Much of the world today seems to operate on contracts. With such a quid pro quo approach, both sides get something for giving something. At the heart of such agreements is getting something deemed equal in return for what you give.

For example, if you pay someone to mow your lawn they would expect fair pay for the work. At the same time, you would expect fair work for the price paid. Also implied in such agreements is that if one side does not hold up their part, it’s likely the other side won’t do theirs either. So if the lawn isn’t mowed, you’re likely not to pay. And the same in reverse — don’t pay and it’s likely not to be mowed.

While quid pro quo contracts seem to work well in establishing things such as lawn service or credit card agreements, they rarely are found in happy couple relationships.

That’s because inherent in the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” approach is the fact that each partner keeps a runny tally of who’s done what for whom, and then reciprocates accordingly. So Jane may wash the dishes but only as a payback for Jack making dinner. But if Jack starts getting lazy and contributing less, Jane will do the same. And two people doing less for each other tends not to build happy couple relationships.

We all have times when we contribute less in our relationship than our spouse. Maybe it’s an extremely busy time at work, or we fall sick for a bit. Relationships are rarely a perfect 50/50 division; sometimes you do more and sometimes you do less. In a quid pro quo relationship this “I’ll match what you contribute” approach is a recipe for disaster since as soon as one partner does less the other one reciprocates by doing less too. Two people doing less is not going to help keep love alive.

In a more stable relationship, Jane washes the dishes because she has positive feelings about Jack and therefore wants to help him out. Jack makes dinner for Jane simply because he cares for her, not because he hopes to get something in return.

Defined as having an “unselfish concern for the welfare of others,” altruism, instead of quid pro quo agreements, is found in happy couple relationships. In fact, a recent study from the University of Chicago found that individuals with higher amounts of altruistic love for their partner also reported higher levels of relationship happiness. These altruistic partners reported higher levels of general happiness, too.

Instead of waiting for huge ways to express their altruistic love to their partner, such as saving them from a burning building or an oncoming train, altruistic partners are often found doing little things for each other. Perhaps it’s the husband who faithfully and frequently brings his wife her favorite drink at work. Or the husband who makes the bed again and again simply because it’s important to his wife.

Or the wife who patiently puts down the toilet seat again and again, even though she’s reminded him thousands of times. Whatever it is, successful couples express their altruistic love often through many small acts of service, expecting nothing in return.

While the purpose of expressing altruistic love is not to get something in return, it often does have a positive payback. We’ve probably all had the experience of feeling so cared for by someone that it’s hard not to return such kindness.

Let’s say for example that Jane really does love Jack and so she makes him dinner. Feeling loved, Jack decides to do the dishes, which really helps Jane out. While it was nice to have Jack’s help (a positive payback), Jane made dinner for Jack because she cared for him, not because she was hoping to get something in return.

In a world today where we have due dates, late fees and quid pro quo responsibilities to keep track of, it should bring comfort to many to be in a relationship where kind acts are done out of genuine love, not in hopes of getting something in return.

A relationship where nice things are done because we’re the kind of person who does nice things, not because we “owe” our partner for something they’ve done. A relationship where we don’t have to keep tally of who did what and whose turn is next. A relationship where we do loving things just because that’s the kind of people we are.

Altruism. It’s a great feeling, and a great way to help keep love alive. Now go do something nice.

For more tips on keeping your love alive, visit www.panhandlecouples.com.

Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.

Mark Anderson is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy. He is in private practice in Scottsbluff at Oregon Trail Mental Health. He can be reached at 635-2800 or online at www.panhandlecouples.com.

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