I just want to say, I LOVE VALENTINE’S DAY. I mean who doesn’t love overpriced chocolate wrapped in red, white, and pink? Seriously though, Ghirardelli dark chocolate with raspberry filling…*swooning* am I right? But beyond the overpriced chocolate, $6.99 cards, and prix-fixe menus at all the restaurants (well… maybe prix-fixe to-go in COVID times) underlies a really important concept in keeping relationships strong: Gratitude.
I view Valentine’s Day as being exactly that, a day to be particularly intentional about expressing your thanks, care, and appreciation for important people in your life, including your partner. In the crazy hustle and bustle of daily life – working that 9-5 grind, taxiing the kids around, paying bills, seeing your own parents, cooking that Whole-30 meal that your tween hates – it is really easy to forget to say “Thank you” or “I appreciate you” to your partner. But it could not be more important, both for your own emotional well-being as well as the health of your relationship.
Research has shown that feeling grateful is related to optimism, physical health, positive mood, better sleep, and feeling more connected to others. Gratitude is also related to reduced materialism and overall satisfaction with life. When it comes to relationships, though, expressing gratitude can be especially influential.
Some research, for example, found that gratitude can be a key ingredient in successful relationships, especially as couples transition into married life. One study examined a sample of 1,010 newly wedded husbands and wives, with results revealing that 8-14% of newlyweds already scored in the distressed range on measures of marital satisfaction and adjustment, respectively. The most problematic factors? Balancing employment, marriage, and debt brought into marriage. The solution? Protective factors in the marriage, including respect, appreciation, commitment, mutual affection, and trust, as they were the strongest predictors of marital satisfaction and adjustment.
Other research examined the relationship between gratitude and communal strength (i.e., how responsible you feel for the other person’s well-being). When there is high communal strength in a relationship, one person is willing to sacrifice a lot personally in order to benefit their partner.
But how do we increase communal strength? Well, through gratitude. This study asked individuals how often the expressed gratitude toward their romantic partner, then sent a follow-up survey to ask everyone about the communal strength the person felt about their relationship. Results indicated the more people said they expressed gratitude in their relationships, the stronger they said their relationships were six weeks later.
So, ultimately your parents were right – “Say please and thank you! Mind your P’s and Q’s!” – which, sidebar, some believe actually stands for pints and quarts and relates to underground brothels back in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, but I digress. Back on track – How do you increase gratitude in your relationships?
- Say thank you. Say it often. Say it loud. Say it proud– Research indicates saying thank you/expressing gratitude out loud, but not simply thinking about it, led to stronger bonds and overall higher reports of personal and relational well-being
- Say thank you, even for something you expect –In the grind of daily life, do you delegate responsibilities? Your partner takes out the trash, you vacuum? They load the dishwasher, you unload it? We all have a system that works for us, but just because it is a system, or an agreement, doesn’t mean it does not deserve acknowledgement. Thank your partner for the little, expected, things that they do. You will feel more appreciation for them, but you’ll also subconsciously encourage them to do it more often because they feel appreciated for doing it
- Go the extra mile to express gratitude. Do something you normally would not do – Write an email, a kind note, tell them how much you appreciate something specific that your partner does… sticky note to the bathroom mirror, perhaps?
- Get your partner on board for a “grounding with gratitude” exercise each night –As you are winding down for bed, make it a point for you and your partner to each share one thing you are grateful for from that day. It does not have to be life-changing or mind-altering, it can be as simple as “I am really grateful for those cheesy mashed potatoes you made for dinner, they really are my favorite” or “I appreciate you doing the dishes, and especially for scrubbing that cheesy mashed potato pot so I did not have to.”
- Compliment each other– Compliments can become less and less commonplace as a relationship continues. We know our partner knows what we are thinking, they’ve heard a million and one times how attractive we think they are, we have told them they have the best eyes or the sexiest lips ad nauseum. My response to that line of reasoning is… and? I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of hearing my hair looks nice, or that my partner is proud of me. TBH, I have never met anyone who gets tired of being complimented. So compliment your partner on all the things, big (a supportive partner, being a good parent) and small (a funny joke, a nice shirt, socks that match), because those can be the first things that get left behind in the day-to-day of building a life with someone.
Need some help with bringing the gratitude back into your relationship? Let’s join forces! Contact me and let’s get your gratitude gears a-grinding!