Study co-author, Ted Futris, said, “We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”
To achieve their findings the researchers used telephone surveys and asked 468 married individuals a series of questions regarding finances, demand/withdraw communication between spouses and the expression of spousal gratitude.
The factor that appeared to reveal the most about marital quality was the expression of spousal gratitude. Lead author, Allen Barton, said, “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’ Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”
Higher spousal gratitude was associated with lowering men’s and women’s likeliness of divorce as well as protecting a women’s commitment to the relationship from the adverse effects of decreased communication during conflict. Futris added, “Importantly, we found that when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand/withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability.”
Barton added, “This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages. We think it is quite important as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”
The findings further support previous research, which showed demand/withdraw communication is where financial stress can begin to negatively impact a marriage.
Barton said, “Demand/withdraw communication occurs when one partner tends to demand, nag or criticize, while the other responds by withdrawing or avoiding the confrontation. Although wife demand/husband withdraw interactions appear more commonly in couples, in the current study we found financial distress was associated with lower marital outcomes through its effects on increasing the total amount of both partners’ demand/withdraw interactions.”
Futris further explained, “When couples are stressed about making ends meet, they are more likely to engage in negative ways – they are more critical of each other and defensive, and they can even stop engaging or withdraw from each other, which can then lead to lower marital quality.”
Gratitude can overcome this cycle and combat negative communication, which may stem from other life stressors.
Gratitude was measured by how appreciated and valued each individual felt, and if they were acknowledged when they did something nice for their significant other.
Futris concluded, “All couples have disagreements and argue and, when couples are stressed, they are likely to have more arguments. What distinguishes the marriages that last from those that don’t is not how often they argue, but how they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.”