Generosity In Relationships

This series of blog posts focuses on some of my reflections on the nine foundational attitudes of mindfulness and how they relate to interpersonal relationships.

This week is an exploration of generosity.

I recently came across an article online that outlined ‘five love languages’ in relationships. These were the five styles in which people prefer to give and receive affection with their loved ones. These are:

  1. Words of Affirmation (To be verbally acknowledged)
  2. Quality Time (To enjoy companionship)
  3. Receiving Gifts (To be given tokens of love)
  4. Acts of Service (To have their partners do tasks for them)
  5. Physical Touch (To be in contact via the body)

These language could easily translated as five types of generosity.

Knowing your preference

Generosity is really important in all relationships but the way we express our generosity is also really important. I found myself reflecting a lot on this regarding my own relationships, particularly with my partner. After all, how can I expect to get my needs met if I don’t know what my needs are, and if I don’t communicate them? Often we unconsciously give what we want to receive, and when our partner does likewise and the forms of generosity don’t match, we can feel that the relationship is one-sided.

On reflection, I feel that what is important for me is to feel that my partner is thinking of me when we are apart. I love to receive a thoughtful text out of the blue in the middle of the day. Similarly, receiving an unexpected gift from a friend simply because they thought I would like it is a wonderful experience and makes me feel cared about. Last week my colleague and friend came into work with a mug for me with a squirrel on it because she saw it and, knowing squirrels are my favourite animal, she thought of me. It made my day!

Giving and receiving generosity

It is important to be able to communicate our generosity styles with our loved ones so that we know the best way to give and are able to ask for what we want. Similarly, unwelcome giving, or the wrong kind of generosity, can also be problematic:

For some people a compliment can feel excruciatingly uncomfortable. We all view ourselves in a particular way so it can be challenging to receive a compliment that reflects a way that we don’t see ourselves or don’t want to see ourselves.

In the modern world, many of us are so time pressured that a request for quality time can just feel like another thing on the to do list. I recall a number of years ago, my partner at the time trying to be romantic by spontaneously suggesting that we went out for a meal. It was the last thing I needed! I was up to my eyes in work and couldn’t cope with a sudden change in my plans! In recent years, I have realised that I am more of an introvert than I first thought, meaning that often I value time to myself.

For others, a lavish gift can feel embarrassing or patronising particularly if the giver has more money than the receiver.

It can be tempting to offer help to those around us when it isn’t needed.

Physical touch is important but everyone has different boundaries in terms of touch. Some people like to hug their friends while others prefer more personal space.


So generosity within relationships becomes a bit of a minefield! And this is where mindfulness comes in. For our generosity to be truly generous we need to take the time to properly see the other person, whether it is a friend, a family member or a partner, so that we know that our act of generosity is a reflection of them not us. When we practice awareness with others, generosity becomes spontaneous and heart-felt.

The next post of the series will look at patience.