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Don’t feel appreciated by your partner? Try expressing gratitude, relationship interventions

If you’re married or in a romantic relationship, as simple as it may seem, make sure to regularly give specific, sincere compliments to your spouse or romantic partner. I also encourage couples to ask each other if there are areas where one person doesn’t feel appreciated and then work to remedy that.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels.com

When we’re married or in a long-term romantic relationship, we may eventually come to take each other for granted and forget to show appreciation. But it doesn’t have to stay this way.

This is according to a study, “Trajectories of perceived gratitude and change following relationship interventions: A randomized controlled trial with lower-income, help-seeking couples,” published in Behavior Therapy.

The study examined why perceived gratitude from a spouse or romantic partner changes over time, and whether it can be improved through relationship intervention programs.

The study analyzed data from a randomized controlled trial with 615 low-income, help-seeking couples, who participated in one of two online relationship education interventions (OurRelationship and ePREP) that provide couples with principles and practices to better communicate, understand conflict, and address problems in their relationship. The researchers collected data through surveys before program participation began and at two-, four-, and six-month follow-ups.

Barton and his colleagues found:

  • that individuals who felt less appreciated by their partner were more likely to be female, married, and have children
  • older age was also associated with a decline in perceived gratitude over time
  • perceived gratitude remained at the same level throughout the duration of the study despite improvements  in communication, satisfaction, and other relationship variables; meaning, while other aspects of the relationship may be more likely to fluctuate or increase, gratitude is not something that seems to improve by itself over time

“These findings make sense. When we first meet somebody, we’re very mindful to show our appreciation. Over time, this tends to get lost, and people may not realize that neither partner feels as appreciated as they would like to be. From other research we have done, we know that ensuring partners feel acknowledged and valued will go a long way in promoting the quality of their relationship,” Barton stated.

But can it get better with some outside assistance?

To answer that question, the authors examined whether perceived gratitude increased by participating in either of the two online relationship interventions. And results indicated couples in the intervention group did, in fact, report improvement in partner gratitude relative to individuals in the control group. 

“We found that levels of perceived gratitude improved as a result of participating in these online relationship interventions, which have been shown to improve overall couple relationship quality across several dimensions. The effect on gratitude was not as large as program effects on some of the other aspects, which isn’t surprising because the program wasn’t focusing on gratitude, but there was still a measurable effect,” Baron explained.

Some relationship programs have been directed solely towards improving gratitude, but those have shown mixed results, Barton noted. When people express gratitude because they’ve been asked to do so as part of a program, it may come across as insincere and be less effective.

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“Gratitude is a unique construct that seems to be lower in more established relationships, but it can be improved through efficacious relationship intervention programming. It has been an overlooked dimension that makes for healthy, supportive relationships. Our findings indicate we should develop programming that aims to improve levels of perceived gratitude, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus; it should be one component of the intervention,” he said.

Barton’s advice to couples is to be mindful of the power of saying “thank you.”

“It takes a lot of work to make a family happen, and that work becomes all the more challenging when your efforts aren’t acknowledged. So just ensuring there’s a regular rhythm in a relationship where both partners are expressing appreciation and both partners feel valued is important.”

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