The Power of Gratitude in a Relationship

The Power of Gratitude in a Relationship
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 18 January, 2023

Gratitude in a relationship means recognizing what your partner has done for you. Indeed, it’s an act of consideration but, above all, of recognition. Feeling grateful means you indirectly improve the image you have of them. Moreover, it makes them appear kinder, more generous, honest, and even smarter.

For the recipient, gratitude often acts as a reinforcement. It’s as if they’ve been injected with a dose of vitamins that increases their self-concept and, indirectly, their self-esteem. Also, if they detect that the gratitude is really sincere, it reinforces the relationship.

Couple looking at each other in love
Expressing gratitude often improves the quality of a relationship.

The importance of gratitude in a relationship

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

Being grateful to those you love is a great way to make them feel good, appreciated, and valued. This improves your relationship overall.

Gratitude is associated with behaviors that seek to maintain an emotional bond. In other words, it promotes reciprocal maintenance behaviors in relationships. Research claims that gratitude is a good predictor of the satisfaction generated in a relationship. Furthermore, it seems to predict increases in relationship connectedness and satisfaction for both the recipient and the benefactor.

In addition, it’s been observed that people who take the time to be grateful to their partner not only feel better but also feel more comfortable expressing any concerns about their relationship. Moreover, gratitude enhances the feelings of those with avoidant attachment styles. This helps increase their feelings of satisfaction and commitment in their relationships.

Recent research claims that gratitude in romantic relationships not only increases feelings of satisfaction and commitment, but it also protects couples from the ill effects of arguments and financial stress.

The power of saying thank you

In a study conducted over 15 months, Barton et al. (2022) examined the effects of expressed gratitude and perceived gratitude (feeling valued and appreciated by a partner) in 316 African-American couples. The objective was to investigate the protective effect of gratitude in romantic relationships.

This study was really motivated to understand gratitude in relationships and if it can protect couples from challenges and hardships, be it negative communication or broader factors like financial strain”, Barton said, on the Illinois News Bureau website.

The couples in the study were surveyed about arguments, satisfaction, level of relationship stability, conflict resolution, confidence in their future together, expressions of gratitude toward their partner, and levels of perceived gratitude. In addition, they reported their current levels of financial stress.

Most of the participants were middle-aged and lived in rural Georgia. They all had jobs. Approximately 65 percent of the couples had incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Consequently, they could be classified as working poor.

“Our main hypothesis was that perceived gratitude from one’s partner would have what we call stress-buffering effects – that it would protect couples from the decline in relationship quality that typically happen when you have negative communication or when you have higher levels of financial strain”, Bartón said.

Gratitude can dampen stress

The researchers found that people with high levels of expressed and perceived gratitude were more satisfied with their relationships. They were also more confident in the future. Furthermore, they reported less instability, arguments, and thoughts about breaking up.

When the protective effects were tested, higher levels of perceived gratitude were found to buffer the stress of both financial stress and arguments. However, the same effect wasn’t observed with high levels of expressed gratitude.

“Even if the partner’s negative communication increased – provided they still felt appreciated by their partner – their relationship quality did not decline as much over time”, Barton stated.

Sad couple hugging because of miscarriage
When people feel appreciated by their partners, they have better relationships and are more resilient to stressors, both short and long-term.

Don’t forget to thank your partner

Here, we’ve examined the multiple benefits that gratitude can have in our lives. Now, it’s time for you to start demonstrating gratitude in your daily life. It’ll help your relationship grow.

While there’s no single way to do it, Barton suggests the following: “Be sure to make compliments that are sincere and genuine. And ask your partner if there are any areas in which they feel their efforts aren’t being appreciated or recognized and start expressing appreciation for those”.

It’s also essential that you go beyond the superficial. Indeed, research suggests that greater bonds of intimacy are created by going beyond simple gratitude. For example, instead of saying “Thank you for picking me up lunch,” say something like “Thank you so much for finding the time to bring my lunch to the office. I really appreciate your help as I’m having such a busy week.”

When you go below the surface and are more specific, you’re telling your partner how much you value them and how fulfilled you feel. This type of appreciation is more beneficial to the relationship than simply highlighting a favor they’ve done for you.

Finally, gratitude isn’t only a gift of thanks, it’s also food for a relationship. It helps you strengthen your emotional bonds. As a matter of fact, being grateful means showing your partner how valuable and important they are in your life.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.