Beyond Thank You: Why Gratitude Matters

When a relationship gets serious, one of the first things we do is we relax. We stop dressing up, formal dates turn into “Netflix and chill,” and we also stop saying thank you for everything. It’s part of forming habits — it’s not special when your partner makes dinner or folds the laundry. We may feel grateful, but we don’t feel a need to express that gratitude, and this diminishing the quality of our relationships.

Speaking Gratitude

The first and simplest question we should ask about gratitude in our relationships is whether just saying ‘thank you’ is enough. After all, even if we’re not over the top about it, most of us do still say thank you to our partners. What researchers have found is that, unsurprisingly, the quality of our thanks matters. In recorded exchanges, people who felt their partners offered specific, responsive thanks for a gift or act of service were more likely to rate their relationships as high quality. And those feelings last; people are more likely to feel mutually supportive of each other when their relationship includes expressions of gratitude.

Promoting Positive Feelings

While learning to speak gratitude is an important skill, many of us don’t realize how much we benefit from hearing those thanks. I, for one, know that my wife is grateful that I fold the laundry; she doesn’t like to do it and I do, so it doesn’t feel like she needs to thank me. In these situations, do expressions of gratitude really matter? Studies say yes.

People who receive expressions of gratitude from their partners don’t just feel appreciated in the short term. They’re more likely to report more positive emotions and actually feel better able to cope with change. As someone who can be pretty rigid, I know I could benefit from greater flexibility — but I never would have expected that hearing expressions of gratitude would help get me there.

Alternative Expressions

If you’re actively trying to express gratitude more frequently in your relationship, saying ‘thank you’ all the time is going to get old fast — and worse, it will lose its meaning. In fact, though we often associate the two, offering gratitude and saying ‘thank you’ are rarely the same thing. Rather, a little creativity can go a long way in making your appreciation known. Instead of saying thank you, then, consider some of the following:

  • Offer A Gift: In many cultures, one of the best ways to express gratitude is through reciprocity, so individuals may offer a small gift in return for acts of service or assistance. This is particularly common in China, as the Confucian principle of Bao emphasizes mutual exchange of gifts, as expressed through the saying “Courtesy demands reciprocity.”
  • Give Praise: Saying thank you is a very direct way of expressing gratitude, but it’s also mechanical. Rather than just offering vague thanks, then, focus on specific elements of the action. The more personal and detailed your praise, the more your partner will feel acknowledged and attended to.
  • Write A Note: Valentine’s and anniversary cards are nice, but Just Because cards are better. Take some time to write your partner a note detailing why you’re grateful for them, including their best traits, specific acts of care they’re offered, and and special memories you’ve made together. You can be sure they’ll save that note and treasure it for years to come.

Don’t stop with occasional expressions of thanks; relationships thrive when appreciation is a habit — and Emi can help. Emi is your daily relationship reminder and each exercise takes less than a minute to complete. It takes just sixty seconds to make your relationship stronger.