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Happy Marriages Require Generosity

Posted: 12/16/2011 12:23 pm EST

One of the most important factors for maintaining a happy marriage is generosity between spouses, according to new research from the National Marriage Project.

The "State of our Unions" report, released earlier this month, showed that among married couples with children who were generous to each other, about half said they were "very happy" in their marriages.

But how can married people apply these findings to their real lives? And what does this tell us about marriage today? HuffPost Weddings spoke to the Associate Editor of the report, Elizabeth Marquardt, to learn more.

What findings jumped out at you in this year's report?

Married parents who were able to embrace a number of practices, detailed in our report, were less likely to see their marriages end in divorce. These practices include things like being committed to the marriage, sharing domestic tasks, enjoying the support of family and friends for their marriage, sharing a religious faith, and embracing a spirit of generosity towards one another.

How did generosity affect marriages?

Wives and husbands who do regular, small acts of kindness for one another are likely to be happy in their marriages. Having an attitude of generosity and forgiveness really helps to insulate a marriage. In the 1970s, with the growth of the feminist movement, the divorce revolution and the rise of individualism, there was an understandable reaction among women when women were supposed to give a lot and weren't expected to get much [back], in the marriage or otherwise. So women increasingly chose not to do that.

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 -- 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. 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.

How did you define "marital happiness"?

We asked [couples] a standard set of questions, common in surveys, that have been shown to be reliable in getting a measure of self-reported marital happiness for both the wife and the husband. It's a scale that looks at how couples are communicating, how frequently they have conflict, what and how they rate their marriage, and [in what ways] their marriage is happy or unhappy.

What's the significance of domestic equality when it comes to marital happiness?

It was really striking to us that domestic and gender equality in the home was a key predictor of marital success. At the same time, most married mothers say they'd prefer to work part-time and most married fathers prefer to work full-time. Women like it in general when their husbands earn more of the income, and ... give them as wives and mothers some options and choice. [However], they still want their husbands to be pitching in in the home. Even in this enlightened era -- although we could do better -- it's not all that surprising that people rate the success of their marriage based on gender equality.

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Filed by Stephanie Hallett  |