Sex & Relationships

Say 'thank you' for a happy relationship

I console myself with the fact that I’m likely not the first person who’s forgotten to show her partner — in my case, my husband of 12 years — that I appreciate all he does for our family and our relationship.

Happy couple

Masterfile

I console myself with the fact that I’m likely not the first person who’s forgotten to show her partner — in my case, my husband of 12 years — that I appreciate all he does for our family and our relationship. Take him for granted? At times, er… possibly (she admits sheepishly).

But in the last little while, it’s an element of our relationship I’ve been working on. Because I need him to know how grateful I am that he handles the less than glamourous tasks around the house like taking out the garbage and filling up the car. I remind myself to let him know that I’m thankful when he takes the time to arrange a date night for us, or arranges for dinner and a movie at home à deux.

And it turns out what I’ve been wondering about instinctually is showing proof scientifically. A new study from the University of California shows that demonstrating appreciation in your twosome can make for a happier partnership. I spoke with the study’s lead researcher Amie Gordon on her findings:

Q: What’s the connection between showing appreciation and a happy relationship?

A: People who are more appreciative of their partners, and who feel more appreciated by their partners, are in healthier, happier, and longer-lasting relationships relative to people who experience less appreciation in their relationships.

We also find that being appreciative makes people want to hold onto their relationship. This makes sense — when you’re appreciative of your partner and your relationship, you realize that your partner is a good partner, which makes you want to stay in a relationship with them. We find people who are more appreciative of their partners are more committed to their relationships and less likely to break up.

Q: Did you find any gender or age connection?

A: We did find that feelings of appreciation diminish over time in relationships — this is a common finding in research on relationships. Over time, people report being a little less satisfied with their relationships relative to people who are in newer relationships.

We didn’t find that appreciation was any less important for people who were older or [who] had been together for a long time. What I mean by this is that they experienced appreciation a little less, but when they were appreciative, it was just as good for their relationship! In terms of gender, we found that women were better at picking up on their partner’s appreciative feelings than were men.

Q: What behaviours showed appreciation the best?

A: People who are more appreciative of their partners were more responsive to their partner during interactions with them. By this, I mean they were more understanding (would say things like “uh huh, I see” and repeat back what their partner said to make sure they understood), validating (say things like “You are right,” “I can see why that would be important to you”) and caring (touch their partner, say things like “I love you” and “I’m here for you”). We also know that outside observers, who watch people who are more appreciative interact with their partners, think that they look like they are more committed to their relationships.

Q: So how can this study help us with our relationships today?

A: Appreciation is good for your relationship. It’s easy to feel like your partner is taking you for granted, but it’s important to remember that you’re also likely to take your partner for granted once in a while.

Also, when you feel like your partner isn’t appreciating you, try doing something nice for them. You may find that they’ll feel more appreciated and return the favour. Our research shows feeling appreciated by your partner makes you more appreciative, so by doing something nice for them, you may be able to start a cycle of appreciation.

I do have one important caveat — this research was done with people in healthy relationships. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, such as with an abusive or controlling partner, feeling appreciative of them is probably not the answer.