When it comes to marital happiness and success, a critical ingredient is a very “unsexy” one — kindness.
In a world of glitz and glamour, the Kardashians and The Bachelor and The Batchelorette, Sephora ads and ads for fast cars, there are virtually no media messages that link kindness with success and happiness.
But all the research shows that when it comes to marital success, nothing beats kindness.
The problem is that you can’t sell kindness. So don’t look for it on your TV screen, or in the movies or magazines.
There is very little in the world that tells you that the number one trait you should look for in a partner is kindness. But I want to focus on how much kindness you have in your relationship with your spouse, and tell you that investing energy in being kind to your partner is the safest investment you can make in your life.
Structural analyses have repeatedly shown five important factors that sum up personality. To remember them, think of the word OCEAN.
“O” stands for Openness to experience, which describes the breadth, depth, originality, and complexity of an individual’s mental and experiential life.
“C” stands for conscientiousness, which describes socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task-based and goal-directed behavior, such as thinking before acting, delaying gratification, following norms and rules, and planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks.
“E” stands for extroversion, which implies an energetic approach to the social and material world and includes traits such as sociability, activity, assertiveness, and positive emotionality.
“A” stands for agreeableness, which contrasts prosocial and communal orientation toward others with antagonism and includes traits such as altruism, tender-mindedness, trust, and modesty.
“N” stands for neuroticism, which indicates individual differences in the extent to which a person perceives and experiences the world as threatening, problematic, and distressing.
Let’s look a bit more closely at the last two traits: Agreeableness and Neuroticism.
These Big Five traits are a continuum. Agreeableness is about being cooperative, trustworthy, and good-natured. So someone who is high on agreeableness is helpful, trusting, and empathetic. Someone who is low on Agreeableness is critical, uncooperative, and suspicious.
Neuroticism is the tendency toward unstable emotions. So someone who is high on neuroticism is anxious, unhappy, and prone to negative emotions. Someone who is low on neuroticism is calm, even tempered, and secure.
Essentially, what I am calling the trait of kindness is Agreeableness.
Are you curious about the relationship of kindness and agreeableness to your partner with sexual satisfaction? Think of it like this: How likely are you to want to take your clothes off and be close to someone who criticizes you? How easy would it be to ask for sex from someone who often is not nice to you? How likely are you to share your sexual fantasies with someone who is not trustworthy?
Kindness is a trait you can work on growing throughout your life. It would not hurt to have a “kindness check-in” with your partner at some regular interval, as a way of showing your commitment to the relationship and to your partner. It could be a huge addition to your emotional intimacy.
If you see that you probably are high on Neuroticism, working on how to be kind would be a great thing to do.
If you (or your partner) experienced trauma in your family of origin, in what I call the Milestones of Sexual Development, then your personality was affected and you are likely to be upset more easily than other people.
That background could account for you scoring high on the Neuroticism trait.
It’s not your fault. The environment you grew up in dysregulated you as a child, because the people you needed to count on to be supportive were not reliable or empathic. You had good reason to be suspicious and distrustful.
However, as an adult, you can work on transforming yourself, through mindfulness, kindness meditation, bibliotherapy, psychotherapy, or participating in groups such as the free Adult Children of Alcoholics groups sponsored by AA.
If you are interested in strengthening your marriage and your sexual relationship, working on your own kindness and agreeableness will be a fail-safe first step.
That’s why I have a specific question about kindness on my marital satisfaction quiz. To take the quiz, click here.
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