As Dr. Brené Brown wonderfully noted, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness–it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”  Indeed, if we’re not mindfully tuning into the meaningful gifts around us, they’re apt to pass us by, leaving us unable to fully take in what lends color and beauty to life.  And it can be challenging to see those gifts at times. A wide assortment of distractions can muddy our view, like hectic schedules and the multiple hats we wear, the stresses of the present alongside the worries of the future, and the fatigue that can come along for the ride.  And the notion of mustering the time and energy to focus on what we relish in life might seem baffling.  On top of all that, even if we’re able to attend to what we appreciate, it would be understandable to wonder what difference it would make if we do.

It brings to mind what I find to be one of the most fascinating aspects of relationships, especially romantic relationships: How elements in relationship dynamics can be both subtle and potent, making it easy for people to underestimate the significance of what they think, feel, and express.  Gratitude is one of these elements.

Now if I told you that gratitude is good for couples, this probably doesn’t seem all that surprising.  If you’ve ever felt like someone was taking you for granted, you know firsthand that it feels far better to be on the receiving end of gratitude.  But if we go a little further, what kinds of specific advantages is it associated with?  In this piece, we’re going to focus on our own gratitude for our partner, as opposed to our partner’s gratitude for us.  And why?  Because the thankfulness we cultivate and express is the only side of gratitude we can control, making it arguably worth our time and energy to prioritize it a little more.

So when we cultivate gratitude for our partner, what goes along with this?

Protection in the face of stress

When couples are stressed, they can get locked into cycles of communication that can undermine the security of their relationship.  Evidence suggests that conveying appreciation may be a way for partners to buffer their relationship in the face of such difficulty, as thankfulness between partners is related to heightened dedication to the relationship and less of an inclination to leave.

Elevation in our partner’s happiness and our own

The appreciation for our partner that we nurture privately within ourselves as well as what we explicitly share with them is linked to our own rising happiness in the relationship.  Moreover, when we feel more thankful for our partner, even if we don’t come out and say what we’re thankful for, it’s connected to a boost in our partner’s happiness.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth thanking our partner.  When people show gratitude toward their partner and do so in a way that conveys understanding and sensitivity, their partner’s contentment in the relationship deepens.  And still other research suggests that what makes our gratitude feel affirming and affectionate for our partner is the praise we weave in–it’s linked to our partner’s feelings of happiness and love.  For example, if José thanks Miriam for being such a kind and thoughtful partner after she bought him the new raincoat he needed, this would be more emotionally powerful than if he thanks her and focuses on useful it will be for him.

And it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to build more gratitude into one’s life and relationship.  Research on couples who voice appreciation to each other as they go about their daily lives reveals that thankfulness toward a partner is related to an increase in that partner’s happiness and closeness in the relationship.  For example, you might decide to look for anything your partner does that helps you in some way (anything from giving you a gift, paying you a compliment, saying “I love you,” to taking out the trash) and thanking them for it.  Or you might comment on characteristics you love about your partner or generally share how special they are.

Heightened care and appreciation

Relationship science suggests that gratitude can build between partners in a loving, mutually reinforcing cycle.  As we feel thankful for our partner, we also treat them with more care and consideration, which in turn is linked to our partner feeling more valued.  And when our partner feels more valued by us, our partner also feels more grateful for us and is more attentive and thoughtful in the relationship.  And to bring things full circle, our partner’s kindness and consideration toward us is related to our own feelings of thankfulness.  How does such a cycle work?  Researchers believe that when someone feels valued by their partner, they’re more likely to feel they’re on steady, stable ground in the relationship, making it emotionally safer to let themselves nurture gratitude.  After all, appreciation is a risk.  It’s much more painful to lose someone who is a special, worthwhile partner, and thankfulness can help people see the best in the one they love.  And when people see their partner as being an important, prized part of their lives, they’re more apt to want to nurture their partner and their bond by being kind, thoughtful, and considerate.

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