Linda: Good will, which is literally the desire for good to come to oneself and/or others, is a vital aspect of the foundation of any relationship. Without a spirit of good will, couples tend to view each other as adversaries vying for scarce resources and the fulfillment of our personal preferences. When good will has not been established in a relationship, the slightest difference can become an insurmountable obstacle that can seem impossible to resolve. When it is present, it is infinitely easier to find the patience, wisdom, understanding, and empathy necessary to work out differences in a way that takes both sets of needs into consideration. When we do, even seemingly insurmountable difficulties can be resolved respectfully.
Happy couples are constantly adding good will to the storehouse of well-being for the relationship. They are motivated by the question “What can I do to make my partner happy in this moment?” It is a moment-to-moment process. They are constantly scanning to see what little gifts can be given, looking for opportunities to make our partner’s life easier and more fulfilling. There is trust, based on experience, that this will come back to enhance their own life. This kind of generosity inspires reciprocal generosity. Even where very tough subject are concerned, there is confidence that both partners can learn together how to deal with the issue.
There is no relationship as business, which is “I give this to you, so now you owe me.” The motivation doesn’t come from the expectation of increase on an investment; it comes from a faith that these offerings will always be life enhancing for both people. Even when the recipient of the generosity doesn’t immediately reciprocate or even recognize the gift, the giver knows that acts of kindness eventually impact positively on the quality of the relationship. The evidence comes in the form of increased caring on the part of both partners that continually deepens.
Examples of the acts of guerilla generosity are as simple as making a bed, cooking a meal, wiping down a counter, clearing the table, staying in bed for a little while in the morning, date night special sexual treats, attentive listening, taking care of the kids to free her up to have some solitude or to go out with her women friends, encouraging him to watch the game or go out with the guys.
It is not a sacrificial act where one person gives at the cost to himself, but is an expression of caring that is enriching to both the giver and the receiver. After people practice this long enough the rewards of the giving become so evident that the process becomes self-reinforcing. The gifts of giving become as fulfilling as the gifts of receiving. When both people are operating out of this motivation, the distinction between giving and receiving dissolves and the fear of insufficiency is replaced by an experience of ease and connection.
It’s natural to have initial concerns regarding the possibility of being exploited, particularly if we have grown up in families where their parents had an unequal relationship where one was frequently victimized by the other. In such cases, it can take a long time to get over it. Becoming trusting of your partner when you have experienced mistrust is not easy to do; it requires more effort.
One of my clients, who was working diligently at cultivating good will, put it this way. “I have an intention to keep the relationship pure and not tolerate grumbling negative thoughts in my mind. I work with my own self-talk, that inner dialogue that has a list of complaints. I choose to focus on that which my partner is giving to me, rather than that which I am not receiving. I also take action and set about having the experience I want to have.”
Bringing more positive feelings into the relationship occurs out of the practice of consciously choosing acts of kindness rather than making behavioral choices based on self-interest. It requires making distinctions between what I want, expanding to considering the other person’s needs when considering our choices.
As couples practice generosity more consistently, the tendency to be concerned with each other’s well-being becomes internalized. It spontaneously expresses itself on an ongoing basis. When I asked another client whether there was a competition between their own desires and their partner’s, he answered “There’s a competition all right, we compete for who can surprise the other with the most heart opening acts in a single day.”