Relationships

Joanita Wibowo

The secret to a happier marriage

The secret to a happier marriage

When it comes to a relationship, is it truly better to give than to receive? The answer seems to be a resounding “yes”, as a study found that doing something nice for your partner is rewarding in and of itself.

The research, published in the journal Emotion, discovered that being compassionate to your spouse can bring significant emotional benefits, even when the spouse is unaware of the act.

The psychologists studied 175 North American married couples, who were asked to keep a record of the compassionate acts either spouse performed – such as expressing gratitude, changing personal plans for partner, or other acts that showed the partner was valued – and their respective emotional states for two weeks.

The results showed that as predicted, couples would reap the most emotional benefit when the act of kindness is acknowledged by both parties – but the givers can gain emotional boost from their compassionate act, even without conscious recognition from the receivers.

“Clearly, a recipient needs to notice a compassionate act in order to emotionally benefit from it,” said Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the research team’s leader. “But recognition is much less a factor for the donor.”

Based on the self-assessment records, the researchers found that the benefits for the givers’ mood were 45 per cent greater than those for the receivers.

“You could argue that being compassionate and not having it noticed would not be good at all,” Reis told TIME. “If I go out of my way to do something nice and my spouse doesn’t acknowledge it, my reaction could certainly be, ‘Well thanks a whole hell of a lot.’”

However, the findings suggested that “acting compassionately may be its own reward”, said Reis. According to him, the gains people get from selfless acts may be explained from an evolutionary perspective.

“Humans are wired to give,” he said. “We are a cooperative species, and there are mechanisms in us that promote social behaviour.”