Sometimes, the most important behaviors in dating and relationships are the small ones. Little expressions or gestures can often be the ones that make all the difference. Among these little gestures, the most important is gratitude. Indeed, appreciating and being appreciated make the relationship world go around.
Gratitude is formally defined as “a feeling and expression of thankfulness for the efforts of others that are costly to them and beneficial to us”. I have long believed that gratitude is a foundation for happy dates, satisfying relationships, and positive social exchange. I also believe gratitude is very persuasive and influential. Now, I have the research to back up my beliefs. Read on and learn how gratitude can help your love life too!
Research on Gratitude and Behavior
Grant and Gino (2010) investigated the effects of expressions of gratitude on the positive behavior of helpers across four experiments:
- In the first two experiments, some participants received letters of appreciation from a fellow student for help in writing a resume cover letter, while other participants did not. Those participants receiving the “thank you” were more motivated to help the student at a later date. Participants who were thanked were also more motivated to help others with a similar task.
- The second two experiments had a similar result. This time, however, students were asked to make alumni donation calls on behalf of the university they were attending. Some participants received a verbal thank you for their efforts by a director of fundraising, while others did not. Those receiving the thank you showed an increase in positive behavior (making more calls). Those who received no expression of gratitude did not increase their efforts.
More recently, Kubacka, Finkenauer, Rusbult, and Keijsers (2011) evaluated the effects of gratitude on loving “relationship maintenance” behaviors. More specifically, the researchers investigated how gratitude influences positive behaviors towards a spouse over time. Results indicate:
- Spouses feel gratitude for a partner when they perceive that partner’s behavior as being responsive to their needs.
- That feeling of gratitude then motivates behavior in return that is responsive back to the needs of the partners.
- When that reciprocal behavior is perceived by the partner, feelings of gratitude result in them as well.
- A positive cycle develops over time, with increasing gratitude and caring behavior for both individuals.
Overall, gratitude has two powerful influences on positive relationship behavior. When we express gratitude to a partner, we increase the chances that they will behave well towards us in the future. When we feel gratitude, we increase the chance that we will behave well towards them. If our partner feels grateful for our good behavior as well, then a positive cycle develops. Everybody is grateful…and everybody behaves lovingly.
What This Means for Your Love Life
Focus on both the feeling and expression of gratitude to create a good interaction. This is important, whether it is a first date, or after years of marriage. Follow these tips:
1) Feel Gratitude - Pay attention to the positive and supportive behaviors of your date or mate. Take note when they do something positive and difficult that benefits you. This will bring out your feelings of appreciation, gratitude, and thankfulness for their efforts. It will also motivate you to value your partner and treat him/her well in return.
2) Show Thanks – Also, when you notice that your partner has done something good for you, be sure to thank them. Show them that you appreciate their efforts. Write them a note. Say thank you. Give them a kiss or a hug. Do something nice in return. Such expressions of gratitude will motivate his/her future loving behavior. It serves as a reinforcement to encourage the behaviors you desire as well. (For more on reward and reinforcement, see here)
3) Look for Appreciation – Because gratitude motivates loving behavior, it is important that your date or mate is grateful for what you do for them too. So, do something loving for them (that you know is important to them and they like). Then, see whether they notice, appreciate it, and show gratitude in some way. If they do, then a positive cycle of gratitude and loving behavior can develop between you both. Keep it up! If they don’t appreciate your efforts, however, especially after multiple attempts, then other influence might be warranted.
4) Troubleshoot (When Necessary) – If you seem to have an ungrateful partner, there are a four fixes to try:
- First, make sure your loving behaviors are what THEY want and need. Gratitude is created by you being responsive to their needs, not just doing what you want (even if it is a lot of work).
- Second, make sure that you are not missing their appreciative behaviors. Sometimes partners do “thankful” things that are easy to miss, or don’t mean much to you. So, keep your eyes peeled. Also, talk with them. Tell them what YOU like. See whether they do it.
- Third, evaluate whether your partner is invested in the relationship and appreciates you in general. Doing too much for them, without asking for things in return, can result in you being taken for granted…not appreciated. If that is the case, then take a break, ask for things, and let them put something into the relationship. (For more on that, see here)
- Finally, if none of those solutions work, or you find yourself with an ungrateful date at the beginning, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your options. When someone is truly unappreciative, think about dumping them for someone who is thankful. Otherwise, it can be a long, loveless, and thankless journey.
Gratitude indeed makes the relationship world go around. It is an essential feature. Expressions of gratitude influence loving behavior in partners. Feelings of gratitude influence loving behaviors towards partners. When both co-occur, a positive upward spiral of reciprocal caring behavior results. So, when gratitude isn’t part of a relationship, try to find it, make it, or leave for more thankful situations. When it is there between you and a partner, however, be appreciative and grateful for it
Please leave me your thoughts. Share, like, tweet, and comment below.
Until next time…happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
© 2011-2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.