It’s February, and for better or worse, this time of year has a lot of us thinking about love. Not just romantic love, but love for our friends, family members, and all the people who make us feel stronger just by being in our lives. Looking at these relationships, there are probably a few you’d like to strengthen.
Over the past decade, studies have honed in on a particularly potent relationship booster: gratitude. More specifically, scientists have found that gratitude is an essential component in maintaining and promoting healthy romantic relationships. We’ll take a deeper dive into how you can use that knowledge to benefit your friendships, partnerships and other loved ones.
Why does gratitude matter?
Evidence shows that when an individual is more appreciative of their partner, they become more responsive to their partner’s needs, are more committed, and are (unsurprisingly) more likely to remain in that relationship over time. What’s more, when a loved one feels appreciated by you, they’re more likely to appreciate you in return.
Gratitude has been found to increase satisfaction and sense of connection in relationships, both romantic and platonic. Gratitude towards friends, family, or anyone can help us decrease anxiety and stress as well as improving our quality of sleep, immune function, and cardiovascular systems.
How, then, do we transform a desire to express more gratitude into action?
Practice gratitude for the relationship and the gesture
It’s easy to express gratitude for favors or gifts, but it’s just as important to demonstrate appreciation for the person who takes those actions. This is our way of telling them that our love isn’t conditional, or rooted merely in their behaviors: rather, it’s based on who they are as a person.
Do you notice a difference in the two statements below?
Response 1: “Oh my god, I’ve wanted this book subscription forever! Thank you!”
Response 2: “It means so much that you got me this subscription because you know I like to read before bed every night. That was really thoughtful. Thank you.”
The first response highlights the gift. The second hones in on the relationship.
A statement referencing the relationship holds different meaning and can strengthen the bond between you and the other person. That in and of itself is a gift to both of you.
Consider the other person’s love language
Have you ever heard of the 5 love languages? They’re different methods by which we can express care and appreciation to those around us, and they include:
- Words of affirmation;
- Quality time;
- Acts of service;
- Physical touch; and
- Receiving gifts
When we think about ways to express our affection, we often focus on things that make us happy—our own love language preferences. However, if your loved one “speaks a different language,” your gestures may not come across the way you intend.
Imagine you’re feeling lonely, and you turn to a partner for support. If your partner strongly values physical touch, they might think that giving you a back massage or squeezing your hand is sufficient to help you feel cared for. Yet if you place little personal value on physical touch and are more moved by words of affirmation, your significant other’s attempts may fall flat. You might even find yourself feeling lonelier than before — “they don’t seem to be interested in how I feel” — and they might become confused about why their gesture isn’t received in the way that they intended.
This example shows why it’s important to learn about the ways in which a loved one experiences appreciation and caring. You can discover more about your love languages here, and when you do, keep them in mind when you’re expressing gratitude and affection (as a note, the quiz is designed for romantic couples, but several aspects are applicable to all relationships).
Make your gratitude explicit
This may seem obvious, but one of the easiest ways to express gratitude is by saying “thank you.” Doing so can kick-start a reciprocal gratitude cycle. Simply put, when we feel that someone is being responsive to our needs, we become more likely to return the favor. That way, everyone wins. Repeatedly!
What’s something nice that someone has done for you that you hadn’t previously thought to thank them for? Take this opportunity to start your own gratitude cycle.
Remember that gratitude takes practice, and it means being honest with yourself and your loved ones. Take time this week to be intentional about practicing and receiving appreciation in a loving way.
How do you demonstrate gratitude? We’d love to hear from you!
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.