Whether you’re dating or celebrating your 20th wedding anniversary, volunteering abroad can deepen your bonds and offer new views of your partner. Need proof? Here are six ways that doing good is good for your relationship.
Before Jordan McFadyen and his girlfriend Jacqueline volunteered with International Volunteer HQ in Kenya, a friend gave him some advice. If the duo’s relationship could survive the experience—working at a school in a Maasai village, pulling themselves from their comfort zone, dealing with unexpected situations—the two 28-year-olds were “meant to be” as a couple.
“It was kind of like the ultimate relationship test,” says McFadyen, marketing manager for the New Zealand-based IVHQ.
Some couple-teers don’t pass that test: “I have seen couples come out stronger after the experience, but there have been break-ups, too,” says a program officer for one volunteer organization.
McFadyen, however, found that working as a teacher’s assistant with Jacqueline strengthened their relationship. After serving in Kenya in 2009, the couple married and now has two children.
“We discovered (and re-discovered) all the attributes that we were attracted to when we first met,” he says—something that many couples have found when volunteering together.
“Volunteering is great as an individual, but it is especially fulfilling when you volunteer as a couple—and emerge as a team,” says love and relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz, an author and star of the series Married at First Sight. “If you teach together, or work on almost anything that helps the lives of others, your mutual dependency and collaboration is a powerful bond. It far exceeds almost any other way of being together. It’s uplifting—and even romantic.”
How romantic? Generous, altruistic people are not only more attractive to the opposite sex, but they have more sex than their less generous counterparts, according to a study published in the July 2016 British Journal of Psychology. Volunteering together also establishes a foundation of generosity, which is vital for relationships to succeed. In a study conducted as part of the National Marriage Project, couples age 18-46 were five times more likely to say their marriage was “very happy” if they reported a high amount of generosity, compared to couples who didn’t. Volunteering might even be the new Match.com: 80 percent of volunteers would rather date someone they met volunteering than through a dating site, a survey by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found. Ten percent of survey respondents said that volunteering led to a romantic relationship, and six percent wound up saying “I do.”
Are you thinking about volunteering abroad with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse? Here are six ways that serving others can improve your relationship.