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Research: Gratitude Protects Couples From The Stress Of Daily Life

By February 27, 2023Blog
Research: Gratitude Protects Couples From The Stress Of Daily Life

When romantic couples face the stresses of daily life, the strain of it all can take its toll.

If you find yourself struggling under the pressures of life whilst simultaneously juggling a romantic relationship, then gratitude for your partner and from your partner might be one of the tools that will help you bounce through it all.


Gratitude matters

Appreciation is a vital ingredient of all happy relationships, including romantic relationships. After all, someone choosing to share in the highs and lows of the journey, can only sustain their commitment long-term if they appreciate you and feel you appreciate them.

But aside from feeling good and ‘right’ exactly how does gratitude/appreciation help our romantic relationships?

Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Allen W. Barton, and fellow researchers, have shed some light on the importance of gratitude by looking at a sample of married and cohabiting couples in long-term relationships*.

Unlike in prior research, the group of participants for this study were selected partially for the likelihood of existing and future daily stressors that one might not find in a more financially privileged set of predominantly white couples.

Using mostly employed couples in relatively poor financial circumstances who were also ethnic minorities (which can bring stressors such as the experience of prejudice and microaggressions), the researchers looked at the effects of appreciation.

When it comes to couples in long-term romantic relationships, does expressed gratitude (being appreciative) have the same effects as perceived gratitude (feeling appreciated), on buffering them from the negative effects of ineffective arguing and financial strain as indicated by both current and long-term relationship health indicators? Let’s see.


Feeling appreciated (perceived gratitude) vs. being appreciative (expressed gratitude)

You might appreciate your partner a great deal but if you feel they don’t appreciate you…it’s going to wear you down so, appreciation, like relationships in general, is a two way street. So let’s look at where those roads lead you to.

Over 16 months, 3 surveys were conducted at 8 month intervals (beginning, middle and end of the study).

There were 316 couples (632 participants) in the study.

The researchers assessed whether perceived gratitude (feeling appreciated) and expressing gratitude (being appreciative) helped buffer individuals from the negative effects of stressors – such as ineffective arguing and financial strain – on relationship satisfaction, confidence, and stability in the present time and over the long-term.

So for example, did such stressors reduce how good they felt their relationship was (relationship satisfaction), how confident they felt about their relationship’s future and ability to resolve conflicts (relationship confidence) and considerations or discussions about divorce (relationship stability).

To assess ineffective arguing they were asked to rate statements on a 1-5 scale of ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’, for example: ‘Our arguments seem to end in frustrating stalemates.’

To assess financial strain, they were asked to answer questions on a 1-5 scale of ‘a great deal of difficulty’ to no difficulty at all, for example: ‘How much difficulty have you had paying your bills?’


Gratitude works in different ways

The researchers found that in the short-term, even when there were stressors such as infective arguing and financial strain, perceived gratitude (feeling appreciated) – but not expressing gratitude (being appreciative) – protected the individuals from declining relationship satisfaction, confidence, and stability.

Over the long-term, feeling appreciated also protected their relationship satisfaction, confidence and stability from declines due to ineffective arguing.

However, feeling appreciated did not, over the long-term, buffer the couples from such declines in relationship satisfaction, confidence, and stability, when there was financial strain.

It’s as though the benefits of being appreciated outweigh the costs of ineffective arguing in the short- and long-term and the costs of financial strain in the short-term, unlike when one is being unappreciated or taken for granted and then having to put up with stressors at the same time.

If you feel you are not appreciated then you might wonder why you should put up with the negative ineffective arguing and financial stresses if you are not even appreciated.

And it’s interesting that expressing gratitude did not buffer the couples from the effects of the stressors. This could be because:

a) whilst they expressed gratitude towards their partners, they didn’t truly feel the gratitude they were expressing; or

b) expressing gratitude was seen as irrelevant/inconsequential to the effects that the communication and money problems were having on their relationship, for example, ‘I love and appreciate aspects of you but it doesn’t make me feel any better about our unresolved arguments or the financial problems we have and thus how happy I feel in our relationship.’


Giving gratitude still rewards you too

As feeling appreciated did protect the participants from declines in relationship satisfaction, confidence and stability, the lesson here is that it is important for each partner to be appreciative so that their partner feels appreciated so that the relationship is protected from decline when stressors come along. And invariably, they do.

For you, the stressors may not be money or ineffective arguing but instead, a lack of effort around the home, or tension with in-laws, or the pressure of raising your children.

So keep demonstrating appreciation to your partner to help them to keep riding the highs and lows with you, and to keep them by your side. And they need to do the same for you.


Gratitude matters but you still have to work on the rest

Recall how the researchers found that feeling appreciated didn’t completely mitigate the effects of financial strain on relationship outcomes in the long-run.

This makes sense as feeling appreciated doesn’t completely resolve the fears and potential problems that could result from financial strain. From a survival perspective, financial stability is of paramount importance to our well-being and relationship well-being and so feeling appreciated may lessen the strain of worrying about money, on relationship outcomes, but not completely dissolve all concerns.

Therefore, stay on top of being appreciative so your partner feels appreciated to buffer your relationship from decline but also ensure you address all stressors as best you can so that the relationship can survive your lifetime.


Implement gratitude into your relationship

Remember that like attracts like so not only are you helping your beloved ride the waves of life with you more buoyantly, in turn, they will likely reciprocate, making you feel appreciated too.

Consequently, you’ll reap greater relationship satisfaction, relationship confidence, relationship stability, and much more, such as more laughter, a more exciting relationship, and more growth (both relationship growth and personal growth).


* Barton, A. W., Jenkins, A. I. C., Gong, Q., Sutton, N. C., & Beach, S. R. (2022). The protective effects of perceived gratitude and expressed gratitude for relationship quality among African American couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 0(0).