Radical generosity

In General by Dr. Keith Witt


Have you ever been bored with your partner and think that the solution is him or her becoming sexier or more interesting? I’ve often heard people complain that they’re tired of their lover and want him or her to solve this problem by being more attentive and attractive.

Trying to get your lover to change is almost never the solution to your boredom! Social research—especially the work of Caryl Rusbult—suggests your boredom comes from your lack of responsivity. Mostly, if you want to be more attracted to your lover you need to become more responsive to your lover’s feelings, needs, and desires.

It might feel counterintuitive until you try it, but you’re likely to be surprised if you do. It’s not your lover attending to you better as much as you attending to your lover better that makes your lover more attractive and interesting to you.

When I read this to Becky, she said, “What about codependence?” She is so right that codependence sucks, but often feels generous. Codependence supports unhealthy habits. True generosity supports health and development. I’ll have a lot more to say about codependence in future blogs. Suffice it to say that radical generosity is rarely codependent and self-corrects when caught in codependent dramas.

Great exercise: Think about your romantic partner wherever they are right now and feel gratitude for them in your heart. You two have shared lots of pleasures and positive efforts in your relationship. Focus on some of these. Do this until you feel grateful warmth in your heart area. See if you can keep the gratitude feeling going in your heart. Think generous thoughts about how your lover mostly wants to do right and treat you well. Go do something nice for your lover if you have an opportunity. Do this at least five times a day for a week, and see if you feel closer and more attracted. If so, keep doing this exercise for a lifetime.

Another great exercise: Cultivate generous efforts to please and comfort your lover every day. Be generous with praise and acknowledgement of your partner’s virtues and contributions, no matter how tiny and trivial they might have seemed in the past. When you do have to express a criticism or problem, assume you both are good-hearted and want win/win, we-can-both-be-right solutions to everything. Try this for a week. If you are happier being more generous this way, keep doing it for a lifetime.

Most couples I’ve worked with over the years come into sessions with problems and resentments they want resolved. These problems are important and absolutely need attention. It’s hard to focus on being delighted with someone you’re fed up with! Reducing painful patterns is often a necessary first step in learning how to love better. After all, the three foundations of an intimate relationship are friendship, love affair, and ability to heal ruptures and injuries when they (inevitably) occur.

But resolving or avoiding conflicts are not enough for joyful love! We need to cherish each other actively and generously to keep growing our friendship and love affair. Stress, habituation, distracting attractions, defensive programming, children’s demands, and a host of other problems often interfere with mutual cherishing. Taking a conscious stand for daily radical generosity keeps us focused on the big picture. A satisfying relationship is at the top of most happiness lists. It’s useful to look at your partner and think, “My happy life is largely determined by how generously I’m loving you.”

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