You may be just two words away from a happier, stronger union, new research from the University of Georgia suggests. Published in the journal Personal Relationships, the study asked 468 married volunteers about their relationships, including expressions of gratitude they heard from their partners.
Couples rated the frequency of gratitude expressions they heard from their partner on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always), scoring statements like “My spouse expresses appreciation for the things I do for him/her,” “My spouse acknowledges when I do something nice for him/her” and “My spouse lets me know that he/she value me.”
To assess marriage quality, researchers looked at three factors—satisfaction (the rating participants gave to the question “All things considered, how happy are you with your marriage”), commitment (in which participants reported on their desire for the relationship to continue) and divorce proneness (participants’ answers when asked their thoughts or discussions of separation or divorce.)
What researchers found? Don’t underestimate the power of hearing “thank you” from your partner. The study found that expressions of gratitude were the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality, associated with higher marital satisfaction, higher commitment and lower divorce proneness.
Expressions of gratitude even mitigated the negative effects of demand/withdraw communication (in which one partner pressures and the other avoids during conflict) and poor problem-solving on marital quality. It’s a “practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict,” says the study’s lead author, Allen Barton.
Gratitude is also helpful during times of financial distress. “All couples have disagreements and argue,” study co-author Ted Futris added. “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.”
And giving is just as rewarding as receiving when it comes to those two magic words—in addition to feeling appreciated by one’s partner boosting marital satisfaction, previous research has found that being appreciative and having gratitude for one’s partner acted as a “booster shot” for the relationship, increasing relationship connection and satisfaction the following day for both partners.
Gratitude has also been linked to higher self-esteem—a major plus in relationships, considering that those with low self-esteem tend to have more relationship insecurities, question of a partner’s positive feelings toward them more often and need more affirmation from their a partner.
Even if you’re not coupled up, the benefits of expressing gratitude—whether to the people in your life or jotted down in a journal—are huge. Saying “thank you” to a new acquaintance makes the relationship more likely to turn into an ongoing relationship. Grateful people also report feeling healthier than others, are more likely to get regular check-ups, exercise more often and sleep better.
Mental health gets a boost, too—gratitude has been linked to less anxiety, less depression, better stress management, more optimism and feeling happier.