University of California Berkeley psychologist Amie Gordon has conducted many studies on the effect of gratitude in our lives—and her research offers some important inspiration for improving our romantic relationships. “In our research, we found that participants’ reported feelings of gratitude towards a romantic partner predicted who would stay in their relationships and who would break up nine months later,” said Gordon. “The more grateful participants were, the more likely they were to still be in their relationship.”
Another study, this one from the University of Georgia, also reminds spouses and partners to express not only their affection, but also their gratitude. The study authors interviewed couples about the degree to which each felt appreciated and valued by their spouse. Said study author Prof. Ted Futris, “We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”
Even couples who have communication difficulties can benefit greatly by making this one change. Said Futris, “All couples have disagreements and argue. And, when couples are stressed, they are likely to have more arguments. What distinguishes the marriages that last from those that don’t is not how often they argue, but how they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.” He explained, “We found that when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability.”
Amie Gordon offers a bit of practical advice: If you find yourself ungrateful about your partner, check out your sleep situation! “For many couples, nighttime can turn into a battleground due to loud snoring, sheet-tugging or one partner tapping on a laptop while the other tosses and turns,” said Gordon. “You may have slept like a baby, but if your partner didn’t, you’ll probably both end up grouchy. Poor sleepers have a harder time counting their blessings and valuing their partners.”
Expressing gratitude also helps couples weather financial crunches, disagreements, health crises, family problems and the many other rough patches that happen in most marriages, especially those of long duration. Said University of Georgia study co-author Allen Barton, “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’ Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”
And the partner who says “thank you” benefits as well. Numerous studies show that feeling and expressing gratitude not only bolsters relationships, but also promotes a person’s overall emotional and even physical health by reducing inflammation, decreasing depression and improving sleep quality. Said Baylor University professor Jo-Ann Tsang, “Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people. People are motivated to help people that help them—and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.”
Just as expressing gratitude to our spouse or partner can lengthen our marriage, it also can lead to a longer life. So take the time this Valentine’s Day to think about the things your partner does for you—and then tell them. Create a personalized Valentine’s message. Write a poem. And on Valentine’s Day and every day, be aware of opportunities to thank your partner for all they do, and for who they are.