me oh-so well.

B) That old idiom — the one my mother would often remind us about as children — “Charity begins at home,” should really be tweaked to include generosity. In fact, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece over the weekend about the same study, saying how generosity is indeed key in a happy marriage. Maybe even more so than sex.

As the NYT story states, “While sexual intimacy, commitment and communication are important, the focus on generosity adds a new dimension to our understanding of marital success.”

What do you think? How far can a back rub or a cup of morning coffee go towards creating a happy marriage? And how would you rate your own level of generosity at home? Definitely leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Speaking of generosity … we have a winner for our Fa-la-la-la Alert giveaway. Kendra, come on down! You’ve been randomly selected to win the iTunes gift card. Thanks for sharing your all-time favorite holiday songs with us. Now it’s time to collect your prize. Send an email with your mailing addy to get.msmack@gmail.com, and we’ll zip it to you.

5 Comments
  • 1
    heathere says:

    I think its very important. I’ve been with my husband 20 years (married for 8, kids for 5). We’ve had lots of time to work out the kinks. We are a solid team, if one of us is down or tired the other one is there to lift the other up, regardless of whats going on in our own life. Something as simple as a cup of coffee lets him know that I’m thinking of him and not just the kids, the millions of items on our to do list or how tired I am (he’s in the game too and feeling all the same things). Sometimes just actively listening to whats weighing on him makes all the difference. I know I’m happier when he’s being sensitive to my needs. Its a bit “do onto others”. When I’m more generous with him, it usually comes back ten fold.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      With 20 years under your belt, I’d say you know a little something about this, huh? I’m with you on the “do onto others” tip. And, yes, often listening — just listening with intent — can be all you need to do to make someone feel counted. The cups of coffee ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at either.

      Thanks for the great comment, heathere.

  • 2
    Amy says:

    Such a great post! It’s so easy to forget the mindset of generosity when you’re spent after a day of toddler wrangling. Many want to throw out this idea as ‘old fashioned’ but it’s still so important. Thanks for the reminder.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks, Amy. It really is easy to forget how much this matters, how much of a difference it makes in both the short and long runs.

  • 3
    Kristin says:

    Love It!
    – It so true- We over look the ones that should be so dear to us.Thanks for writting- It ws very inspirational.