They’re two simple words that can do a world of good. They can make you feel appreciated, proud, and connected all at once.

What are they? “Thank you.”

We’re all guilty of failing to express gratitude at times in our life. Yet studies show that couples that express simple thanks to one another on a regular basis are the happiest and longest lasting. What studies?

Researchers from the University of Georgia studied the role gratitude played in marriage quality. They evaluated the quality of martial bonds among 468 married volunteers, rating their responses to questions regarding marriage satisfaction, commitment, and how prone they were to divorce.

Couples rated how often their partner expressed gratitude on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “never” and 5 being “always”). They responded to statements along the lines of “My spouse expresses appreciation for the things I do for him/her,” and “My spouse lets me know that he/she value me,” and “My spouse acknowledges when I do something nice for him/her.”

Marriage quality was assessed by the three factors mentioned above. Satisfaction was measured by the participant’s response to the question “All things considered, how happy are you with your marriage?”

Commitment was evaluated through the couples’ expressed desire for the relationship to continue, and divorce-proneness was measured by the participant’s answer when asked their thoughts on separation or divorce.

The researchers found that expressions of gratitude were the factors most consistently linked to marriage quality. Couples who felt that appreciation held a regular place in their marriage also scored higher in their sense of commitment, and scored lower on divorce proneness.

Express Gratitude to Cut Through Stressful Times

“Thank you.” It’s a practical and simple way to boost the quality of your relationship. This is particularly true during times of stress.

The study found that even when the more gracious couples had money troubles, expressions of gratitude mitigated the negative effects of financial hardship. The couples who expressed less appreciation, in contrast, tended to develop bleak outlooks and low satisfaction rates when faced with money woes.

One of the coauthors of the study, Ted Futris, outlined this distinction between the couples: “All couples have disagreements and argue. 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.”

Of course, old habits die hard. If you’re not used to telling your partner that you appreciate him or her, it can be difficult to start doing so on a regular basis. If you feel like you need more help with this, talk to a Portland marriage counselor. I’ve helped countless people just like you to strengthen their relationship, and I can help you, too.