The Science of Compassion in Marriage

We’ve all heard that it’s better to give than to receive.

Now science shows us that the act of showing compassion to your spouse is rewarding in and of itself. Even if he or she isn’t aware of your kindness act.

University of Rochester psychologists recently found that it really is better to give than receive. In fact, the emotional benefits can be quite significant for the giver.

For example, a husband notices the garbage is full and takes it outside before he leaves for work. That gesture would boost his emotional well-being, regardless of whether his wife notices.

“Our study was designed to test a hypothesis put forth by Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama,” said one of the university psychologists, Harry T. Reis, “that compassionate concern for others’ welfare enhances one’s own affective state.”

Before the study, the researchers predicted that recognition of the compassionate act would make the donor feel most valued.

They also thought the recipient would feel the most benefit when the act was mutually recognized, rather than when one partner perceives a compassionate act that wasn’t intended.

While those predictions were confirmed, the researchers discovered something else.

“Clearly, a recipient needs to notice a compassionate act in order to emotionally benefit from it,” said Reis. “But recognition is much less a factor for the donor.”

For Reis, the results show that “acting compassionately may be its own reward.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a concept that needed a scientific study done. We all know (or should know) that compassionate giving is something you should do for your partner.

However, what unintentionally happens over the years is that giving can turn into a chore. Something you “have to do.”

It’s important to understand that giving isn’t a one-sided affair.

It’s something that should be mutually beneficial to both partners.

And now, we have scientific proof.

This is an interesting study to quantify the benefits of compassion. It shows that, if your intent comes from a place of love, it can only strengthen your relationship.

Changing your perspective from something you “have to do” to something you “have the opportunity to do” can have a profound difference in your own well-being.

All it takes is a mindset shift from negativity or obligation, to a place of gratitude.

I would love to know your own experiences with your significant other and how both of you give and receive in your relationship. Please leave a comment below.

Happy and healthy investing,

Journal Reference:
Harry T. Reis, Michael R. Maniaci, Ronald D. Rogge.
Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-Being Among Newlyweds. Emotion, 2017; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000281

Your thoughts on “The Science of Compassion in Marriage”

  1. Could it be, just could it be that acts generally seen and considered as compassionate are actually acts of unconscious egotism? It sounds irrational of course but if someone does something for someone else just because his/her action makes him/her feel good and gratified as a giver no matter how amazingly ungrateful the receiver might be, that to me is not necessarily compassion. I don’t elaborate for obvious reasons of space constraints here but I do believe this thought is worth reflecting upon!

  2. Brad, First I enjoy your articles. Lots of good info is passed on. Your article on showing love & compassion by doing for your other with love and gratitude was on the money. I have a giving nature and it’s easy to do for my husband and others up to a point. If the love and kindness is not returned, it becomes a chore. To overcome this attitude, I began to see doing for others in moderation to show love and not expect anything in return. And to do these things for the joy it gave me. Therefore the recipient was not in the picture. Surprisingly, acts of kindness were coming to me from others and I could graciously accept them. It works!

  3. Aloha Brad:
    Interesting writing however, science did not teach me but through experiences compassion comes from the heart. I never had much and often wished I had more, grand desires of making it big, to live life fantastic and worry free all but escapes most of us including myself. Then when I look around me in this little world of mine I see those that have even less. Fatherless, motherless, homeless, hopeless, and the down-trodden.

    Today I mentor and give till it hurts most of all, some call me stupid and foolish, others say I’m not very smart. One has brain a tumor whom I support and counsel, another is a young man fatherless all his life, still another is a prodigal son, ungrateful, greedy, and selfish, then there’s my “hanai” (adopted) daughter whom like me cherishes each day I open my eyes, 4 mentorees of a long line of students shown compassion.

    Most have stolen, all have cheated, and lied to me but-fore the compassion and kindness shown to them in their time of need. Almost makes one want to give it all up due to the wickedness in this world and around us. Had I kept it all to myself I would be a rich man today, not in need for investing.

    How I learned and view compassion is, its’ more for the benefit of one’s self than those whom receive. That which feeds your soul and reminds me of what my master had taught me which is, “it is better to give than receive” or ” how is it that one cannot or would not give, what was freely given unto us”… It feeds our very soul and makes us whole, so I show compassion and I give knowing the receiver need not worry over hunger or a roof over their head, or how to fix this or that, or to know love and compassion is ultimately immeasurable.

  4. Spot on Brad. I could not agree more. Unfortunately I recently walked away from a 17 year old relationship with a psychopathic narcissist who made known, demanded recognition and expected heartfelt gratitude for everything she considered a useful deed – ‘look what I just did for you’ when she took out the trash – and yet found it impossible to acknowledge anything done for her. It is nice to receive an acknowledgment but it’s off track to demand or expect it and get sulky when it’s not forthcoming. Some people are quite engrossed with their own thoughts and fail to notice when someone else contributes something to their lives. As a professional bus driver I see this all the time. Most people embark and disembark like they would a train, failing to notice to even make eye contact with me, let alone smile or thank me. Yet a small majority are quite the opposite. Some even pay compliments. That’s the way people are and I believe it probably carries over into relationships and marriages. I prefer to live consciously and give anyway, whether it is noticed or not. Psychologists say the way we do some things is the way we do most things.

  5. That giving is its own reward was never a question for me. Harder to master is allowing someone else to give to me, which I try to do, because I know I’m giving the benefit of giving to them. The need to give seems to vary from person to person, so even though I don’t feel a strong need to be given to, I recognize that some others need to give, and I can help with that (it seems to be my Mom’s purpose in life–but I also recognize that not needing her too much is also rewarding for her).
    Not married, but have plenty of loving relationships through life.

  6. 43 years of being married to a no. 10 husband has helped me become a much more caring and serving wife. People change people with their love and love is a commitment, not a feeling.

  7. 43 years of being married to a no. 10 husband has helped me become a much more caring and servibg wife. People change people with their love and love is a commitment, not a feeling.

  8. Yes, it is extremely important to give to your partner. Little things do matter and are appreciated. It amounts to a happy relationship.

  9. Brad: Your messages, this being a prime example, frankly are of more benefit that all the technical research and subscription programs. There is profound insight here which is not limited to the current study or the Dalai Lama but is scattered throughout the Bible. Thanks so much for drawing our consciousness to the really significant matters of life.

  10. I was reading the article and was halfway through it when I was reminded that I had forgotten to empty the dishwasher last night. My wife hates having to empty it so I immediately jumped up and emptied it. I have no problem doing that so I actually enjoy being able to do that for her.

  11. I have thought this for a long time not only with the members of my family. I was an insurance agent for 45 years and my think was always about making things easier for the client particularly if they had a claim I would be sure that understood how the process would work and if they had a problem to contact me. The act of compassion literally built my business.

  12. I agree with compassionate giving helping a marriage. What’s also a part of it is not having to be asked, but giving/helping automatically. Based on a 43 year marriage. This was also the case with my parents who were married 63 years, and my in-laws who were married for 66 years.

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