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Thanksgiving Is the Best/Worst Holiday for Your Relationship

Giving thanks matters in your relationship and likely needs to occur more often.

Key points

  • Feeling appreciated by your spouse or romantic partner makes for a stronger marriage or relationship.
  • Gratitude is something that is important to receive from your partner and express to your partner.
  • Healthy relationships involve both partners feeling appreciated (and not just one day of the year).

Let’s start with the good news — Thanksgiving can be a great holiday for your marriage or romantic relationship. Why is this so? Because gratitude matters — a lot — for relationships. And this isn’t just a sentiment that you or I may have, but something an increasing amount of research underscores as well.

Photo by freestocks / Unsplash
Photo by freestocks / Unsplash

Over the last decade, my colleagues and I have conducted multiple studies on gratitude with a wide range of couples, including lower-income African American couples, predominantly White middle-class couples, and help-seeking couples. In this work, one particular emphasis has been to understand the effects of perceiving gratitude from your partner, i.e., feeling appreciated. Yes, being grateful for your partner (and life in general) is a good thing, but in romantic relationships, we tend to think of gratitude as more of a two-way street, namely something that is both expressed to one’s partner and received from one’s partner.

Our findings are pretty clear — when individuals feel appreciated by their partner, things go better in their relationship. They report higher levels of relationship satisfaction, more confidence in their relationship, as well as fewer concerns that their relationship isn’t going to make it. Perceiving gratitude from your partner can also protect, or buffer, a couples’ relationship from the effects that commonly appear from things such as negative communication and financial strain.

All said, when an individual perceives gratitude from their spouse or romantic partner, it makes for a stronger relationship.

And around this Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll likely be more inclined to express to your spouse or romantic partner, at some time and in some manner, your gratitude and thankfulness. And that’s a good thing to do. Your spouse or partner needs to feel appreciated by you.

Now for the bad news — your statement of gratitude on Thanksgiving does not make up for a lack of such statements the other 364 days of the year. As research on household division of labor highlights, people are not the best at knowing how much work their partner does. There is a natural tendency to be more aware of our own efforts for the family and less aware of our partner’s efforts. And because of that, it is deceptively easy for one (or both) partners in a relationship to focus on all the ways they feel unappreciated and ways that their efforts go unacknowledged.

When such a scenario is present, statements of appreciation and gratitude become more and more sparse (maybe with the exception of Thanksgiving Day) and feelings of resentment and frustration build.

And here’s one more thing we know about gratitude in couple relationships that is pertinent to Thanksgiving — sincerity matters. If your partner thinks you’re just stating this appreciation because it’s the thing to do on this holiday (or because the research experiment said to do so), it’s likely not to benefit your relationship much.

So, what can you do this Thanksgiving? Make a point to express, in a sincere way, your gratitude for your partner. This can be something more general about who they are or something more specific that they recently did to benefit your relationship or family. Again, your partner needs to know you appreciate them.

And don’t stop there. Give another sincere statement of gratitude to your partner the day after Thanksgiving. And a couple days after that. And a couple days after that. And a couple days after that. And a couple days after that, and on and on and on…until you’ve arrived at Thanksgiving Day next year.

Your relationship, and maybe even your partner, will thank you for it.

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