“We’re just going through the motions,” explained Sarah. She was referring to her relationship of nine years. She and her partner loved each other but the daily grind was taking a toll. Young kids, aging parents, and work consumed their lives. They fretted about finances. They discussed who would be picking up the kids and who would be taking her mother-in-law at a doctor’s appointment. They vented to each other about difficult colleagues and deadlines. Conversations were about logistics, not love.
If your relationship feels like it is on auto-pilot, consider Dr. Sara Algoe’s findings that expressing appreciation to one another in everyday moments can revitalize romantic connection. As she describes in a study entitled It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships, moments of gratitude remind an individual of his or her feelings toward the partner and inspire mutual responsiveness, which serves to increase the bond between the couple:
The little things may make a big difference within the daily lives of individuals in romantic relationships. Gratitude may help to turn “ordinary” moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations.
In other words, remembering to say thanks and showing appreciation to one another can counteract the apathy that can occur as a result of relentless daily schedules and relationship numbing routines.
According to Algoe’s find-remind-and-bind theory, the primary function of gratitude is to improve interpersonal connection by helping us:
Notice new positive qualities about our partner (the find function)
Remember what we love about our partner (the remind function)
Strengthen and fortify the connection (the bind function)
The secret sauce of expressions of gratitude is that they impact how we relate to one another. Feeling gratitude towards one’s partner conjures feelings of warmth and love. It’s no surprise that we behave more generously when we feel cared for than when we feel taken for granted or unseen. In turn, when we receive expressions of gratitude from our partner, we feel valued and appreciated. Feeling thankful and being thanked create an upward spiral of responsiveness and connection.
Expressing gratitude to people we are close to can feel awkward. It’s often easier to say thank you to someone we barely know than to someone we love.
Here are a few tips to help get you over the gratitude hump:
1. Pay attention 🔍
Be on the lookout for ordinary gestures of thoughtfulness. As the poet David White says, “Gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”
2. Say it out loud 🗣
If you catch yourself thinking something positive about your partner, speak up. Instead of keeping that feeling to yourself, let them know. If they said something interesting or funny, point it out. If you think they look great, give them a compliment. If a warm memory of you together pops into your head, send them a text.
3. Put it in writing ✍️
Writing a note means a lot. A long epistle will certainly be appreciated but a short one works well too. Sarah scribbled, “Thank you for being you” on a Post-It note and left it on the bathroom mirror. Her partner keeps it in his wallet.
4. Act it out
Express thanks not only in what you say but in what you do. What everyday action can you take to show appreciation for your partner? No flowers or chocolates necessary. Think of ordinary gestures and small favors that show love.
5. Go public 📣
Complaining about our partner to friends might seem like the thing to do but it doesn’t have to be this way. Change the narrative and talk about what you appreciate instead. Reminding yourself about their positive qualities can boost gratitude even when your partner isn’t there to hear what you love about them.
Bottom Line: Grateful couples are more satisfied in their relationships and feel closer to each other. Don’t delay giving your relationship a booster shot.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman