Want a great marriage? Be grateful.
How often do we look our partner in the eye with heart and meaning and say how much we truly appreciate them? For all the little things and the big things they do to enhance our life, why not remind them that it all matters and we truly are thankful—for all they do, to be in their presence, and for just being.
A new study recently published in the journal Personal Relationships says that a key ingredient to improving couples' marriages—simply put—is gratitude. Researchers say they "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."
"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," said study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
The study, conducted through a telephone survey, asked 468 married individuals various questions about their financial well-being, demand/withdraw communication, and how much their partner expressed gratitude.
The results indicated that spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.
"It goes to show the power of 'thank you,'" said the study's lead author Allen Barton. "Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."
Higher levels of spousal gratitude expressions also decreased men's and women's divorce proneness as well as women's marital commitment from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict.
"Importantly, we found that when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand/withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability," says Futris.
"This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages," said Barton. "We think it is quite important as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict."
"Demand/withdraw communication occurs when one partner tends to demand, nag, or criticize, while the other responds by withdrawing or avoiding the confrontation," Barton said. "Although wife-demand, husband-withdraw interactions appear more commonly in couples, in the current study we found financial distress was associated with lower marital outcomes through its effects on increasing the total amount of both partners' demand/withdraw interactions."
Gratitude was also shown to decrease the amount of stress due to financial problems.
"When couples are stressed about making ends meet, they are more likely to engage in negative ways—they are more critical of each other and defensive, and they can even stop engaging or withdraw from each other, which can then lead to lower marital quality," Futris said.
How was gratitude measured, you ask?
Well, it was measured by how much the spouse feels appreciated, valued, and acknowledged by their spouse when they do something nice for their partner, of course.
"All couples have disagreements and argue," said Futris. "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."