Power of ‘thank you’ for couples: Perceived gratitude from one’s partner enhances satisfaction, protects against common stressors

Gratitude has been a trendy sentiment in recent years — sparking an industry of journals, knickknacks and T-shirts touting thankfulness as a positive force in individuals’ lives.

New research suggests that gratitude from one’s partner may be a powerful tool for couples as well, increasing 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.

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