Small Thoughtful Gestures Can Improve Romantic Relationships

In couples living together, many emotions play a role in strengthening the relationship and interactions. This study evaluates the effect of gratitude on a relationship. Thoughtful gestures and actions from partners are not only welcome, but go a long way in strengthening the relationship. Although both men and women show signs of appreciation and better interactions the day after receiving a benefit and expressing gratitude for it, the emotional reactions of men are diverse. Feeling indebted is more of an external manifestation by the individual, whereas expressing gratitude has a boosting effect on relationships.

The current study focuses on the effects of showing gratitude for benefits obtained from a partner in everyday events. A partner may feel gratitude, resentment, misunderstanding, or indebtedness toward a beneficial action of the other partner. This study focuses on gratitude and indebtedness, as these are emotional responses to “costly, intentionally provided bene?ts from another individual”. Periodic inputs by expressing gratitude for a favor remind and reinforce the mutual positive feelings in a relationship. An added contribution of intentionally shown gratitude is that it evokes a reciprocal benefit from the receiving partner. Women are more sensitive to unspoken gestures than are men.

* The study recruited 67 urban couples (students and campus staff), who have been in a romantic relationship for more than three months.
* The participants were asked to fill out their daily events and their nightly diaries for two weeks to record their own and their partner’s thoughtful actions, their response to those actions, and status of the well-being of their relationship.
* Measures of daily relationship satisfaction were taken based on a nine-point scale, while measures of daily relationship connection were taken based on a five-point scale. Gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation were measured to estimate the emotional response to beneficial actions of the other partner.

Results/Key findings
* Participants reported that their partners did thoughtful actions 698 times, while they themselves did thoughtful gestures 601 times.
* Gratitude and indebtedness were felt together in men more often than in women.
* Both gratitude and indebtedness were based on either the partner’s thoughtful action or the participants’ perception of them, or both.
* There was no change in partner-reported gratitude with gender.
* The previous day’s gratitude significantly forecasted the present day’s level of interaction. However, this did not alter the relationship quality within two consecutive days.
* More than indebtedness, showing gratitude was found to boost the quality of a relationship.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The emotional reaction to a single benefit was not tracked throughout the “entire interpersonal process” in this study. There is a need to clarify whether one specific behavior gives satisfaction or a group of actions is required for the same effect. Other two-member relationships need to be assessed in the future.

In close relationships, gratitude highlights the quality of the interpersonal interactions. Gratitude has been shown to boost closeness in a relationship. However, the feeling of indebtedness does not show the same effect. In response to the same motivating stimulus, the study parameters of gratitude and indebtedness vary in their manifestations. Of these, gratitude directly enhances closeness, and indebtedness does not contribute to the quality of a relationship. A minor thankful gesture could help increase intimacy in the daily lives of romantic couples. Thus, even simple everyday moments could transform moments of gratitude into a chance to strengthen the relationship, even if it was already established out of trust and care.

For More Information:
It’s the Little Things: Everyday Gratitude as a Booster Shot for Romantic Relationships
Publication Journal: Personal Relationships, 2010
By Sara B. Algoe; Shelly L. Gable
From the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and  University of California, Santa Barbara

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