An American study has found that knowing how to say thank you and feeling appreciated improves marriage quality and reduces the risk of divorce.
Researchers from the University of Georgia were interested in identifying whether or not a link existed between a financially difficult life and quality of marital life by analysing the couple's communication and in particular, the level of gratitude expressed between the two.
The research team was able to question 468 married people through telephone surveys, asking different questions relating to their financial well-being, the means of expressing gratitude between husband and wife as well as questions on the modes of communication within the couple.
The results of the study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, found that in married couples, expressing gratitude is the most coherent and consistent predictor of marital quality.
According to the authors of the study, gratitude is measured in terms of degree of appreciation, recognition and esteem felt by their partner "when they did something nice for their spouse."
"We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last," said study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,'" continued the study's lead author Allen Barton, a former doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."
The study also found that higher levels of spousal gratitude could protect couples from heading towards divorce. This is also beneficial for women's marital commitment in the face of poor communication between couples during marital disputes.
A sign of appreciation can rapidly counteract negative effects of a conflict according to researchers.
They emphasise that stressed couples are more likely to engage in negative patterns and that gratitude can disrupt this negative cycle and help couples surmount bad communication habits.
The study is the first of its kind to observe the positive effects of recognition and gratitude in married couples. It also gives insight into how couples can be assisted to strengthen their marriage, in particular if they are not adept communicators during a conflict.