Is Generosity Better than Sex?

Well, no big surprise, but the answer is “no”, according to this article  in the New York Times. However, there’s some new research from the University of Virginia’s (UVA) National Marriage Project showing that practicing generosity is very important in intimate personal relationships.

Let’s make sure we are on the same page:


  • “The habit of giving” (The Generosity Plan by Kathy LeMay)
  • “Readiness or liberality in giving; munificence; magnanimity.” (Webster’s College Dictionary)
  • “The virtue of giving good things to one’s [intimate partner] freely and abundantly.” (UVA researchers)

You know, this totally makes sense. If I am trying to be a philanthropist by being generous to the world with my time, talent, or money, I ought to excel at being generous in my own personal relationships! As the article mentioned, couples really have to go beyond just the division of labor in their relationship (i.e. laundry, shopping, taking care of kids, bringing in the bacon) and focus on those random acts of kindness that make life brighter and more joyful.  Generosity helps to nurture the deep connection and friendship we have with our intimate partners and keeps that ‘spark’ going.

Happy couples must say at least five positive things for each negative interaction with their partner (see John Gottman’s research). And it’s so true, those negative things we do or say stand out most in our partner’s minds, so we have to go the extra mile to repair the damage.  I have found that those generous acts can be as simple as saying “thank you for helping me with _____”, “you look great in that sweater”, or “I’d love to pick you up so you don’t have to take the bus.” Of course, getting little gifts and doing extra-special things like making a favorite meal are great too.

I was intrigued by the too-brief mention in the article of how children become generous. Is there a genetic predisposition? Are parents kinder if their children are generous or vice-versa?  I like to think of it as a feedback loop– people notice when someone is generous and are more likely to repeat that pattern. What goes ’round comes ’round!

What are some ways you practice generosity with your intimate partner, friends, and other family? Do you feel you could be doing more or are you satisfied with the amount of generosity given and received?

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1 Response to Is Generosity Better than Sex?

  1. Karen says:

    This is a great post, Elizabeth, and a lot of food for thought. The book “The Five Love Languages,” although just a smidge religious for my taste, gives good insight into the different ways each of us feels loved. For some it’s gifts, but for others it’s kind words, kind deeds, quality time, or physical affection. While I feel love mainly from quality time, and gifts mean little or nothing to me, my partner especially loves gifts and physical affection. One son likes gifts, but the other prefers quality time. World peace really does begin at home, and it’s interesting how many of us show our best selves to the rest of the world but not to our families. Thanks for the reminder to be aware of this!

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