It’s that time of the year. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and soon you will most likely be surrounded by family and/or friends, enjoying a delicious meal, and thinking about what you are thankful for. In a time when we think about all we have to be thankful for in our lives, many couples may be thankful for finding their special someone and sharing their lives with one another, and thankful for what they do for one another. But how can this thankful feeling in couples affect their relationships?
A previous blog discussed how gratitude can significantly affect your relationships. It was discussed that expressing gratitude more often in your relationship can decrease the chances of a breakup. The study discussed also investigated both how frequently couples thanked each other and the quality of that appreciation, and how those associated with relationship satisfaction. The higher frequency and quality of gratitude seen would show higher life satisfaction and relationship satisfaction.
A recent study by Kubacka et al. (2011) further investigated how gratitude actually works in a romantic relationship. The researchers first found that gratitude serves two functions in a couple’s relationship:
Gratitude is predicted by noticing a partner’s responsiveness to the relationship.
This one may seem kind of obvious, but when a partner somehow addresses their partner’s needs, showed care or understanding, or displayed some other type of pro-relationship behavior, their partner will notice this increase in responsiveness to them, and will ultimately lead to more gratitude. For example, if Mike knows that Annemarie is very close to her family, and he includes them more and more in their plans for the holidays or just their day-to-day lives because he knows they’re very important to her, she will notice that he is working on bringing them into their lives more often, and she will feel thankful towards him because of it.
Feelings of gratitude will predict their own pro-relationship feelings and actions.
A partner’s feelings of gratitude towards their significant other will motivate them to act in more ways to take care of their partner and maintain their relationship. Because they notice that their partner did something special for them or noticed in general how their partner is working at the relationship, their feelings of gratitude towards this will lead them to do more things for their relationship as well or specific things for their partner. This behavior will then be recognized by their significant other, which will spark feelings of gratitude, and influence further relationship maintenance actions. The researchers found that this circular process is present for all couples with different levels of relationship satisfaction and length of time together.
So what does this mean for your relationship?
Doing a little something extra in caring for your partner or the relationship in general can have drastic positive effects. When your partner notices something extraordinary you do for them or the relationship in general, they’re going to feel very grateful for it, and in turn will influence them to have their own feelings of wanting to work on your relationship and/or do something special for you. So when you think about how thankful you are this holiday, pay attention to even the smallest things your partner does for you and your relationship, and noticing these will make you feel grateful for that special someone in your life, and start you down this everlasting process of strengthening your relationship.
Kubacka, K., Finkenauer, C., Rusbalt, C., & Keijsers, L. (2011). Maintaining close relationships: Gratitude as a motivator and a detector of maintenance behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1362 – 1375.