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Generosity fuels successful marriages

I always get a kick out of “recent findings” and “new studies” that are supposed to reveal something new when in fact what is reported as a finding in new research is something that should have been obvious — a no-brainer type of thing.

Some studies gauge the importance of exercising generosity in marriage. Let me quote first from The New York Times Magazine article: Researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project recently studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. Generosity was defined as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly” — like simply making them coffee in the morning — and researchers quizzed men and women on how often they behaved generously toward their partners. How often did they express affection? How willing were they to forgive?

Thanks to the study for unintentionally giving us a workable definition of grace. Sounds exactly what Christ, the Bridegroom has done for His bride, the Church, with this, Christ’s generosity toward His spouse is not haphazard or dependent on feelings and is always 100 percent, perfect and superabundant.

The article also said: While sexual intimacy, commitment and communication are important, the focus on generosity adds a new dimension to our understanding of marital success. Though this conclusion may seem fairly self-evident, it’s not always easy to be generous to a romantic partner … “In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful, but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate,” explains the University of Virginia’s W. Bradford Wilcox, who led the research. “Living that spirit of generosity in a marriage does foster a virtuous cycle that leads to both spouses on average being happier in the marriage.”

I found a related article in The Atlantic: “But if the 1970s divorce revolution taught us anything, it was that heavy doses of individualism and a good marriage aren’t very compatible … Our report suggests, in contrast, that in 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.”

We’ve known it all along, what makes a happy marriage. It’s just like in so many areas of following God’s will, we fall short at the end of the day. What sort of relationship would we have with God had Christ been the type of bridegroom that exercised a heavy dose of individualism toward his bride? Do you really think the way of the cross would have figured in? We would have had a marriage, maybe not made in hell as the saying goes, but certainly one leading that way with no detour. And when our marriages are marked more by individualism rather than self-sacrifice and generosity, we can be certain that we are not reflecting the gospel in our marriages but also the fact that two people (and more) are probably miserable.

These studies contain some practical helps for marriages and really could be applied to other relationships as well. To be sure, Scripture is also full of many “practical” helps regarding human marriage. For example, Paul states that marriage is to be based upon mutual submission (Eph. 5:21). Mutual submission implies mutual service, as evidenced by the fact that the wife vows to honor and obey someone who has committed himself to laying down his life for her welfare. The husband vows to love unconditionally someone who has committed herself to following him. Apart from the obvious parallels to our faith in Christ, what could be more “practical” than a lifelong relationship based upon mutual love and submission? Individualism and submission don’t go together very well, do they?

So we take Christ as our example in our marriages; now go and give good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly. Christ did, and we are happier for it.


By Randy Fossum
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church