Maybe you’ve heard that marriage is like a dance. If you want your partner to change, you must lead him or her where you wish to go. More specifically, if you want your spouse to be more giving, you might try being more giving yourself.
Maybe you’ve even heard that here.
I know you have, because I frequently get push back from readers who tell me that they’ve tried to be more giving, but their spouses are as stingy and selfish as ever. It makes me wonder: Are they married to monsters? Are they really being as generous as they say? Are they overlooking evidence that their spouses are actually very kind?
Or is something else going on?
After reading a recent study about the Pay-it-Forward effect, it seems that, at least in some case, something else really is going on.
But first, did you know that, at fast food drive-throughs, the Pay-it-Forward effect takes place on a regular basis? The researchers described a day at Tim Horton’s where one customer paid for the person behind her in line. The person behind her then paid for the next person and so on and so forth. This went on for three hours, with 226 customers continually buying coffee for the customers behind them.
These sorts of pay-it-forward chains have suddenly arisen at Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, and many other establishments. Let’s try to ignore the fact that people are generously buying other people food that very well may remove years from their lifespan. Pay-it-Forward chains are just beautiful. Knowing they exist makes me feel happy to be a human being for once, you know?
So why does Pay it Forward sometimes fail to work in our closest relationships?
If you’ve been looking for every opportunity to compliment your spouse AND you regularly perform intentional loving acts of kindness AND you’re always on the lookout for kind things your spouse might be doing for you AND you are fairly sure your spouse isn’t a psychopath, here’s what might be going on: The Bystander Effect. I’ll quote the researchers: “When participants observed a low level of helping, it increased their own likelihood of helping; but when they observed a high level of helping, they did not themselves help—they appeared to feel that their own sacrifice was no longer needed.” It’s also called social loafing. If I loved that phrase any more, I’d have to marry it.
How do you turn a social loafer into a Pay-it-Forward comrade? Do you think I know? I don’t, people. But, based on the research, I can make a wild guess: Stop doing it all.
Yes, continue to be kind. Compliment your spouse. Perform loving acts of kindness. But leave a few things undone every day. In this way, you’ll create opportunities for your spouse to pitch in. You’ll also show your vulnerable side. That’s important. Often when one person does it all and the other loafs, the do-it-all spouse comes off as a know-it-all perfectionist, a super human of sorts, the kind of person who needs no help, needs no smiles, and is just generally a robot with skin and mitochondria. I speak from experience.
Don’t be a robot. Be human. Humans are screw ups. If this weren’t true, we wouldn’t have the phrase, “Well, you’re only human after all.”
Embrace your human side. Be vocal about your fatigue. Talk about your brain fog. Mention how a neat and tidy room gets you off. Say how hard it is for you to do little things, such as stand in line at the post office without getting angry.
And invite your spouse onto the Pay-it-Forward dance floor. Let’s say the sink is full of dishes. You might say, “Wow, look at that. A sink full of dishes. It hurts my soul to look at that. I have about 5 minutes before I have to go to the gym. I’m going to wash as many as I can. Perhaps you could finish the job? That would be so kind of you.”
When offered an easy way to feel like a good person, most people opt in, even lazy loafers.
What are your strategies? If you are reading by email, don’t forget to click through to comment.