How Gratitude Can Strengthen Romantic Connections

3 min
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In a relationship, it costs nothing to be thankful. Yet the pay-it-forward reward could potentially produce a windfall, if not in your bank account, then at least in terms of well-being and a stronger romantic connection. Perhaps you’ve earned unexpected generosity worthy of thanks. Maybe it’s been a long time coming. While your first instinct might be to repay that thoughtfulness in kind – be it a fully-drawn hot bath after a hard day, breakfast in bed, or help with housework – simple gratitude, and not necessarily reciprocation, can produce longer-lasting positivity

The Difference Between Gratitude and Indebtedness

Embracing feelings of gratitude does not mean feeling beholden to someone for the good things that have come your way, and it is important to clarify the difference. When it comes to gratitude in relationships, in particular, it can be especially hard to not feel like you owe someone a debt for what you have received. However, there is a considerable distinction between the two, most notably that gratitude is associated with feeling of joy and positive value, while indebtedness is typically linked to negative emotions such as discomfort or uneasiness, or in some cases maybe even shame, guilt, or helplessness ー feelings that can even negatively affect your well-being.

In the same vein as the difference between a relationship and codependency, there’s really only one winner in the head-to-head of gratitude versus indebtedness. That is, of course, if what you’re looking for is a long-term union with mutually healthy growth. Indebtedness in a relationship gives an air of one-upmanship, and when it occurs, despite having received something to be thankful for, the unasked question of repayment can hang around us like an ill wind. Gratitude, on the other hand, has no ulterior motives and involves no debt repayment, and can reaffirm a gifter’s inherent goodness.

Actions Don’t Necessarily Speak Louder Than Words

Just because indebtedness ー and more specifically, over-indebtedness ー can lead to negative emotions and less well-being, that’s not to say repayment is wrong. Traditionally, kindness and gratitude begets reciprocation. Let’s face it: who doesn’t enjoy seeing a smile light up their partner’s face when they open an unanticipated gift, or are handed a fragrant cup of soothing tea to help tackle a difficult day’s anxiety? But studies have found that the simplicity of appreciation – “Thank you, dear!” – can act as a booster shot for a romantic relationship. Daily gratitude can subtly highlight your significant other’s positive qualities, influence a desire to spend more time with them, and go far beyond repayment, affording both the gift-giver and receiver alike an elevated quality of relationship.

The Lucrative Payback For Romantic Thanks

Gratitude has the ability to turn everyday ordinary moments into opportunities for relationship growth, which you might perceive as thanks enough for thanks itself. But evidence has shown that, overall, gratitude appears to also help those looking to find, remind, and bind to attentive relationship partners. In fact, appreciation can be credited with boosting relationship-maintaining behaviors such as sensitivity and concern, strengthening romantic connections by promoting commitment, and makes for more satisfying lasting romantic relationships.

So What’s Worth Being Thankful For?

Quite frankly, it could be anything. Indeed, it is the everyday inconsequential subtleties that grow graciousness, feed positive emotions, and nourish long-term romantic connections. “Thank you for making dinner; dressing the bed; hanging the washing; walking the dog; giving me a hug when I didn’t know I needed it.” These daily interactions might seem insignificant, but by simply saying “Thank you”, you’ll likely subconsciously draw attention to those little subtleties you love so much about your partner.

Daily Positive Emotions May Elevate Mindfulness

It's no secret that making someone happy can have a reflective effect. Similar to how laughter can be infectious, so too can gratitude. Verbal graciousness – like love, joy and contentment –  can feed positive emotions; the more of which you feel seeds well-being and self-improvement, and contributes to important downstream life outcomes such as marital bliss. In other words, repetitive positive emotions can set you on a trajectory of growth that, over time, benefits intangible personal resources like optimism, mental health, and quality of close relationships.

Considering The Continued Cultivation of Gratitude

Of course, appreciation is not limited to the words “Thank You”. Even without repaying a partner’s potentially random act of kindness in the same form in which it was received, you can continue to cultivate a culture of gratefulness in various other ways. Why not consider one of the following to get started?

  • Writing A Note: A sweet keepsake, or a detailed letter, for your partner that tells them which little things you’re most grateful for in your daily interactions with each other.
  • Keep A Journal: Tracking and talking about the tiny relationship details that make you happy and feel valued will give rise to repeated loving actions.
  • Reflection Time: Allocate some time each week with your partner to discuss smile-inducing gestures, and show gratitude through acknowledgement.
  • Meditate: Loving-Kindness Meditation builds positive emotions, which can increase mindfulness and life satisfaction, which can have a positive ripple effect when interacting with your partner.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: It’s The Little Things: Everyday Gratitude As A Booster Shot For Romantic Relationships; What Is Gratitude And Why Is It So Important?; Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources; Gratitude In Practice And The Practice Of Gratitude; On the Relation Between Over-Indebtedness and Well-Being: An Analysis of the Mechanisms Influencing Health, Sleep, Life Satisfaction, and Emotional Well-Being; Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier; The Science of Gratitude.

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