What makes a relationship successful? There’s no end to the hypotheses, but the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia suggests that good old-fashioned generosity is the best-known predictor of relationship success we have. To the researchers, generosity had to do with how likely a partner was to go beyond daily expectations to do something nice for the other person.
In the study, they asked couples to evaluate their happiness by asking them about how they communicated, how often they fought, how they’d rate their marriages, and so on.
The results? Half of the couples who reported above-average levels of generous behavior said they were very happy together, whereas only 14% of couples with lower generosity scores claimed to be happy together.
Other research by Dr. John Gottman has come to similar conclusions about kindness and thriving marriages. His lab found that expressing kindness in the form of support (e.g. encouraging a partner, taking an interest in what matters to them, etc.) led to a much higher probability of staying together: 90% in supportive couples versus just 33% in less supportive couples.
Couldn’t it be the case that happier couples are just more likely to be kind to each other and that the causality is reversed? Perhaps; or maybe the repercussions of kindness flow in both directions. In fact, they probably do: kindness and generosity in relationships is not a zero-sum game.
The bottom line: if you’re making an effort to improve your relationship or to keep it healthy, Otis was on to something: try a little tenderness.