Affection, Generosity, Sex (and Coffee)

Is a good marriage as simple as a cup of coffee? Could a buoyant Breakfast Blend be construed as foreplay – if poured at the right time and served by the right hands?

According to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, the importance of generosity toward our spouses is not to be underestimated. It might even be as straightforward as offering a considerate cup of Joe.

So states a provocative piece on the New York Times Well Blog, which also appears in today’s New York Times Magazine.

According to Tara Parker-Pope’s article on “Generosity in Marriage,” or more precisely, its exploration of findings from the University of Virginia’s Marriage Project, generosity may be key to marital success.

Generosity Over Sex?

Is the report saying that generosity is more important than lovemaking?

Not exactly. But it does seem to imply that when it comes to marital “happiness,” it’s right up there in importance with communication and a shared sex life.

Citing the National Marriage Project’s oft-quoted State of Our Unions report, generosity is defined as follows:

“the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly” — like simply making them coffee in the morning…

I’ve already expressed my feelings on the virtue of, well, virtue. But might these conclusions convince us to trade in Date Night Cabernet for Unexpected Evening Espresso?

It’s important to note that the concept of generosity suggests doing more than one’s fair share of chores. That’s fulfilling responsibility, not going above and beyond. And it’s precisely that – going above and beyond through small signs of valuing your partner – that lies at the heart of the generosity premise.

And it seems logical. (Can’t we recall having treated friends or colleagues with more thoughtfulness than our spouses? Or, having been on the receiving end of indifference, to the point where we felt invisible?)

Affection, Thoughtfulness

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that marriage will be undermined by the absence of affection. Most of us appreciate the reassuring touch, the tender kiss, the thoughtfulness of a hand on the shoulder during a moment of exchanged understanding.

And the extension of common courtesy? Everyday thoughtfulness? A gesture of support when your partner is down or discouraged? A heartfelt congratulations when he or she has achieved something remarkable?

Ms. Parker-Pope goes on to convey the report’s findings on the generosity dimension:

“Men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. The benefits of generosity were particularly pronounced among couples with children.”

Ah… If only we had a clue before we married and multiplied…

Tips for Happy Relationships?

While I might not have thought to put generosity per se in the Top Three Tips For a Successful Committed Relationship, I would agree that generosity in the sexual arena reflects a giving nature. It indicates an intimate and caring awareness of the other – and a genuine desire to pleasure the one we love.

As for generosity of spirit and generosity of affection, I am also of the belief that our children should see us share the occasional kiss and the kind gesture. Isn’t that an appropriate model of adult relationship behavior?

When we’re talking about great sex, I still assert that physical intimacy is vital relationship glue, along with effective communication. Of course there are exceptions. (There are always exceptions!)

But deciding which is the chicken and which is the egg? To me, they’re interrelated. They’re both essential. Throw in that unexpected cup of coffee when it’s most needed?

Foreplay, indeed.

Generosity in Love and Health

What do you think?

  • Does generosity keep us healthier?
  • Is it a sign of a healthy relationship – or perhaps a means to develop one?
  • If only one in the relationship values generosity, are you doomed to eventual resentment?
  • If not coffee, what generous gestures form part of your relationships?


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  1. says

    Generosity is an awesome quality in general. So it follows that those people would have healthy, happier marriages. It’s just like cooking. If you start with quality ingredients, you’re more likely to get a healthy, delicious result. The same is true for quality people.

  2. says

    I loved this piece in the NY Times today and thought of blogging on it but you beat me to it! I completely agree with the generosity = happy marriage equation. My husband and I always pour a cup for the other when making coffee. It’s amazing how meaningful that one simple act is.

  3. Robert says

    I think generosity is only one of the many love reinforcing mechanisms necessary for a successful relationship. Perhaps it is an “icing on the cake” kind of thing, a small visual indicator to the partner, and those external to the relationship, of the regard held. But if the underlying foundation is not in place it is no substitute, and it may well be employed as a means of fooling yourself and your partner about what you do/don’t have.

    There is a book called The Five Love Languages which says that people can express or expect love through Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service (generosity), and Physical Touch. To me, these are all in the same league – nice to have as love complements, but by themselves in no sense a replacement for deep regard, emotion and commitment.

    But when you know the foundation is sound, all of these can make it ever so much sweeter!

  4. says

    My Love Language is Touch. Sweetheart’s is Quality Time with Acts of Service a close second. I don’t think either of us care about gifts and words of affirmation are nice and all but they just don’t rise to the level of being the end all of love.

    But the generosity. Oh it is wonderful. I don’t know if it is something I think about until it is given and then I melt.

    The other day we were getting ready to leave for our final couples meeting iwth the adoption social worker (next is the physical home study!!!). I had been upstairs working and had my little space heater running. Money is beyond tight and we only run the heat when I’m going on the stair machine or for a brief period in the evnings–and not every evening. Well we were going to be leaving, so no heat. He took an extra portable heater I use for going on the stair machine and heated the bathroom with it–in prep for me taking a shower. I have extreme sensitivity to cold–my fingers, toes and nose can be little ice blocks in 70 or even 80 degree sun. When I got down and saw what he was doing I melted. It meant so much. He had done it just for me, without my asking and as a surprise. That tiny gesture made my day and I bragged to others about it. The icing on the cake, I guess since it was extra. But it is those little extras that create the melt-your-heart memories.

  5. says

    Good things to cultivate and practice—in and out of marriage: affection and kind touch communicates closeness and love when words, if we’re fearful or hurt, tend only to fuel our distrust and isolation. Relationship poison is contempt (eye rolling, exasperated sighs, condescension) and the balm is just as you generously offer it up here. If we keep in mind that fear leads to meanness, we might not take meanness a personally and instead learn that we can be the parents, the bigger one in the difficult moment in a marriage, or other relationship—and reap the rewards of more closeness, fun and good cheer. Let’s do it—let’s strive for affection and generosity across the board (and hope it brings optimal sex in the bed).

  6. says

    Shared generosity is a key element in good, stable relationships. Marriage is perhaps the best example. It really works for Fran and me. Fortunately, we are well matched in this. That’s good, because we can get into extreme debates about very obscure (to most people) topics. (Will “extreme debates” ever replace “extreme sports” for public interest?) I’ll copy from Fran’s Facebook yesterday (the immediate stimulus was discussion of her weekend workshop):

    I am so grateful for my husband’s support, trust, encouragement and love as I struggle to learn and challenge myself to become the person I need to be.

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