Simple 'thank you' among couples can go long way according to research

Individuals who feel appreciated by their partners have better-functioning relationships that are more resilient to internal and external stressors

ANIUpdated: Tuesday, November 15, 2022, 06:44 PM IST
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Simple 'thank you' among couples can go long way according to research |

The findings of new research suggest that gratitude from one's partner may be a powerful tool for couples as it increases relationship satisfaction and commitment while protecting couples from the corrosive effects of ineffective arguing and financial stress.

Individuals who feel appreciated by their partners have better-functioning relationships that are more resilient to internal and external stressors, both in the moment when the appreciation is expressed and over the long term, said researcher Allen W. Barton, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Over a 15-month period, Barton's team examined the effects that expressed gratitude - conveying appreciation to one's partner - and perceived gratitude - feeling valued and appreciated by one's partner - had on the relationships of 316 African American couples.

"This study was really motivated to understand gratitude in relationships and if it can protect couples from challenges and hardships, be it negative communication or broader factors like financial strain," Barton said.

"Much of the prior research looked at the relational effects of expressing gratitude, but one could make the argument that feeling appreciated by one's partner is important, too. And we tested both to see whether one was more influential for couple relationships than the other," Barton said.

"Expressed gratitude really hadn't been looked at before, so we had no hypotheses with it - our work was more exploratory." Individuals in the sample with higher levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were more satisfied with their relationship, the team found. These individuals had greater confidence in its future and reported less instability, such as discussions or thoughts about breaking up.

When the team looked at protective effects, they found that higher levels of perceived gratitude buffered against the stresses of both financial strain and ineffective arguing, and these couples "did not exhibit as strong of declines in relationship satisfaction or confidence, or the increases in instability that we typically see" with these types of stressors, Barton said.

"Even if the couple's negative communication increased - provided they still felt appreciated by their partner - their relationship quality did not decline as much over time," he said. "That becomes really important because not every couple is going to be great at communication, particularly when things get heated or intense, or hit a home run with resolving conflicts." The protective effect of perceived gratitude applied both in the moment - when the respondent felt appreciated by their partner - and across time, Barton said.

No protective effects were observed for high levels of expressed gratitude, however. While there is no single surefire way of making one's partner feels appreciated, Barton suggested: "Be sure to make compliments that are sincere and genuine. And ask your partner if there are any areas in which they feel their efforts aren't being appreciated or acknowledged and start expressing appreciation for those."

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