“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 by the University of Georgia asked 468 married individuals questions about their financial well-being, their communication styles, and expressions of spousal gratitude.
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The results indicated that the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality was how often the spouses showed their gratitude.
“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,’” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton, a postdoctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Family Research. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”
“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,” Futris said.
“This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages,” Barton said. “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. Gratitude, however, can interrupt this cycle and help couples overcome negative communication patterns in their relationship.
Gratitude was measured in terms of the degree to which individuals felt appreciated by their spouse, valued by their spouse and acknowledged when they did something nice for their spouse.
“All couples have disagreements and argue,” Futris said. “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.”