4 Stunning Things Thank-Yous Do for a Partnership

Expressing thanks binds, promotes, and protects partnerships.

Posted May 02, 2016

Researchers Algoe, Gable, and Maisel (2010) have found that gratitude is a powerful "booster shot" for romantic relationships. Recognizing and calling attention to the good things your partner does is not just a way to repay benefits - it's a critically important way to nurture your relationship (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008). Expressing gratitude through words or tiny gestures (thank-you note, thoughtful act, hug, token, etc.) often has a huge ripple effect.

Algoe calls gratitude an "evolved mechanism to fuel upward spirals of mutually responsive behaviors between recipient and benefactor."  When one partner thanks the other, the behavior often picks up steam - the other person becomes more likely to return the thanks. The goodwill spreads to other areas of your relationship and can even protect you from the negative effects of conflicts.

Here are 4 proven ways saying thank you strengthens your relationship with your partner:

1.) Gratitude makes people happier and more satisfied with their relationships. 

Gratitude strengthens relationship satisfaction (Gordon, Impett, Kogan, Oveis, & Keltner, 2012; Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010), predicts how happy someone will be in their marriage (), and improves the quality of intimate relationships (Parnell, 2015). 

2.) Gratitude makes it more likely that a couple will remain together.

Expressing gratitude has been shown to improve commitment levels to a marriage () and to make it more likely that people will stay together over time (Gordon, Impett, Kogan, Oveis, & Keltner, 2012

3.) Gratitude counteracts and protects against the negative effects from arguing. 

Research suggests that gratitude can promote positive marital outcomes, even if couples are experiencing distress in other areas.

Expressing thanks has a particularly protective effect for couples who have negative interaction patterns and high levels of demand/withdraw communication.

4.) Gratitude ignites reciprocal goodwill.

When you express gratitude toward your partner, he or she is more likely to appreciate you back; and vice-versa.

One study by Gordon and colleagues showed:

"On days when people reported feeling more appreciated, they were more likely to report feeling more appreciative of their partner the following day."

While expressing gratitude, using novelty (saying thank you in different ways/through different means) and being as detailed as possible makes thank-yous stand out and stay meaningful over time.

Here are some examples of couples that made an effort to say thank you more:

A man shoveled the snow all winter for the family. His partner taped an envelope on the shovel with two tickets to baseball’s opening day with a note saying, “Thanks for shoveling all winter. So glad spring is finally here.”

A man texted his partner, “Thanks for taking care of our sick daughter last night. You are such a warm mom and I know it meant a lot to know that you were there for her.”

A woman was away on a work trip. She sent a postcard home thanking her partner for taking care of the kids while she was gone.

A couple noticed that they were starting to take each other for granted. They began writing thank-yous – just one a night – to each other in a gratitude journal on their bedside table. “Thank you for greeting me with such a good mood this afternoon.” “Thank you for picking our child up from soccer.” “Thanks for listening when I vented about work.” “Thanks for the great hug this morning.”

A man used his partner’s birthday as a time to thank her for the deeper impact that she made on his life.

A woman left 5 post it notes around the house for her partner: On the fridge - “Thanks for making the kids breakfast,” on the kid’s bed: “Thank you for putting the kids to bed,” in the cabinet: “Thank you for packing school lunches,” on her purse: “Thank you for working hard for our family” and on the faucet: “Thank you for doing all the dishes tonight.”

A man arrived home from a weeknight soccer match and said to his partner, “Thanks for supporting my time away with my friends. I love that league.”

Enemies of Gratitude

Although you may be aware that thank-yous can do wonders for your relationship, it may still be hard to keep them flowing. Psychologist Thomas Gilovich argues that two "enemies" of gratitude are:

1) Negativity bias - "our tendency to see things that are holding us back more clearly than the good things that are pushing us forward" and

2) Adaptation - "we tend to get used to things, which often renders the good things invisible."

You may need to set up some reminders to keep yourself on track.

Copyright 2016 Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (2017), is an individual and couples counselor in Chicago's western suburbs www.erinleyba.com. Follow her blog at www.thejoyfix.com or follow on Facebook.