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True Generosity: Key to a Lasting Relationship

Is your partner "truly generous" and why does that matter?

Connie's Story

Connie had been dating Conrad steadily for two years before she finally came to the conclusion that he was a man who didn't seem to have a generous bone in his body. From the beginning, for example, she'd noticed a decided tendency in him to be possessive when it came to his belongings. Once, when she'd been visiting Conrad in his condo and it began raining hard, she had asked to borrow an umbrella. She could still recall the pained expression that came over his face before he handed it to her. The next day, he left a message on her voicemail reminding her to return the umbrella.

Conrad, Connie soon discovered, was the same way about virtually everything he owned. She decided to tolerate this little annoyance, however, since he was also an honest, hard-working and responsible man. She thought these qualities compensated for his somewhat possessive, miserly ways.

While Connie found it in her heart to accept Conrad's tendency to be possessive and stingy, she had a much harder time with the way he always made giving contingent. For instance, when Connie's birthday would approach, Conrad would bring up the issue of what she wanted as a gift. But he would do this in a peculiar -- and for Connie, annoying -- way. He would talk not just about what she might want for her birthday, but what he might want for his. Connie couldn't help but notice that whatever she said she wanted would be matched by something of comparable value that Conrad wanted. In other words, if Connie asked for something she knew was fairly expensive, she could count on Conrad talking about wanting something of equal value when his birthday came around.

What Connie found objectionable about Conrad's contingent approach to gift-giving was not that he might want something expensive in return for buying her something expensive. She was really okay with that. What bothered Connie, rather, was her perception that Conrad did not seem to believe that she was capable of being generous at all unless he tied her giving him something into him buying her something. He apparently had little faith that she would ever get him something nice unless he got her something nice, and unless he let her know that he expected things to work that way.

How to Spot a Truly Generous Man

True generosity has nothing to do with being flamboyant or extravagant, qualities that are usually intended to impress. Nor does true generosity mean giving with an expectation of getting something in return. In these hard times -- as well as the ones that may lie ahead --qualities such as generosity can be more important than anything else in making a relationship work.

In assessing a man's capacity to be generous, you need to look at his ability to be generous not only with you, but also with others he truly loves, such as his children, family, and even friends. The truly generous individual tends to bestow his generosity broadly. This does not mean that he is a spendthrift or an extravagant spender. Rather, the generous man gives within his means and does not limit his generosity to material things. He will be capable of being generous with his time and attention, for example. He may be willing to help you out in a time of need. His primary motivation is the sheer joy or comfort that generosity instills in those who are on its receiving end. This is very different from the kind of pseudo-generosity that is motivated by a desire to impress, but that otherwise seems out of character.

The Generous Personality

Generosity is a multifaceted personality trait. Here is a list of those qualities that define the truly generous individual.

  • Believes What's Mine Is Yours

The truly generous individual tends not to be highly possessive. He is willing to share what he has. That's not to say he gives away everything he owns. However, he does not hoard the things he owns.

Demonstrates Altruism

Another mark of the generous man is that he cares about the welfare of others -- both those he loves and people in general. In contrast to the narcissist, life for the generous man is not just about him. He may contribute money or time to charities, he may be a mentor to others who are in need of guidance, or he may "adopt" a needy child from another country, a child he will never meet but whose life he will touch.

Gives to Give, Doesn't Give to Get

In one form of "pseudo-generosity," a man buys you a gift that he would really like. For example, he buys you a flat-screen television for your birthday, when you know very well that he wants it for himself. Or there's the old joke about the man who buys his wife a convertible sports car: "Once it's in the driveway," the joke goes, "it's yours as much as it's hers." A variation of giving-to-get is Conrad: the man who tells you that he's getting you something and then basically comes out and tells you what he expects you to buy him in return. The generous person will buy you something he knows you will like, with no thought about whether it will benefit him as well, and with no expectation that you will respond in kind.

A Happy Ending

When she finally could take it no more, Connie found her voice and confronted Conrad, telling him that she was starting to resent his "give to get" ways and did not think she could be happy in a relationship like that. Conrad reacted with genuine surprise. Apparently no one had ever confronted him in that way. Moreover, making giving contingent on receiving something in return had been so ingrained in his personality for so long that he was oblivious to how it might make another person feel.

That confrontation turned out to be an eye-opener that allowed Conrad to move a little toward becoming a more generous man. It did not transform his personality; however, he did drop his habit of making gift-giving a tit-for-tat experience. The next time he asked Connie what she wanted, for example, for her birthday, he did not talk about what he might want in return. And on a couple of occasions he bought her small gifts for no special reason.

True generosity, as well as contingent generosity, is of course not exclusive to men, and men reading this may benefit from it as much as women.

For more tips on relationships see Stop Dating Jerks: The Smart Woman's Guide to Breaking the Pattern and Finding the Love of Your Life.

Copyright 2011 by Dr. Joe Nowinski