Researchers at the University of Georgia studied nearly 500 married couples to investigate the connection between financial well being and the quality of the relationship.i They wondered what the impact would be on a marriage when a couple faces tough economic times. While it was expected that financial distress would inevitably challenge any relationship and perhaps reduce the spouses’ level of marital satisfaction, the research found one thing that served as a kind of buffer, minimizing the negative impact: the expression of gratitude. Couples who made it a habit to regularly say thank you to one another were less harmed by any number of conventional marital stressors, including financial problems.
“Spousal gratitude,” wrote the authors, “promotes and protects marital quality.”
Other studies have found a similar effect. Some researchers have speculated about “a cycle of generosity” that enables relationships to thrive: spouses who report feeling more appreciated by their partners — hearing thank you on a regular basis — report being more appreciative of those partners, and in turn more inclined to be sensitive and responsive to those partners’ needs.ii
Once relationships pass through the early honeymoon and romance phase, it’s easy for us to take for granted the qualities in a partner that we appreciated early on. We can forget what once seemed special, focusing instead on traits and behaviors we now find annoying and unattractive. One way to check the inevitability of acclimating to (and taking for granted) our partner’s positive traits is by cultivating the habit of voicing appreciation, especially for the small things he or she does, like putting away the groceries, shoveling the walk, folding the laundry, checking the air in the tires, bringing in the morning paper. Expressing gratitude by offering a sincere and heartfelt thank you seem too small to matter, but small gestures can indeed deliver big results.
i Barton, A.W., Futris, T. G. and Nielsen, R. B. (2015), “Linking financial distress to marital quality: The intermediary roles of demand/withdraw and spousal gratitude expressions.” Personal Relationships, 22: 536–549. doi: 10.1111/pere.12094
ii Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012, May 28). “To Have and to Hold: Gratitude Promotes Relationship Maintenance in Intimate Bonds.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0028723