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The Importance of Character at Home


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People live in a variety of circumstances and relationships. Since there is compelling research about the value of marriage, it makes sense for you to hope for a happy marriage. However, you may or may not be currently living with a spouse. Consider the benefits of marriage for you and apply what you can to your current situation.

Marriage researcher John M. Gottman indicates that “happy marriages are based on a deep friendship, " which he describes as having “a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other's company. " (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, p. 19) This finding is part of the reason why “friendliness" is a core character trait for marriages. Dr. Gottman goes on to describe couples showing mutual honor and respect in strong marriages: “. . . husband and wife share a deep sense of meaning. They don't just ‘get along'-they also support each other's hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together. "

As with any close relationship, marriage provides a great opportunity for building character. Your struggle with practicing a quality will give your partner an opportunity to work on patience, cooperation, or some other appropriate quality in response. One of you may be strong in a quality such as truthfulness, courage, helpfulness, or kindness that the other desires to strengthen. Seeing a quality in practice may encourage the other to work on developing it. Although character growth is usually an individual pursuit, in marriage or in any other close relationship, it becomes an ongoing, dynamic, and mutual process. By practicing unity in character growth efforts, you increase the potential for both of you to grow, and your mutual happiness.

A primary reason for developing and practicing character qualities effectively is to be of thoughtful and sincere service to each other, your children, and others and build happiness in the process. Consider this perspective from Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph. D. , whose course on happiness is now the most popular one at Harvard University:

Helping oneself and helping others are inextricably intertwined: the more we help others, the happier we become, and the happier we become, the more inclined we are to help others. . . . Contributing to other people's happiness provides us with meaning and pleasure, which is why helping others is one of the essential components of a happy life. . . . When we're happy, then, we are more likely to see beyond our narrow, inward-looking, and self-centered perspective and focus on others’ needs and wants. . . . We often enhance our happiness to the greatest extent when we pursue activities that provide us with meaning and pleasure and that help others. (Happier, pp. 126-127)

The power of generativity-giving selflessly to and nurturing others-applies in the home, as well as any other setting. Stephen Post explains in Why Good Things Happen to Good People that, “[Generativity is] an act of giving that enables another person to manifest his or her own strengths and gifts through love. It can be as simple as listening and giving support to others-renewing their sense of self and hope. It can be as demanding as raising a child well, or mentoring a student in a difficult and challenging field. " (p. 47)

As you make personal choices in your relationship every day, consider character as a guiding force.

Susanne M. Alexander is a character specialist and relationship/marriage coach. She is president of Marriage Transformation LLC and author of Pure Gold: Encouraging Character Qualities in Marriage; Happy at Home, Happy at Work: The Powerful Rewards of Building Character; and Can We Dance? Learning the Steps for a Fulfiling Relationship.


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