Over the last fifteen years of teaching, coaching and facilitating thousands of men, women and couples around relationship, intimacy and sexuality, I have come to believe that generosity is the cornerstone of any good relationship.
No matter how much you love someone, or how amazing they are, there will come, as I like to call it, an “I don’t wanna” moment. These are the moments in your relationship where you are mad or hurt or tired or resentful, and these are the pivotal moments in your relating, where generosity comes into play.
It’s easy to give when you feel good, when you want to and when what is being asked of you is easy. It’s the moments when it’s challenging that really count.
Generosity is the foundation of all of my teaching and I believe if you truly embrace the practice of generosity, every relationship in your life will be transformed.
Here are 4 distinct flavors of generosity I have distilled (and I go into even more detail in the linked video).
The first flavor is the foundation of all generosity:
1. Are you willing to offer parts of yourself that feel uncomfortable, if you know it will open the hearts of the people around you?
It was 2003 & I was at a workshop with a teacher. He brought a group of people up on stage, and he asked the audience to give them feedback on how deeply they felt connected to these people on stage.
One man on stage got feedback from the audience in a certain way, and the teacher leaned over and whispered something in his ear, guiding him on what he could do to have the audience trust him in that moment.
The man heard it, processed it, and then responded with:
“Yes, but that just doesn’t feel like me, it doesn’t feel authentic.”
The teacher took this in for a moment. And his response is what really stood out to me.
‘If you knew it would open the hearts of the people around you, would you do it anyway?’
All these years later, I still think of this moment on a regular basis & ask myself this question: ‘Am I willing to be generous even when it doesn’t feel like me, or is uncomfortable, if I know it will open the hearts of the people around me?’
To be clear: Generosity is an opportunity, not an obligation. You are not obligated to open the hearts of the people around you, even if you know you can. This is actually what makes it -by definition- Generous!
The second way of being generous is more commonly talked about.
2. Give love in the way you want to receive love.
If you really desire something, offer it.This is true in relationship in general, and in intimate relationships in particular.
If I really want attention or praise, I can bring that, and create it. Possibly by asking for it – but, even more powerfully, by giving it!
I remember last year I had a new lover and I was craving his attention. I wanted praise; I wanted to know he was thinking of me. So I went straight to my phone and I wrote him a list of all the things I appreciated about him. I just gave it. And I felt better immediately! I felt freer, more full & less ‘crave-y.’
And five minutes later, I got an incredible response back letting me know how it impacted him, and full of love and appreciation and praise for me in return.
The third practice is about taking our attention off ourselves and loving others in the way THEY want to be loved – even if it’s nothing like how WE ourselves want to be loved.
3. Offering love the way they want to be loved
Can we love others in the way that they want to be loved, even if it’s totally different from the way we want to be loved?
It was my son Trent who taught me this.
He was having some conflict with a neighborhood kid. He would try to talk to her and she would completely ignore him. It drove him bonkers. He’d get mean and yell things like ‘you’re stupid!’
One time I brought him inside after this happened and I was empathizing with him. This was giving him love in the way I wanted to be loved, especially as a child. As a child, I just wanted someone to see what was happening for me.
So I was saying ‘Wow that’s really frustrating, I understand how that would hurt your feelings.”
And he said, “Yeah and I want you to tell her that she’s dumb.”
And what I realized was that he actually wanted me to be active.
So I said, “Do you want me to say something the next time that happens?”
He replied “yeah,” and I realized I could actually say something to this girl’s mom. I’d been dealing with this in the way I wished my mom had when I was a kid, but Trent wanted me to advocate for him more explicitly, and not just inside our family.
The last thing I ever want to do is draw attention to a conflict that involves me or speak out, it just feels so deeply uncomfortable.
But that was how Trent wanted to be loved.
It’s not how I wanted to be loved as a child or now, but can I love him in the way he wanted to be loved?
Can I listen to him deeply enough to hear he wants something that doesn’t make any sense to me?
That’s a huge act of generosity.
4. Offer something to someone that they might not know they need.
This is the most abstract and potentially trickiest of the ways of being generous.
We are taught that each person knows what’s best for themselves & that it is presumptuous, arrogant, or even rude, to imagine that we could know what another person needs.
However, my experience is, that often others really DO see us more clearly than we can see ourselves.
It’s generous to offer to somebody what they might not even know they need yet.
Let me paint a picture of a simple example.
I was working with a client recently and she was talking about how exhausted her husband was when he came home from work, and how they often had conflicts at that time because they didn’t know how to navigate both getting their needs met.
Instead of asking him what he needs, or waiting for him to advocate for himself, I suggested she offer something like this:
“Hey baby, how about you go and lie down for five minutes? I’ll set a timer and I’ll come get you when five minutes are up.”
What he hears is:
‘Wow, you can see I’m exhausted, you can see what would support me, and you’re going to hold the container of that for me so I don’t have to do anything?!’
Seeing what would serve that person in the moment, and offering it to them as a gift. Not only do they not have to ask for it, they might not have even been able to see that they needed it.
Generosity as a whole is the most essential ingredient in your intimate relationships.
You can’t create intimacy without generosity, and unless you’re willing to bring yourself from a place of generosity, there’s a limit to how deep that relationship can go.
Don’t wait until you’re fearless to be generous because often fearlessness comes through giving. In the act of generosity, we become more fearless.
My wish for you is more offering of generosity in the service of fearless intimacy.
Feel free to leave your questions and comments below, and I will respond.
Watch the full video below: