This is the time of year when the tabloids take stock of the year’s celebrity splits and divorces. Clearly all the fame, fortune and good looks in the world are not enough to hold a couple together.
For us regular folk, too, staying together isn’t always so easy. About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, states the American Psychological Association, and the “divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.” Not surprising figures, perhaps, as we’ve been hearing about how many marriages are doomed to fail.
So what’s the secret to better relationships? Is it learning how to apologize? Knowing how to tell someone you love them? Or is it something more?
I just read that a key ingredient to improving couples’ marriages is gratitude, according to new University of Georgia research study published in the journal Personal Relationships.
Feeling appreciated and valued
The study employed a telephone survey to ask 468 married individuals “about their financial well-being, demand/withdraw communication and expressions of spousal gratitude.”
The results? “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,” says study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
So can feeling grateful to your spouse help marital stability and even ward off divorce? Perhaps so. The study found that “higher levels of spousal gratitude expressions protected men’s and women’s divorce proneness as well as women’s marital commitment from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict.”
“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,” Futris says.
“This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages,” Barton adds. “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.”
It’s no secret that making demands and being constantly critical can erode the bonds of marriage, but so can life’s daily stresses, such as those that involve finances.
“Demand/withdraw communication occurs when one partner tends to demand, nag or criticize, while the other responds by withdrawing or avoiding the confrontation,” says the study’s lead author Allen Barton, a former doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and current postdoctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Family Research Barton. “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.”
“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,” Futris adds.
Gratitude: worth its weight in gold
Perhaps it’s true that all couples tend to take each other for granted from time to time and argue, but as Futris says, “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.” So, have you said thank you to your partner today?