14 Nov 2018
Gratitude is the Key to a Happy Marriage
“How do they do it?” That’s one of the first thoughts we have when we see a happy couple that has been together for years. Curious and perhaps a little jealous, we’re determined to demystify the secret behind their seemingly effortless joy—because we seek the exact same thing.
Surprisingly, the answer is quite simple and within our reach. Among the tensions and challenges of relationships and daily life, a study suggests that the secret to a successful marriage is as simple as being grateful.
That feeling of gratitude that a spouse feels for their partner is the foundation to a solid and happy marriage, concluded a study conducted by the University of Georgia. Its subjects were 468 married people who were asked about their finances, their lives in general, and specifically whether they express gratitude to their spouses.
To the researchers’ surprise, spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. “We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage,” said Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and one of the study’s co-authors. The lead author, Professor Allen Barton, added that “it goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’”
For those who are struggling in their relationships, it’s important to note another interesting finding of this study: even in difficult and trying times, saying thank you and expressing gratitude can offer a glimmer of hope.
In recent years, several studies have emphasized the value of gratitude, and not just because it strengthens our deepest partnerships such as marriage, parent-child relationships, or friendships. Reminding someone that they are cherished helps us forge a stronger bond with that person, but it also provides us with an overwhelming sense of relief and tranquility. The gesture of gratitude has a positive impact on both the recipient of our gratefulness and on ourselves.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good things. It’s a bit like a lens that helps us see the aspects of our lives that don’t need fixing or resolving. It allows us to focus on the people that contribute positively to our lives and express our gratefulness to them.
Much like a bright yellow highlighter, gratitude brings attention to the parts of our lives that might otherwise remain invisible, such as having a loving spouse, being in good health, having food on the table, solid friendships, a great job, or children that have grown up to be kind individuals because of our love and efforts. A good life.
Advice For Becoming A Grateful Person
- Start today. If you feel that you haven’t expressed gratitude to your spouse in a while, it’s not too late. In fact, it’s always a good time to start. Say “thank you” for something they do today: a kind gesture, a meal, a loving moment, or maybe just express your appreciation that you get to spend your life together.
- Write it out. Although many say print is dead, nothing is more exciting than receiving a handwritten letter or card that simply says “thank you.” It’s a beautiful, romantic, and lasting gesture: this little note will likely remain in someone’s drawer or in the pages of a book for years.
- Verbalize your gratitude. Don’t assume that others know you’re grateful. Sometimes we take this for granted, thinking the people we love must be aware of our gratitude. Tell them you are thankful that you have them as a partner or in your life.
- Develop a habit. Along with being vocal and not assuming that our partner “just knows” we’re grateful, it’s equally as important to be consistent about our gratitude. Failing to express it could generate doubt or uneasiness in your significant other. Saying thank you helps us consolidate our feelings for the other person. And it will make them happy—which should be reason enough to say it frequently and out loud.
- Don’t equate gratitude with weakness. Some people wrongly associate expressing gratitude with revealing their weakness. It’s simply not the case. Being thankful towards your spouse, especially after years of being together, demonstrates your love for them as well as your interest in maintaining a healthy and peaceful relationship. Your other half will feel valued and appreciated.
- Gratitude is not just for anniversaries. Another common error is to show gratitude only on special occasions, like your spouse’s birthday or your wedding anniversary. Being grateful should be a daily practice that forms part of your routine as a couple. It will generate a positive atmosphere, even in challenging times.
- Yes, do say thank you when she/he washes the dishes, or when she/he fixes the stove. Knowing when to express gratitude isn’t a battle of the sexes. Any gesture that speaks to your spouse’s initiative to help, take over a chore, or lighten your workload is a good reason to say thanks.
- What do you feel when your spouse is away? Joni Mitchell sang that “you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.” If you find it hard to be grateful, perhaps because it’s not a habit for you yet, try to be mindful of your feelings when your spouse is traveling or away for work. In many cases, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and might make you realize all that you have to be grateful for. When they return, tell them!
- Teach your kids to be grateful. Gratitude isn’t passed on through genes, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t learn it from you. Even when they’re little, children can learn to say thank you and cultivate a sense of appreciation for all of the things in their lives that deserve their gratitude. It will teach them to be better people when they grow up, and maybe even become a more grateful partner or spouse themselves.
Sources: Linking financial distress to marital quality: The intermediary roles of demand/withdraw and spousal gratitude expressions, American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/healthy-relationships.aspx, Good Science Center, UC Berkeley, Universidad de Georgia, Relationcship and Marriage education Network, Social Psychological and Personality Science, A Strategy for Combating Hedonic Adaptation