We hear a lot of helpful tips about ways that spending quality time together helps couples strengthen their marriage, find new, common interests and keep the relationship fresh. Trying a new hobby, meeting new friends and even just making time for regular date nights are just a few examples of ways couples can grow closer in the relationship, especially during those times when the stuff of everyday life seems to risk squeezing out any room for intimacy (and not just the bedroom kind).
But there’s another, often-overlooked activity that some couples report has done wonders for their relationship: community service.
Why? Well, for one, it often combines all of the above. Activities like volunteering at a soup kitchen, getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, participating in a clean-up project at the local nature preserve and other types of community service are great ways to meet new people while spending time together. You might even learn something new along the way. A couple I know who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity reports that their landlord adores them, because they can now do all the house repairs that used to require a visit from the handyman. That’s not exactly a predictor of relationship success, but it certainly makes things less stressful when the kitchen faucet leaks!
It’s long been shown that volunteer work promotes happiness for all people, whether they’ve involved in a relationship or not. (It’s even a great way to meet potential dates if you’re single and looking for others with common interests.) Some of the evidence as to why people benefit from helping others is anecdotal, but it makes sense. It relieves stress, breaks the rut of ruminating about your own problems and helps you see life through the eyes of others. Many regular volunteers report that it has increased their overall life satisfaction—at the end of the day, they feel they’ve done something more significant than meeting a client deadline or folding the laundry. They’ve looked outside their own lives to help someone else who really needs it, if only in the smallest of ways, while gaining a greater sense of understanding of the world around them.
No one wants to think about volunteering as a way to meet their own needs, but there’s nothing wrong with feeling better about yourself while helping others. And, when it comes back around to relationships, feeling better about yourself and gaining a new sense of confidence in your ability to be of service is probably going to make you a more pleasant person for your partner to be around.
The popular catchphrase is “getting out of your own head,” and your newfound empathy for a homeless family, a child in need of mentoring or others could even spill over and become a habit in all of your relationships—especially your spouse or partner. Simply put, anything that improves your mood and perspective is bound to improve the relationship.
Doubling the Benefit
When you do it together, a volunteer effort becomes larger than the sum of its parts. Your experiences volunteering give you something new to talk about together, which is always a good thing if you find yourself always having the same conversations about work, dinner plans and who’s going to pick up the dry cleaning—all of which will seem less important anyway when you’re thinking more about helping people in need rather than your own problems.
Still other benefits include:
A volunteer or community service project can reinforce the values you share while creating new memories together. It can also remind you of some of the common interests that might have brought you together in the first place, whether it’s an appreciation of nature, a passion for helping children with special needs, a love of animals or maybe the satisfaction of working with your hands (remember that helplessly dated rancher you bought when you were first married and worked tirelessly to turn into your dream cottage)?
If your first plan for a new volunteering project doesn’t seem to fit your goals, lifestyle or schedule, keep trying. There is no shortage of causes and projects that need your help, and trying until you find the right match can be a bonding experience in and of itself.
If you have children, consider involving them, too. Most volunteer organizations welcome the involvement of children, and it can be one of the best ways to teach your children the importance of helping others in need. It’s an-act-is-worth-a-thousand-words kind of activity that has been shown to make lifelong volunteers out of people who start young, by making even the smallest contribution. Doing it with you will reinforce the desire to help others even more.
If you need need to discuss ways to keep your relationship strong, the professionals at the Relationship Center of Orange County are here for you. Schedule your appointment online using our online scheduling tool, call us at (949) 220-3211, or text us.