Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality

Article excerpt

This study examined whether generosity in marriage was associated with marital quality. The authors conceptualized generosity as a type of relationship maintenance behavior and used data from the new Survey of Marital Generosity (a national survey of married couples, N = 1,365 couples and 2,730 total participants). They found that generosity-defined here as small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection, and a willingness to forgive one's spouse his or her faults and failings-was positively associated with marital satisfaction and negatively associated with marital conflict and perceived divorce likelihood.

Key Words: generosity, marital quality, relationship maintenance behavior.

Recent research on marital quality and stability has focused to a large extent on how couples' access to and division of resources-from education and income (e.g., Martin, 2004) to the division of paid and household labor (e.g., Frisco & Williams, 2003)-affect today's relationships and how underresourced or unequal relationships can create negative patterns of relating among contemporary couples (e.g., Conger, Rueter, & Elder, 1999; Papp, Cummings, & Goeke-Morey, 2009). This line of research is important, especially in today's economic climate, but scholars also need to focus on other factors now influencing marriages, including positive relationship attitudes and behaviors that may be associated with high-quality, stable marriages (Fincham, Stanley, & Beach, 2007).

This study focused on one positive behavior: marital generosity. Here, we define generosity as "giving good things to [one's spouse] freely and abundantly" (Science of Generosity Initiative, 2009). Although scholars have theorized that generosity is potentially beneficial to marital quality (Fowers, 2000; Hawkins, Fowers, Carroll, & Yang, 2007), no empirical studies have yet examined the link between generosity and marital quality.

Studying generosity is substantively important insofar as the extension and receipt of generous behaviors in marriage may enhance marital quality and stability. Examining how generosity is associated with marital quality among contemporary couples should also help family scholars and professionals better understand the role that positive behaviors play in today's marriages. Furthermore, because many contemporary marriages still center on the formation and sustenance of solidarity (Amato, Booth, Johnson, & Rogers, 2007), scholars need to understand how positive behaviors like generosity may or may not deepen the marital bond.

This study relied on the Survey of Marital Generosity (SMG) to examine the associations between generosity and marital quality among contemporary couples in the United States. The SMG uses a national sample of married individuals who were surveyed in late 2010 through early 2011. Respondents were between 18 and 45 years old (N - 2,730 spouses in 1,365 couples). This survey is advantageous for this study because it included items designed to measure marital constructs such as generosity, was a national sample, and included multiple measures of marital quality. It is the first empirical study of the relationship between generosity and marital quality.

Theoretical Framework

Generous Behavior

Generosity within marriage is a new topic of empirical inquiry, but theoretical work on marital generosity has suggested that giving to one's spouse includes offering service and affection, noticing a spouse's good qualities, and forgiving him or her (Fowers, 2000). In this way, generosity reflects a willingness to focus on a spouse's strengths, work around his or her weaknesses, and serve him or her (Hawkins et al., 2007). We rely on these previous theoretical formulations of marital generosity to operationalize generosity as giving good things to one's spouse by regularly engaging in small acts of kindness, expressing affection, expressing respect, and forgiving one's spouse. …

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