Give Your Thanks, and Not Just on Thanksgiving

An interesting 2022 study reveals that marital satisfaction has a strong positive correlation with ranking Thanksgiving (and not Christmas!) as your favorite holiday of the year.

Just kidding. There is no such study, and you can totally have a fantastic marriage if you like either of them more, equally, or not at all. But with the holiday season around the corner, I did want to look at the role that gratitude and thankfulness play in romantic relationship satisfaction.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Communication is key to a healthy relationship.” Bad communication can often make or break a relationship, as highlighted by Gottman Institute’s 4 common divorce predictors (Criticism, Stonewalling, Defensiveness, and Contempt). 

But does this doom those who more naturally find themselves in cycles of negative communication patterns to forever have unsuccessful relationships? 

It turns out there’s an easy prescription: Saying thank you

According to the findings of a 2022 study published in the Journal of Personal & Social Relationships, feeling appreciated by your partner can protect relationships against stressors such as financial strains as well as negative communication patterns like ineffective arguing. Couples who reported higher levels of perceived gratitude were much less likely to experience decline in their relationship satisfaction, despite experiencing common negative communication patterns or facing financial struggles over the course of the 15 months they were observed. 

There is one nuance to this that is notable to mention: An individual may state that they express their appreciation, but this does not always mean that their partner will feel appreciated. This is supported by the finding that self-reported perceived gratitude was a stronger predictor of relationship satisfaction than self-reported expressed gratitude. 

So, how do we make sure that the appreciation we think we express achieves its purpose of actually making our partner feel appreciated?

To answer this, we’ll switch our gears to a different study that examines how to best express gratitude:

It turns out that the most effective way to get your appreciation across while expressing it is to highlight how your partner responds to and meets your needs, (i.e., “Thank you so much for helping me, you saved me so much trouble!”).  

In fact, if you choose to highlight what they have gone through for you while you express your own gratitude (i.e., Thank you so much for helping me, I know you had a lot to do),   it’s more likely that your appreciation won’t be as effective. As much as close relationships are about getting our own needs met, they’re also about feeling needed, valued, and knowing that we’re capable of responding to our partner’s needs. Perhaps, we all have ~a sprinkle of~ a savior complex in ourselves. 

Next week, if you sit around a table with your loved ones and choose to appreciate the cook because you are savoring the stuffing, instead of saying:

“This must have taken you a lot of time! Thank you so much, you must be so tired!”

Try saying:

“I have been looking forward to this meal all year, I always love your stuffing! Thank you for this!” 

Just tell them how much you needed that stuffing! 

You get the point.  Give your thanks! Not just on Thanksgiving, but whenever you feel like expressing it. Don’t hesitate to focus on how their effort made you feel. Being thankful is a prescription you can trust, even if lately you’ve been a little more naughty than nice.