Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-Being Among Newlyweds

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Compassion is deeply prized in Western marriages yet its benefits for emotional well-being have been investigated empirically only rarely. This research examined the association between compassionate acts and everyday emotional well-being in 175 newlywed couples. Following prior research and theory, we defined compassionate acts as caregiving that is freely given, focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of the other’s needs and wishes, and expressed through openness, warmth, and a willingness to put a partner’s goals ahead of one’s own. We adopted an explicitly dyadic perspective so that we could consider how compassionate acts as well as their recognition influence the affective state of both donors and recipients. Our findings, which controlled for the general affective tone of marital interaction, revealed that compassionate acts are beneficial for both donors and recipients, and that the effects on the donor are stronger than the effects on the recipient. Moreover, we found that whereas recipients’ benefits depend on their noticing the donors’ actions, donors benefit regardless of whether the recipients explicitly notice the compassionate acts. The pattern of results for husbands and wives was very similar. These results suggest that in terms of emotional well-being, for donors, acting compassionately may be its own reward.

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