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The Power of Gratitude in Marriage (the Results of a New Study May Surprise You)

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We've discussed the power of forgiveness and positivity during conflict in a healthy partnership. Today we’ll consider a third possible contributor to a happy marriage: gratitude.

In a study to hit the presses soon, researchers asked 50 couples married for an average of 20 years to keep daily diaries that logged:

  • Felt gratitude: Feeling grateful for something their spouse had done;
  • Expressed gratitude: Expressions of gratitude toward their spouse; and
  • Marriage satisfaction

At the end of two weeks, the researchers found that unsurprisingly, there was a strong positive relationship between one’s own felt and expressed gratitude and how satisfied one was with the marriage.

The researchers discovered something more intriguing, however, when they looked for what they called “cross-partner” correlations, or how one partner’s gratitude related to their partner’s satisfaction. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no relationship between expressed gratitude and the partner’s satisfaction, but there was a relationship between one spouse’s feelings of gratitude and the other’s satisfaction with the union.

Why might this be? The authors suggest a number of possible hypotheses to be followed up by future research. The most compelling of these suggests that in long-term marriage, expressions of gratitude may become so commonplace as to become background noise. However, truly felt gratitude toward a partner may be portrayed in nonverbal cues and in reciprocal actions (“she went out of her way to make my morning easier, I think I’ll make her favorite meal for dinner tonight”), both of which could result in higher marriage satisfaction.

Your mission for today? Find something to feel truly grateful for in your romantic partner, and express that gratitude. Use more than words. You’ll both thank me later.

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Ph.D., is professor of psychology in affective science at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. To learn more about her research, please visit http://bit.ly/sarahrose.

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