Gratitude – It does a relationship good!

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ― Marcel Proust

“She never appreciates all the things I do”. “He just seems to take me for granted”. Sound familiar? You wouldn’t be alone if these sentiments ring true for you. One of the most common complaints I hear from clients about their relationships is that they don’t feel appreciated.

Relationship auto-pilot

It’s difficult right? We get into a routine and go into auto-pilot. And auto-pilot works very well to get all the competing demands of life met. Imagine if the Captain and Co-Pilot of an airplane had to discuss who is going to do every single task, every single time they flew? That probably wouldn’t work out so great.

But what can happen in our relationships when everything is running on auto-pilot is that we forget to stop and notice that there is a co-pilot on our journey with us. Often then only time we notice is when there is a glitch in the system and someone drops the ball. Many of us are much quicker to point out when our partner has failed in some expectation we have of them, than we are to stop and express appreciation for those ways that our partners contribute to our daily life.

Gratitude—good for them and good for you

And yet, according to a group of researchers from Florida State University, expressing appreciation, even for everyday things, can have a pretty big impact on your relationship. They conducted a series of studies investigating the link between expressions of gratitude and positive feelings (specifically “communal strength”) evidenced in couples. Not surprisingly, they found that individuals who felt more positively about their relationship expressed more gratitude towards their partners. That seems like a no-brainer—it’s pretty easy to tell our partners how much we appreciate them when we are feeling all lovey-dovey towards them. However, what was more interesting was that they also found that when partners expressed gratitude, that increased positive feelings about the relationship for the person who was expressing the gratitude. In other words, when we express gratitude it ends up making us feel more positively about our relationships. So it may be that when you’re feeling down on your relationship or frustrated with your partner, that may be the best time to express appreciation.  

And all this might also be relevant if you’re spending the coming holiday season with family. The positive impacts of expressing gratitude seem to extend beyond just partners/spouses. When we express gratitude for friends and family, that also results in us feeling more positively about those relationships. So, if you’re planning on making the big trip out to visit a family that can be “challenging” at times (not that I’m saying that ever happens to you of course!), maybe consider intentionally expressing appreciation to irritating Aunt Edna or grumpy Brother Bill. You may end up feeling more positively about those relationships as a result.

And in the midst of it all, see if you can disengage the autopilot for a bit and take some time to appreciate that cherished co-pilot you have there by your side. They will likely appreciate it and, if the researchers at Florida State are right, it may also do your heart some good. 

Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Author: Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Jenna is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with people who struggle with relationship and intimacy difficulties and with those who have a trauma history. Her research focuses on developing compassion-based interventions targeting stigma, shame, and chronic self-criticism.