University of Georgia

University of Georgia

The power of thank you

Illustration of a muscular arm with the words thank you written over a bulging bicep

One of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage might just be a healthy dose of gratitude, according to a recent paper published by researchers at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“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 study coauthor Ted Futris, associate professor of human development and family science.

Through a telephone survey, the study asked 468 married individuals about their financial well-being, communication habits and expressions of spousal gratitude.

The results indicated that gratitude—measured in terms of the degree to which individuals felt appreciated by their spouse, valued by their spouse and acknowledged when they did something nice for their spouse—was the most consistent predictor of marital quality.

“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,’” said Allen Barton, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Family Research. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.

“This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages,” Barton said. “We think it is quite important, as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”

Results from this study also confirmed previous findings by documenting that “demand/withdraw communication” injects financial distress that negatively influences a marriage.

“Demand/withdraw communication occurs when one partner tends to demand, nag or criticize, while the other responds by withdrawing or avoiding the confrontation,” Barton said. “Although wife-demand/husband-withdraw interactions appear more commonly in couples, in the current study we found that financial distress worsened marital outcomes by increasing both partners’ instances of demands and withdrawals.”

“When couples are stressed about making ends meet, they are more likely to engage in negative behaviors—they are more critical of each other and defensive, and they can even withdraw from each other—which can then lead to lower marital quality,” Futris said.

Gratitude, however, can interrupt this cycle and help couples overcome negative communication in their relationship due to patterns resulting from current stressors.

“All couples have disagreements and argue,” Futris said. “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.”