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How Gratitude Can Benefit Your Relationship

“the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated,”

William James

Recently I reviewed a meta-analysis (research that reviews several similar studies and crunches the numbers to assess agreement) that examined the role of gratitude expression in romantic relationships. The study (Park et al., 2019) examined the effects such expressions can have upon relationship commitment and satisfaction.

The five studies covered in the review were all generally concerned with how insecurely attached partners (see previous post on attachment) were affected by receiving expressions of thanks from their partner, and how it promoted greater relational security.

Gratitude is a powerful positive emotion and plays a significant role in relational and, more broadly, social connection. Initiating and maintaining human bonds of varying significance. However, in romantic relationships, these expressions may also provide a sort of inoculation against feelings of distress for those partners who are prone toward greater discomfort or worry in the relationship.

Several past studies, previous to those reviewed here, have shown that gratitude can hold benefits for both the expresser and the receiver as well, particularly in established relationships. When we express thanks for a kindness our partner has done for us, we not only contribute to the development of greater trust and comfort for our partner, we also communicate how much we value the overall relationship, highlighting relational warmth. Kindness toward our partner and then gratitude coming back, demonstrates the mutual responsiveness to one another in the relationship, strengthening the bond and deepening intimacy.

Similarly, the current research looked at five experiments that examined if a partner’s expression of gratitude could reduce attachment insecurity for their mate, by increasing overall relationship satisfaction and commitment. Adding a separate measure for commitment was new to these types of studies, as the experimenters believed that increased perception of a partner’s care would lead to a greater sense of a sound, and future-oriented foundation for the relationship, in a word; commitment. An increase of awareness that your partner was dedicated to the relationship could buffer against feelings of possible abandonment that are not uncommon with insecurely attached partners.

The results of the present research indicated that perceiving a partner’s gratitude expression is associated with reduced negative effects of attachment avoidance in romantic relationships. These findings highlight the interpersonal and attachment implications of gratitude experiences. Partners’ expression of their grateful feelings, when perceived by their other, serves as a simple yet effective reminder of the communal nature of the relationship, specifically, the partner that communicates gratitude is also saying how deeply they care about the relationship. This can help increase avoidantly attached individuals’ relationship comfort, and generally reduce their feelings of insecurity.

While each of the five studies was slightly different in their focus and outcomes, the results collectively demonstrate that the perception of a partner’s expression of gratitude can aid in the reduction of the negative effects of attachment avoidance thereby increasing the satisfaction of intimate relationships. Adding to this, It appears that these behaviors become an effective reminder of the connection that the couple has created and further strengths the bond of love and commitment.

So, remember, show appreciation for your partner whenever you’re able, with sincerity, and love.

Park, Y., Impett, E. A., MacDonald, G., & Lemay, E. P., Jr. (2019, January 31). Saying “Thank You”:Partners’ Expressions of Gratitude Protect Relationship Satisfaction and Commitment From the Harmful Effects of Attachment Insecurity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

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