A simple ‘thank you’ among couples can go a long way: Research


Washington [US]: 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.

The majority of those in the study were middle-aged and lived in small communities in rural Georgia. While most of the participants were employed, about 65 per cent of the couples had joint incomes that were less than 150 per cent of the federal poverty level and could be classified as working poor, Barton said

The total number of children residing with the participants ranged from one to eight, averaging three. The married couples had been together for about 10 years while the unmarried couples had been cohabiting for nearly seven years when the study began.

Published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the current study builds on a 2015 study Barton led that examined the effects of financial distress on marital quality. That study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, considered only perceived gratitude and included predominantly white, middle-aged and more highly educated couples.

“In the current study, we wanted to examine the effects of both perceived and expressed gratitude and whether perceived gratitude works similarly with a different demographic population,” he said.

Over the 15-month period, the couples were surveyed three times about their arguing and conflict resolution, their expressions of gratitude to their partner and their levels of perceived gratitude from their partner. The participants also reported on their current levels of financial strain.

Respondents rated their satisfaction with their relationship, ranging from perfectly happy to very unhappy; the relationship’s level of stability, as measured by thoughts or discussions about breaking up; and their confidence in their future together.