You don’t have to be a magician to make your marriage magical. You only need to put three magic words into consistent practice. Whether your marriage is good or not so good, kindness, respect, and empathy have the power to turn it into a relationship that’s truly great.
What do you think: when one spouse does something kind for the other, who benefits more, the giver or the receiver?
Psychologists at the University of Rochester conducted a research study* to find the answer. While the study found “that compassionate acts are beneficial for both donors and recipients,” its key finding was a surprise. The study proved that the biblical adage, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” is true. The research revealed that the givers felt benefit from doing acts of kindness regardless of whether their spouse even noticed what they had done! Using participant’s diaries, the researchers were able to determine that the benefits for givers were about 45 percent greater than for recipients.
This study confirms what you may already know from your own experience: doing kind things for your spouse is its own reward. Best of all, you get the satisfaction that comes from doing these kindnesses even if—or perhaps especially if—a kindness is done in secret with no expectation of praise or thanks.
So, whenever you have a chance, put a blanket over your sleeping husband, or clean the snow off his windshield before you leave the driveway, or change your plans to fit in with his. You’ll feel a rewarding sense of satisfaction. If your husband notices what you have done, that’s even better; now two people will be blessed by what you did!
Whether it touches one or both of you, every act of kindness is an investment in your marriage.
Everyone needs both love and respect from their mate. Men, however, often have a greater need to feel respected than most women realize. Just as we all want to be loved unconditionally (loved for who we are, not for what we do), most men also need unconditional respect. Someone has said, “Respect is like chocolate to a man’s soul.”
You can give your husband the gift of unconditional respect in surprisingly simple ways. Some examples:
- Make eye contact when he speaks to you.
- Say “thank you” when he does something for you, no matter how small.
- Do not interrupt when he is speaking; if you must, do it respectfully.
- Speak well of him to others. Don’t complain about him, belittle him, or make jokes at his expense.
- Brag on him and compliment him in front of others.
- When he has failed at something, tell him you believe in him.
- Don’t adopt an attitude of entitlement. Instead of making demands, ask, “Would you please…” or “Do you have time to…?”
Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Dictionary.com distinguishes between them: “sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”
Scientists have recently discovered that our brains are “wired” for empathy. Special neurons called mirror neurons enable us to reflect or experience to some degree the pain or the happiness we see in others. Mirror neurons are a kind of emotional Wi-Fi that connects us to other people. Thus, the choice to put yourself in your husband’s shoes gives you a better understanding of what he is experiencing, what he feels, and how he views the world. After stepping into his shoes, step back out again to compassionately apply what you’ve learned. By practicing empathy, you forge a deeper emotional connection with your husband.
If empathy isn’t your strong suit, you can raise your empathy quotient, or “EQ,” by practicing three things:
- Focus attention on your husband’s facial and eye expressions, body language, and gestures, as these all provide clues about his emotional state.
- Practice saying something like “I’m sorry that happened to you,” in different tones of voice. This will help you discover how you best express empathy.
- Practice “cognitive empathy” when you really don’t feel what your husband is feeling. Because you intellectually understand his need for empathy, you can still choose to communicate it. Let him know that he has your full attention, that you are listening without judgment, and that you understand what he is telling you.
Kindness, respect and empathy are not just keys to a better marriage. You can use them to effectively improve all your other relationships, too!
* Harry T. Reis, Michael R. Maniaci, Ronald D. Rogge. Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-Being Among Newlyweds. Emotion, 2017; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000281