“Thank you”. “I appreciate you”. “That means a lot”.

We’ve all felt the warmth of gratitude. When someone expresses thanks for our hard work and sacrifice, it often makes all of the effort worthwhile.

But we’ve also felt the sting of an absent “thank you”—that terrible feeling of underappreciation that comes when our friends, family, or co-workers don’t fully appreciate something we’ve done for them.

Unfortunately, many of us fail to express gratitude as often as we should, particularly towards the people who are closest to us. This is a special problem for spouses. They spend so much time together that they often forget how important the simple expression of gratitude can be.

Gertrude Stein noted, “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” I would say that’s doubly true in a relationship—and a recent scientific study seems to back this up.

Study: Gratitude Linked to Positive Marital Outcomes

The study was recently published by researchers from the University of Georgia in the journal Personal Relationships. The researchers reported that participants who felt the most appreciated and valued in their relationship reported the highest level of martial satisfaction.

“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 Ted Futris, associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Participants of the study were surveyed via phone interviews.  468 married people responded to questions about demand/withdraw communication, their financial well-being, and their spouse’s expressions of gratitude.

Breaking the Cycle of Demand/Withdrawal

Researchers also looked at the effects that financial troubles had on participants’ marriages. They found that couples undergoing money woes were more likely to engage in a type of behavior called “demand/withdrawal”.

Demand/withdrawal refers to a common pattern of communication in relationships. In this pattern of behavior, one partner has the tendency to criticize, nag, or demand. The other partner responds by withdrawing—avoid contact and communication with the demander.

“Although wife demand/husband withdraw interactions appear more commonly in couples, in the current study we found financial distress was associated with lower marital outcomes through its effects on increasing the total amount of both partners’ demand/withdraw interactions,” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton, a postdoctoral research associate at the university’s Center for Family Research

These results may not be surprising to anyone who has been married—money is the most common source of conflict for many couples.

One of the most interesting results the study found, however, is that couples who expressed gratitude towards each other were better at breaking cycles of demand/withdrawal.  Even though these couples clashed over money troubles, they felt valued in their relationship. This, in turn, led to higher feelings of commitment and faith in the strength of their marriage.

It can be difficult to express thankfulness when we’re in the midst of an argument. Taking a moment to appreciate our partners during hard times, however, can sometimes make all the difference.

Communication and gratitude are key elements of a strong marriage. If you and your partner are having difficulty communicating in a positive way, you can always benefit from working with a Portland marriage counselor. Talk to me today.