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How You Express Gratitude to Your Partner Matters

By James & Suzie Pawelski
couple holding hands on a date together

Cultivating the Strength of Gratitude for a Stronger Bond

Nearly everyone understands the importance of being grateful. And, according to research, the character strength of gratitude may be one of the most important positive emotions to cultivate for thriving romantic relationships. After all, gratitude tends to foster the character strengths of kindness and love, and therefore is closely associated with empathy and with connection to others.

However, feeling grateful alone is not enough for relational satisfaction. It’s acting upon these feelings that matter. You need to express your gratitude to your partner to make an impact. Your partner is not a mind reader. You need to tell them how you feel about them.

Sadly, many people do not feel that their partners appreciate them. Many relationships fall apart not due to one big problem but rather a lot of little things that add up over time. Perhaps repeatedly feeling overlooked, unacknowledged, or taken advantage of, for example.

An easy way to improve your relationship is to make it a habit to express your appreciation to your partner. Period.

Expressing gratitude has been found to be important indicator of relational satisfaction and longevity for both partners—the giver and the receiver. Gratitude serves as an emotional glue and makes a partner feel “cared for, understood, and validated.” Also, it will make you feel good to express this strength.

Make It Even Better

Additionally, for optimal relationship satisfaction, it’s not just if you do it, but how you do it that matters, according to research. Gratitude can serve as a relational booster shot if the gratitude is expressed well, in that it is “other” focused, rather than “self” focused. In other words, focusing on praising your partner and his or her qualities and actions rather than the benefit to yourself.

For example, if your partner has been especially helpful around the house lately, you might say, “Thank you for helping me clean the house.”

While this remark isn’t bad, of course – after all, you are acknowledging your partner and expressing appreciation – you could do much better by shifting the focus from yourself to your partner. Instead, try responding with something like: "Thank you. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in tidying up our home. It’s this thoughtfulness that I see in you time and time again that makes you such a special person.”

So, here’s your exercise: think of a recent time you thanked a loved one. Reflect for a moment on your expression of gratitude. Next, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Did you focus on the other person, or the self?
  • If you focused on the self, how could you reframe that?

Giving good gratitude is a skill that can be learned. Expressing it well and practicing it regularly will help boost your individual and relational happiness.