By Amy Rauer, PhD | Associate Professor, Child and Family Studies
Although popular images of marriage conjure up notions of romance and passion as the keys to relationship success, couples whose relationships endure for years—even decades—often cite something different as key to their happiness: compassionate love. In the research lab, my students and I have used a variety of methodological approaches (e.g., interviews and observations) to answer critical questions about compassionate love.
What is compassionate love?
Compassionate love can be broadly conceptualized as a love that is centered on the good of the other. Although compassionate love can be felt for many different people—everyone from children to strangers—we focus on compassionate love within the marriage.
Why focus on compassionate love in marriage?
Throughout the lifespan, people in high-quality intimate relationships are healthier than people without partners. Research suggests that the benefits of marriage may be due to partners taking care of each other, and we find that one of the key motivators for spousal caregiving is compassionate love.
Who benefits from compassionate love?
Compassionate love promotes both individual and relationship well-being for a wide range of people across the life course. Interestingly, being the one who provides the compassionate love, rather than the recipient, appears to be most beneficial for couples later in life.
How do spouses express compassionate love?
Although saying “I love you” can be a meaningful way to express how you feel about someone, we find that actions speak louder than words when it comes to compassionate love. From moving across the country for a partner to taking care of them after surgery to fixing breakfast every day, compassionate love can be expressed in numerous ways that vary greatly in magnitude and meaningfulness.
When can compassionate love be problematic?
A key characteristic of compassionate love is the act of putting another ahead of oneself. Although prioritizing your partner’s well-being can be beneficial for both partners, research suggests that there can be compassion burnout. Thus, couples are encouraged to think about achieving the right balance between taking care of each other and taking care of themselves.
Where can people learn more about compassionate love?
Our work was funded by the Fetzer Institute, which has
devoted years of resources to supporting and disseminating work on compassionate love.